Marquette Wire

Taking on tragedy by scenic design

Photo by Meredith Gillespie

Photo by Meredith Gillespie

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In the comfort and privacy of her own home, Lanie sits alone in a room that is void of light and fresh air, stripped of furniture and decoration. She created her own version of a prison cell to live in symbolic solidarity with her husband Michael, who is being held captive in Beirut, Lebanon.

This is the premise of Lee Blessing’s “Two Rooms.” Blessing wrote the play to spark conversations about political terrorism and government action. It reveals, with cutting insight, the emotional toll that terrorism takes on those held hostage, injured or killed by violence, and those left in the wake of such tragedy. Though it was written nearly three decades ago, the questions and conflicts that the show addresses echo today’s political climate. 

Marquette Theatre chose the production as the social justice piece for this season, themed “Worlds Collide,” in hopes that it will encourage students and staff at Marquette to dig deeper into the reasons behind social unrest, hostile situations and terrorism.  

Stephen Hudson-Mairet, the department chair for digital media and performing arts, oversees the work of students on stage and behind the scenes. He also facilitates the work that the scenic design team is doing for “Two Rooms.” Hudson-Mairet said that, if performed well, the play will explore the root causes of social injustices that lead to disruption and conflict. 

“Ideally this will be a show that Marquette can talk about,” Hudson-Mairet said. “It is very much an actor-driven piece of theater. It’s really powerful because of that, and it should not be seen as an ‘us versus them’ sort of play.”

Hudson-Mairet has seen the show performed twice, once with a simple set of a platform and some projections in a store front.

After the final curtain closed for “Blithe Spirit” Oct. 9, the cast and crew for “Two Rooms” set to work.

The show is a contender for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. If representatives choose “Two Rooms” for KCACTF, students involved in the production will travel to Indianapolis over winter break to perform at the regional level.

Travel puts constraints on the creative team behind the show, as well as KCACTF set-up and tear-down time limits. The set for “Two Rooms” is simple when complete, but the design and building process is anything but.

The scenic design team, led by Katie Hauger, a senior in the College of Communication, includes technical director Adam Hastings, a senior in the College of Engineering, and costume designer Cassandra Gherardini, a senior in the College of Communication.

Hastings has been working on building a modular set based off of Hauger’s drawings and ideas since the crew began assembling the basic elements of the show. The biggest difficulty that the technical director faced in the construction process was accommodating the set for travel and quick assembly at the festival. He had to be sure that the set the crew built would easily break down for storage during the Helfaer’s final show of the semester and for the trek between Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

“As the technical director, I had to create the construction drawings for how everything needed to be built, and the different components that would be put together,” Hastings said.

The social justice show last season, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” traveled to the same festival, although it was hosted in Milwaukee rather than Indianapolis.

“The interesting thing about a show like ‘Two Rooms’ is everything has to be built just anticipating that we might travel,” Hastings said. “The main platform alone will be 10 separate pieces that you won’t notice when you’re watching but then we can break it up easily when we travel.”

Gherardini, who spearheaded costume design for the production, will play a different role in the festival. She has been working on design concepts and finding the appropriate pieces for the small cast since May.

“To be completely honest, (KCACTF) hasn’t affected my process too much,” Gherardini said in an email. “Travel is a much heavier consideration with scenic design, since moving set pieces is a lot harder than moving clothes.”

But if “Two Rooms” does make the trip in January, the costume designer will have an additional role in the process. Besides acting, the production team will be judged at KCACTF as well.

“If we get accepted to the festival, I’ll have to go talk about my designs and design process with the judges at the competition,” Gherardini said in an email. “It’s intimidating, but also a great opportunity for growth.”

“Two Rooms” will premiere at the Helfaer Theatre on Nov. 10 and run through Nov. 20. Tickets are available at Helfaer’s box office.

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