Sketches, Plans, Models
For his MFA Theatre Design thesis project at the University of Alberta, Sean McMullen is designing the sets, costumes and lights for U of A Studio Theatre’s Blood Wedding. Sean says he conceived of his design concepts from the ground up, first digging deeply into Federico García Lorca’s text, translated by Caridad Svich.
A classic of Spanish literature, Blood Wedding is a return to the very dark origins of drama: primal desire. A woman’s raw, pulsing passion for one man cannot be contained on her wedding night to another. Death pursues the tragic star-crossed lovers through the thick of the forest in the stark moonlight.
“There’s a lot of imagery in the language of the play that’s hard to resist as a designer. The play already comes with strong imagery to inform the director and designer,” says Sean.
Paired with Department of Drama Chair and faculty member Kathleen Weiss as director for the project, Sean describes his creative collaborator as “into movement and very non-literal in her approaches.”
Inspired by the Land
Both Kate and Sean rooted their directing and designing work in the play’s landscape.
“They work on the land. They toil on the land. They work hard and they play hard – so there is the dichotomy of all this hard, barren, hot landscape juxtaposing with the movement of fabrics and the weaving, what the women do when they are working. So the idea is that there is going to be a lot of rocky, dried, cracked earth.”
Set model by Sean McMullen inspired by the barren landscape in Lorca’s Blood Wedding. Photo by Terah Jans.
Sean built a small-scale set model to show the director and production staff what he was thinking of preliminarily in terms of how he wanted to use the space. Grand operatic drapes were central to his set concept.
“It was really important to me to have lots of layers, to have lots of curtains to make this dense forest to play within and have that all disappear. We have the curtains come in and then they are all gone. It is the easiest set-up.”
Sean says hanging lace that drops in and out hints at the female sensuality in the piece and also can give a nod back to the landscape, taking on the shape of wheat when it is gathered or bunched up.
Blood Wedding Set model by Sean McMullen. Photo by Terah Jans.
Kate is very interested in being sensual with the imagery, so Sean says his costume concept is a fusion between peasant wear and flamenco.
“I’m keeping it rather rural and having some fun with it. It is Lorca – very passionate, bloody and violent. I thought the matador pant was great for the male sexuality in the piece. The women’s skirts are all playing with this tulip shape and sweeping away with a lot of the frills of the flamenco skirt.”
Costume rendering for the Bride, Blood Wedding, by Sean McMullen. Photo by Terah Jans.
He sent the wardrobe department a collection of images and ideas of what he had in mind so that they could take a look at what they had in stock, and decide what could be pulled from what was there already, what they can buy or borrow, and what they have to build.
Collection of Sean McMullen’s ideas for Blood Wedding. Photo by Terah Jans.
Life and Death
“What’s central to the play is this circular nature of life and death. At the start of the play, the mother has already lost one son and her husband and she’s worried about her current son who is getting married. So there’s this build up, we just got out of death, we are going towards life with the wedding, but then it goes back to death right away.”
Blood Wedding costume renderings for Death and the woodcutters, by Sean McMullen. Photo by Terah Jans.
“Quite a lot of items will end up being built which is very exciting because you can customize it to a high end. We bought a bunch of random fabrics, interesting stuff, lots of greens for the death costume that’s being put together. There’s lots of fun textiles and fabrics. It’s hard to see exactly what it is all going to be like before you’ve gone to do the shopping and building.”
Theatre Design as Organic Process
Sean describes his design process for Blood Wedding as shaping and moulding as the days go by.
“The model gets built and we find out what materials we have, so it changes slightly. We find out what techniques are available to us, so it evolves again. I am sure once we get on stage, there is going to be more changes again.
Next week, Terah and I will pop behind-the-scenes again for Building, Making, Evolving the second part of our three part Blood Wedding design series.
About Sean McMullen
Sean graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a BSc in Biology, then upgraded a three year BA in Acting to a four year BA (Hons) in Theatrical Design, with studies including directing, playwriting, theatre aesthetics and advanced stage combat. His areas of interest include new directions in stage design and turn of the century theatrical theory, as well as the expression of gender and race in theatre.
Work includes some smaller scale freelance work, as well as a number of productions with the University of Winnipeg: Dr. Faustus (costume), directed by Christopher Brauer; The Diary of Anne Frank (set), directed by Ann Hodges; Machinal (set/costumes), directed by Shelagh Carter; Cyrano de Bergerac (set/costumes), directed by Rick Skene; and Our Country’s Good (set), directed by Ardith Boxell. Credits with the University of Alberta include The Memorandum, directed by Trevor Schmidt; Machinal (lx) directed by Nancy McAlear, and most recently Tape (set), directed by Lucy Collingwood. The University’s 2013/2014 season finds Sean on Pains of Youth (set), Bloody Poetry (lx) and Blood Wedding (set, costume and lighting – thesis design project).
Blood Wedding, by Federico García Lorca, translation by Caridad Svich hits the U of A Studio Theatre mainstage in the Timms Centre March 27 – April 5, 2014. For show dates, times and ticket information, see the show page on the University of Alberta Department of Drama’s website
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