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A Look Over His Shoulders: How Eli Schlatter Designs

The set of The Liar is moving onto Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage for the play’s September 9 to October 2 run.  Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter has spent months getting us to the moment when concepts become reality, following similar steps that he’d taken many a time for other productions.

After reading the script twice, Schlatter met with both Director Doug Scholz-Carlson and Costume Designer Rebecca Bernstein to get their input.  His collaboration with Scholz-Carlson involved going through each scene in the play to discuss what would be needed and Schlatter’s providing research images as possible concepts.

Now armed with some sense of what the show should look and feel like, Schlatter did further research and conceptualizing with thumbnail sketches.

A sketch

A sketch

Once Schlatter and Scholz-Carlson decided to go with a very classic and two-dimensional set design (refer to the August 28 blog, “Flat Land: The World of The Liar“), Schlatter made what is called a white model.  This is an unpainted white cardboard model of the set scaled according to actual Proscenium Stage measurements to determine how the set will fit and look in the space.  Schlatter used a ruler with a quartering scale (one inch equals four feet) for measuring and added model people for perspective.

A white model

A white model

His next step was to create a means within the design for scene changes.  For The Liar, the two back center walls could be opened or shut like doors to change the space for the action to move upstage or downstage. Schlatter then produced a color model of the set.

The color model

The color model

After meeting with Lighting Designer Mike Kittel, Schlatter made further decisions about such matters as surface texture before producing paint elevations–very detailed, scaled plans that show the scenic painter exactly where, what and how something must be painted onto the entire set.  They look somewhat akin to drafting plans with specific painting specifications throughout. The shop crew is also provided with a section view, which shows how the set looks from different directions, as well as execution drawings that show all the dimensional details.

Eli Schlatter (left) with Assistant Technical Director Ian Stoutenburgh (right)

Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left); Eli Schlatter (center); Assistant Technical Director Ian Stoutenburgh (right)

The Park Square shop crew have been busy building and painting the set. While it is quicker to build a two-dimensional set, more pressure is placed on the painting to be especially well done, though luckily the human eye tends to fill in any details on scenery that’s not represented on the stage.

As Schlatter completes his work for The Liar, he won’t be putting his feet up to relax anytime soon. He’s already working with the Artistry in Bloomington to design for Little Shop of Horrors and Bad Dates.

Flat Land: The World of “The Liar”

The Liar Courtyard Sketch

“The scenic designer’s job proper is not to worry so much about real world concerns–whether it’s the reality of physics or any theatre limitations (such as cost)–but to be creative and to serve the story,” says Eli Schlatter, the scenic designer for Park Square Theatre’s The Liar, playing on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2.

The removal of any perceived barriers freed Schlatter to let loose and come up with a very fun and playful concept for this hilarious romantic comedy featuring a central character who cannot tell the truth: Let’s thrust three-dimensional actors into a two-dimensional world!

The Liar White Model

By doing so, Schlatter not only created an environment that forces inherently silly interactions and moments to occur but also loaded the play full of supporting visual metaphors.

The Liar Set Design

The Liar is based on a 17th-century French play that was modernized by playwright David Ives so Schlatter fittingly drew inspiration from the Italian-influenced Baroque style of set design that became increasingly popular on France’s stages during the mid-1600s.  Scenery was essentially constructed on flat, painted panels creating an angled perspective to give a sense of depth.  Painted structures in the foreground looked larger than those in the background, with an elaborate green courtyard (green was “everywhere” during the 17th-century) inspired by French knot gardens as center stage.

The Liar courtyard set

The location depicted on Schlatter’s stage panels are directly inspired by the Place Royale, where much of the play’s action occurs and which just happens to be a real place in Paris.  Completed in 1612, it became the European prototype of urban residential squares (Schlatter called them “the first urban condos”) with all housefronts bearing the same design.

While the scenic design will be elaborate and gorgeous for The Liar, Schlatter had to take care not to let it upstage the actors. As he put it, “If the audience thinks more about the set than the actors, then I did my job wrong.”

Although Schlatter did let me in on many of the “winks” of his visual fabrications for The Liar, I shall conveniently neglect to reveal them to you, the audience. (Hint: During our talk, Schlatter did mention “Prince” and “1640” in the same breath.)

 

(Note: Future blogs will tell how the props designer plans to  “spin off ” from the set design as well as an insider’s look at Schlatter’s step-by-step process to bring the set for The Liar to fruition.)

 

ELI SCHLATTER: Scenic Designer for “The Liar”

Eli Schlatter

One of the most exciting and uplifting aspects of my job is the opportunity to meet some of the newest and brightest theatre talents in the Twin Cities. They are young, ultra-creative, incredibly hardworking and very committed to their work. One of these up-and-comers is Eli Schlatter, who is tasked with designing a fun but versatile set for Park Square Theatre’s upcoming area premiere of a playful comedy, The Liar, on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2.

Just three years out of college with a BFA in Theatre Design and Production from the University of Michigan, Schlatter is a freelance scenic designner and technician in the Twin Cities. His University of Michigan training closely mimicked real-life professional theatre work experiences, which allowed him to hit the ground running upon graduation. At one harrowing point in his career, he found himself juggling designs for three different shows with close opening dates.

With parents who’d met in a master’s theatre program, Schlatter described a lifetime “steeped in the theatre community.” As he put it, “I’ve been involved in theatre in different ways ‘forever.’ As a child, I saw more plays than movies.”

Schlatter acted on the Steppingstone Theatre stage in his tweens but got pulled into the technical side of theatre while at South High School. He had actually always been more intrigued with a set’s design–for instance, what would move or change on stage–and watched for, as he described, “how the world will tell the story.”

One of Schlatter’s first professional projects in the Twin Cities was as an intern for The Mystery of Irma Vep, assisting director and designer Joel Sass at the Jungle Theater (Sass will direct Park Square Theatre’s The Realistic Joneses on the Boss Stage from September 23 to October 16). To date, Schlatter has freelance designed for numerous local professional theatres, from Yellow Tree Theatre to Theater in the Round Players, and done technical work for such various venues as The Minnesota Fringe Festival and Circus Juventas. He also works on the run crew of The Children’s Theatre Company.

To be successful in his field, Schlatter must constantly put himself out there, actively and bravely searching for opportunities. He got the gig designing The Liar with what was essentially a designer’s version of auditioning: sending his resume and condensed portfolio to Artistic Director Richard Cook. Cook had obviously liked what he’d seen because Schlatter got a meeting and, two weeks later, the job.

In a future blog post, you can get an inside look at Schlatter’s scenic design process for The Liar. Don’t miss the chance for a glimpse into the making of theatre magic.

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his color set design model

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his set design model during rehearsal

(Notes: A scenic design portfolio website for Schlatter is at www.elischlatter.com; also look for the future blog “Flat Land: The World of The Liar”)

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