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Behind the Scenes: Scenic and Costume Design of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD

Two men in conversation stand center stage, six other people surround them.
The cast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; scenic design by John Culbert, costume design by Raquel Adorno.

The world of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, inspired by Court Theatre and the artistic legacy it houses, is imaginative, minimalist, and transformational. Scenic Designer John Culbert and Costume Designer Raquel Adorno give us a special look into how they made Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play a uniquely Court production.

Scenic Design

John: When you start working on a play, it tells you where it wants to be. You read Arsenic and Old Lace and it’s very specific about where you are and what has to be there, and the action of the play requires that you put those specific things there: the basement door, the kitchen door, the stairs, the window. All that is very specific and necessary. This play is the complete opposite. It tells you that it’s set anywhere and nowhere. There are no specific locations that the show requires. Sure, we go to a ship at one point, but this is a fascinating kind of world because it really is set anywhere and nowhere. We get to figure out where we are for our production, and we’ve decided that we’re telling this story in 2024, to the Court Theatre audience. Our production builds upon every show that Court Theatre has ever done, and the players are the spirits of this theater.

Two identical scenic models with differently-dressed figures in them.
Scenic and costume design renderings for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by John Culbert and Raquel Adorno.

When I start designing a show, I start in a model box, and I start with people in the model box, and then I think, Do we need anything else other than just the blank stage? And sometimes the answer is no. So for this show, we are working with an empty stage with some benches and people. It’s an exploration of the idea that we’re in Court Theatre. You see the back wall of Court Theatre, as well some side walls I designed that are a little closer in than the actual sidewalls of Court Theatre, but look like the real walls of the theatre. We’re in Court Theatre, and in case there’s any doubt, it says Court Theatre. The theatre itself is painted red and the show’s color palette is red, black and white, which matches Court Theatre’s branding. 

I’ve also put some tools in the space that help us on this journey of finding identity. When we start the show, there’s a red curtain that’s going to be hanging downstage, so you don’t see the red theatre – you see the red curtain. When the players enter, they’ll do so upstage of it; we’ll see shadows on the screen, and then the curtain will fall to the deck. It is then available to be moved around or used in a variety of ways by the Ensemble. Once that falls down, the whole theatre will be visible. All the way upstage against the back wall, there is another curtain, a big white curtain that can be pulled across the stage to drastically change the feel of the space from the dark red to a big bright white. This enables further appearances and disappearances. So that’s where we are.

Costume Design

Raquel: Charlie and I have been in conversation about theatricality and trauma and identity for five years. It started in 2018 and ever since then, we’ve been working on different shows and having this extended conversation about what is theatrical? What is a costume? Is it possible for these things to help us move through trauma, to understand trauma, and thus identity too? And so that’s where we’re at with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The big idea for the design is mass and repetition. 

Two photos illustrating shadow play. One of two men and a ladder and one of a woman and a man with horns formed by shadows.
“Take the measure” and “The Dorcas Creed” by Laurence Winram. Photo from Winram Gallery.

Everyone is wearing a three-piece suit. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are in white linen three-piece suits and everyone else is in a black double-breasted suit with a vest. One of the primary inspirations was these really interesting, intriguing shadows I came across online. I thought, How interesting it is that in shadow if you hold an object, suddenly your form is transformed and you can be many things? I talked to Charlie about this transformation, and we decided that the suits still work because the suit can be anything. It can be a cape, it can be a cloak, or you can wear a tie around your head and be a pirate. 

One of the big things that we’ve been talking about is that this play is, at its core, at this moment, about the joy of making theatre. So how can we give the actors something that is transformative, and also essential? These images were a big piece of that puzzle.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead runs from March 29 – April 28, 2024. Tickets are available online or by calling the Box Office at (773) 753-4472.

Posted on April 5, 2024 in Productions

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