Scenic Design and Automated Lighting:
The Swan

This play by Elizabeth Egloff centers around the life of a midwest woman named Dora. A divorced nurse, Dora leads a closed-off life, limiting herself from human contact and living in a monotonous routine. When a swan crashes into her living room window and injures itself, she dedicates herself to its care. The myths of Zeus and Leda, as well as swanmaiden stories are tapped as as the swan becomes human, and Dora falls in love. At times haunting, this play deals with desire, longing, loyalty, and heartache.

Design Concept
Dora's world is plain and harsh. She is apparently rather 2-dimensional. The set floats, isolated. The sky is visible only through the window. Through the window is nature, wild, and freedom. Only void is visible through the door. Through the door is humanity, restriction, grind.

Dora has been nesting. She lives in her living room, on the middle floor of her midwest home.

As Dora, the Swan, and their world undergoes transformation, so too will the set.

Design Elements

The house opens on what is apparently a box set. The walls are truncated at severe angles, cage-like barriers holding her in her monotinous life. Dora feels a pull to break out, to run away with the Swan. The walls of her home are constricting, but in his arms she can see beyond them. The walls are made of scrim, allowing them to fade and vanish as the Swan's influence becomes stronger. Hints of the outside world, suggestive of the freedom represented by the swan, become visible through the scrim. Abstract bush-like forms made of steel hint at the interplay between the human world and the natural world of the swan.

The window is a central metaphor throughout the piece. This barrier brought the Swan into Dora's world and acts as a barrier to his escape. It's a barrier for Dora, too -- in one scene her boyfriend Kevin is seen taping the glass in an attempt to keep it from further cracking. He is reinforcing her walls.

The window was constructed out of plexiglass, with the cracks made from sideglow fiberoptic cable. The intensity of the cracks and their color could be varied as the fiber was lit with a HES Studio Spot. In the end, when Dora and the Swan break free, the window had to be able to shatter. It was constructed to hing opened, leaving behind a pattern of broken mullions. Also, in this final escape, the black masking which limited the view of the outside to the window was partially removed. This allowed the sky drop to be seen through and over the walls.

Automated Lighting
This show made extensive use of automated lighting, both for special effects as well as focus specials. One effect which was particularily successfull was a floor-level Studio Spot, used to simulate the sweeping beam of headlights. The light spilled through the walls, foreshadowing their later dissapearance. Sweeping movements and window blind gobos were used to accelerate the passage of time in several sequences. Finally, a custom gobo approximating the shadow of a flock of birds was used to simulate their overhead flight.

All automated lighting was cued on a Hog board, with MIDI "go" commands being fired by the Obsession.

Tech Notes:
It took significant effort to design this set for Virginia Tech's Studio Theatre. Since it's a thrust stage, sight lines through the window were difficult to maintain, as action had to happen outside the window. The bay window seat is a byproduct of this work. Pushing the window upstage 2 feet past the wall made the angles shallow enough to view action outside. The window seat was also very useful to the director for blocking. The area under the windowseat was packed full of lighting instruments, used by myself for the window and by the lighting designer for the sky drop.

There were other special effects built into the set: The door and screen door opened and closed from offstage, using a bell crank and series of ropes and pullies. The lock was rigged to blow off when shot at by Dora's boyfriend. The refrigerator was practical, as ice had to be taken from the freezer. Also, the light spilling across the stage when the door was opened in darkness was important.