I’m sure I’m not the only designphile who also loves dissecting theater sets, especially since dramas are usually domestic in nature and often take place in people’s homes. It’s especially fun to see how a set designer decides to approach a play that takes place in Chicago. Laura Eason’s play Sex With Strangers, at the Steppenwolf through May 15 (a fun, thought-provoking show, by the way), is partly set in a book-filled Chicago apartment, where the female protagonist, a writer, lives.
It made me wonder whether Todd Rosenthal, the Tony Award-winning scenic designer (he won in 2008 for August: Osage County, an amazing domestic set) had given much thought to what makes an apartment feel Chicago-ish, so I asked him. Turns out he didn’t think about it too much (he thought more about how the character would live)—though the exposed brick walls and wire glass windows are elements he’s seen in Chicago. I also asked him what, if anything, interior design and stage design have in common. Here’s what he had to say:
“Set designers create spaces that represent particular moments in the lives of particular characters. It might not be naturalistic or even comfortable. It might not relate to any reality. Interior designers create practical living spaces for real people (no matter how sculptural or creative, this is the goal). A home designer may choose a sofa to match a wall or orient to a TV or window, while a set designer might paint the sofa yellow and bolt it to the ceiling.” There you have it. But hey, maybe yellow sofas bolted to the ceiling will be the new antlers someday.