Set design brings Earnest to life in 2-D
There’s a practical reason the sets for The Importance of Being Earnest are two-dimensional.
It’s easier to move them on and off stage, said Ross Nichol — the man behind the set for the play that opens at Sagebrush Theatre, this week — but the two dimensions also play into the theme of superficiality in the Oscar Wilde play.
“The two-dimensional works with that,” Nichol said.
“Superficiality was one of the themes the director wanted to follow up on,” Nichol said, with the director “always wanting more” and the creative department doing its best to meet those demands.
Earnest is a co-production with Persephone Theatre and Nichol went there to work on construction of the sets – one interior and two exterior.
The play opened the Saskatoon theatre’s season last September and the sets were then loaded onto a 45-foot-long tractor-trailer and shipped to Kamloops.
“Our rental truck to move it up the hill [from storage on Lorne Street] was a bit smaller,” Nichol said.
“It took four trips to get it all up here.”
One week before previews and the opening, Nichol was in Sagebrush with Brian Britton, Eric Maher, Darren John and Joel Eccleston creating the Victorian setting Wilde — and director Johnna Wright — envisioned.
Nichol said he’s taking advantage of the machinery at the Ninth Avenue theatre and will use the flys to move the scenery in and out.
“It’s the director’s role to ask for the impossible,” he said, and Wright has done that “but it’s not unreasonable.
“It’s like a challenge, exchanging ideas, talking about bits of the script and creating the vision.”
Inspiration can come from anywhere, he said.
Much of it comes from Nichol’s theatre education at the University of Victoria and the decades he has put into his craft — but, sometimes, it can just pop up in the most unlikely place.
Use of the rose-covered trellises for an outdoor scene, for example, comes from a visit to a Swedish palace when the Nichol family was touring Europe a few years ago.
There was an outdoor theatre at the palace; it used hedges to create the wings of the stage — and Nichol is doing something similar with the trellises.
Because of the shared production, costs have also been split between the two theatres. Nichol said materials alone cost about $3,000, with more money for props required.
Lighting is just as key to a production and especially with Earnest.
In one eight-square-foot area of the stage alone, Nichol said, there will be 11 lights, each with its own function.
Some will be focused on the trellises and will have stencils on them to diffuse and texture the lights.
Others will be on different parts of the stage.
As the audience enters, one light will shine across the stage, its sole purpose to look like sunlight coming in from a window while the theatre-goers take their seats.
Lighting a play “is like a big ship with ropes running everywhere. there are lights all over,” Nichol said.
“We have to break it all down to what is happening on the stage at any time and what lighting it needs.
“I’ve hung just about every light in the place for this one,” he said of Earnest.
And, as the play starts its run, with previews on Thursday, Jan. 24 and Friday, Jan. 25, opening night on Saturday, Jan. 26 and the final performance on Saturday, Feb. 2, Nichol has already moved on to the next WCT production he’s creating, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen. It opens at the Sagebrush Theatre in mid-April.
Nichol is married to Robin Nichols, who teaches in the theatre-arts program at Thompson Rivers University — and that makes for an interesting experience when they go to a play and sit in the audience.
“She’s looking at how it’s directed and acted and I’m sitting there looking at the set and the lights,” Nichol said.
“After seeing a play, it’s like a debrief in the car on the way home.”
Having done more than 150 plays — including The Man Who Shot Chance Delaney in 2010 with Wright — there’s one Nichol said he’d love to design and light — Filthy Rich by Canadian playwright George F. Walker.
A crime-drama, it’s of the film noir genre, Nichol said, “and it would be fun to do.”