Joseph Stanley, the set designer for Park Square Theatre’s production of Macbeth, first became involved in theatre, both onstage and behind the scenes, during junior high. He decided to give it a try because his older sister had so much fun performing in high school plays. Then well-timed mentors kept popping up to broaden and guide his interest, from an enthusiastic fresh-out-of-college ninth grade English & Theatre teacher who would even let him into the shop rooms to “build stuff” on snow days to a high school teacher who let him design to his heart’s content.
By college, Joseph knew that he wanted to pursue set designing. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington where, despite being an undergraduate, his professor allowed him to take graduate-level courses. He also worked in summer stock theatre, steadily making connections for more designing opportunities. Joseph, who grew up in Iowa, ultimately landed in the Twin Cities to get his MFA at the University of Minnesota.
Joseph has worked in the Twin Cities since 1993, designing for 12 to 15 shows per year. About half his projects are for theatres with their own construction crew. For clients without their own staff, he both designs and provides set construction at his own studio. Since his first professional set design in 1984, he has been the designer for at least 250 shows.
Joseph had first worked with Macbeth‘s director, Jef Hall-Flavin, in last season’s Sons of the Prophet at Park Square Theatre, and Jef wished to work with Joseph again in Macbeth. Jef brought to Joseph the concept of using a shattered mirror as the central metaphor in the set design, and Joseph ran with it.
“Jef spoke about the timeliness of Macbeth,” Joseph said, “and how holding a mirror in front of ourselves would reflect ourselves back, especially given current events.”
Joseph, a self-professed pragmatist, also saw the practicality of using mirrors to give the illusion of having more people on stage.
“Macbeth has just a cast of nine people,” he pointed out. “But there are a number of times when an army must be on stage. The mirrors make it seem like more than nine.”
The mirror, too, lends itself to practical use to highlight the mystical, other-worldly moments in the play. For instance, the mirrors at center stage act like two-way mirrors for a nifty visual effect when apparitions appear.
And, of course, the shattered mirror reflects the shattered story itself as, in Joseph’s words, “Macbeth becomes a shattered man who breaks down throughout the play.”
I asked him, too, if he and Jef were not purposely tempting Fate, given that Macbeth already has the reputation of a cursed play (see my previous blog on theatre superstitions, “‘Macbeth’ and Other Unmentionables”). After all, breaking a mirror guarantees seven years of bad luck.
Turns out that Joseph is not particularly superstitious but thinks that “one of the neat things as a scenic designer is that people see things in my designs that I don’t consciously think about.”
You will see another Joseph Stanley set design this spring on Amy’s View, which runs from May 12 to June 4, on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. Meanwhile, don’t miss seeing Joseph’s stunning set on the Boss Thrust Stage for our World Premiere Commission of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, adapted and directed by Jef Flavin-Hall, ending on April 9.