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Sleeping Beauty designers embrace challenges

November 7, 2013
The Sleeping Beauty canopy comes to life

The Sleeping Beauty canopy comes to life.

If indeed variety is the spice of life, Scott Penner must surely be in designer heaven these days. He has now created a second set for the Globe Theatre in as many Main Stage productions this season and the two couldn’t possibly be any more different. The scene of The Last Resort was a hotel lobby that was grounded in realism and pretty much stayed in place for the entire show. With the holiday offering of Sleeping Beauty, he finds himself immersed in the realm of the imagination, absorbed in fantasy, mired in magic.

“It’s a nice change,” says Penner, who has gamely embraced the challenge of taking us into three separate worlds, and within those worlds running the gamut from cottages to castles. The set is minimalist by necessity. This show has a larger cast, there are more switches in time and place, and, lest we forget, it features a puppet dragon that measures 26 feet in length. Penner’s solution was to make everything portable and mobile, so that the set pieces can be moved on and off the stage as required.

“We’ve kind of worked it all out,” he says modestly, describing a set that is painted white and will be accented with a sprinkling of colours, a set that was suggested by the Walt Disney movie in general and, more specifically, by the vine of thorns I’m sure you will recall vividly from that animated film. The structure was inspired by an image Penner found online of an impressionist wooden sculpture constructed by a Belgian artist from planks of wood laid on top of each other.

This, in turn, resulted in considerable challenges for Louise Guinand, who has designed the lighting. The fact that the pieces extend overhead made her task significantly more complicated. It dictated slightly different angles for the lights, and she was not able to utilize as many lights overhead as she normally would. Not to mention that the structure breaks the stage into smaller zones than is ordinarily the case. The whiteness itself was likewise cause for concern. “White is harder to isolate,” Guinand says, “because the light bounces around.”

This show brings all of the challenges together, but that’s fun, too … The stage becomes a canvas to play upon.” – Louise Guinand

Ruth Smillie’s singular adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is most definitely not what is known in theatre circles as a “lights up, lights down” show. In fact, Guinand calls it the “trickiest” of the 14 plays she has lit for the Globe, including a production of Proof that took place in a life-size gazebo and Beauty and The Beast with its assortment of looks.

“This show brings all of the challenges together, but that’s fun, too,” Guinand says. “It’s also a very colourful show. The stage becomes a canvas to play upon.”

The costume designer for Sleeping Beauty is Bonnie Deakin. “This is a particularly big show. It’s intended to have a sensory impact for the audience. We are creating things that aren’t standard – pleasurable things that suggest fun and play,” she says. “In terms of the costumes, I want it to be anywhere, anytime. Made-up land. Made-up world.”

The play is performed by a cast of 10. It requires at least two costumes for each actor. Some have three, some have four.

The costumes reflect a multi-cultural spectrum that includes Russian, German, Irish, English and Asian components. The designs arose from discussions Deakin had with director Courtenay Dobbie. Together, they went through each character individually, in great detail, discussing the specifics of every single one.

Deakin found it “very, very helpful” to have a hands-on director who is “exacting and articulate,” all the more so because Deakin herself hadn’t even seen the script when she agreed to design costumes for the show. “But that, too,” she says, “is part of the fun.”

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

Sleeping Beauty runs Nov. 20-Dec. 29. Buy your tickets for a preview performance on Nov. 16 (8 p.m.) or Nov 17 (2 p.m.) and get 15% off! For tickets, visit

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