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Charlotte Dean: Set And Properties Designer For Pride And Prejudice

March 13, 2013

Ideally, the payoff for Charlotte Dean as a set and properties designer is that the production will permit the audience “to experience something they would not have experienced if they hadn’t come to the show.” When you go to see Pride And Prejudice, she says, what you will experience is a kind of storytelling that blends screen and stage.

This particular technique can be at times a blessing, at times a curse. Fortunately, Christina Calvit’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel is a comfortable fit for the Globe. “In a space like this,” Dean says, meaning theatre inCharlotte Dean-the-round, “the challenges as a designer are the sightlines. It’s all about access. You have to be able to see everything on the stage, from anywhere in the audience.”

There is also the fact that, as opposed to the movies, “in the theatre, because it is real, you can’t CGI it, and you can’t stop the camera.” The script is cinematic, the location shifts constantly, “and through all of this, the audience has to be kept informed, and amused, and interested, and entertained.”

Dean, who is from Toronto, has 30 years of experience as a designer, and she has collaborated frequently with Marti Maraden as director. “It’s significant,” she says of the latter, “because you do develop a common language after a while, and of course there is also the trust factor, which often comes into play.”

In this case, Maraden and Dean met in July and again in September, their discussions morphing from mere words into sketches and models. Dean compares the process to hosting a dinner party. Options are carefully considered. Decisions, both easy and difficult, are made. Then the constant substituting begins and continues to what seems to be the very last minute.

For this production, the four gangways serve an even more important function than usual, because it is through these doors that the set pieces are transported on and off the stage, carried by the actors as they make their entrances and exits. By set pieces, I mean primarily benches, but also desks and tables and chairs.

Whether they were purchased, or pulled from the stock room, or constructed specifically for this show, the set pieces were integrated into the preparation by the first week of rehearsal. And while the actors were familiarizing themselves with the shapes and sizes and weight of the furniture they would be moving on and off the stage, the floor of the stage itself was being painted.

A flat interior/exterior surface, the floor is rendered in sandy coloured gentle swirls that suggest the classical Greek revival that was popular during the Regency period, with a border that represents garden paths and country roads and mansion hallways, and actually bears a “squiggle,” because all of this was launched, after all, by a single, spontaneous mark made by a designer’s pen on a piece of paper in her notebook.

Pride and Prejudice runs from March 6 – 24, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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