Three weeks ago, I watched Fly by Night at Playwrights Horizons: a musical written by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick. The show was very well conceived, written, designed and directed. However, a couple of design related instances in the show got me thinking about the use special effects and technical elements in theatre.
1) The beginning: The conspicuously empty space center-stage, amidst a very elaborate set, told me that it was going to be used for some gimmick; and it was. Almost at the outset the band ascended from below, and remained there for the entirety of the show. Did they need to spend all that time and effort engineering the ascent, or would the audience have been just as pleased with the show had the band walked on stage and taken their places?
2) The great reveal: The sub-plots in the show were building up to the blackout of 1965, and when we reached that moment in the story line, hundreds of tiny lamps, carefully woven into the hard and soft black masking, lit up around the theatre. These were the stars that New Yorkers (then and today) fail to see, because of the permanent smog of diffused artificial light. The gimmick was (presumably) very cheap; yet very effective.
I compare these two instances because I am very interested in the line between creativity that makes dramaturgical sense, and creativity just because it is doable or because the budget allows it. Simplicity is important, not just to ensure we don’t waste our resources, but because we should trust our audience to imagine, and to complete the image we represent on stage. We owe them that. As we at Making Books Sing begin work on our next production, The Amazing Adventures of Harvey and the Princess, that line becomes all important, because Harvey teaches us that all we need to be creative is our imagination…