“This warm gem of a place…”
Director Daniel Wilson talks with SORRY’s lighting and scenery designer, Roberta Russell.
Before our most recent production meeting for Sorry, I sat down to talk with Roberta. She is the lighting design professor at Cornish College of the Arts, and has lit numerous shows I’ve directed. Any conversation with her is a delight. — DW
Roberta, you teach lighting design and your name pops up all over town as a lighting designer. When Terry and I asked you to consider designing scenery as well as lighting for Sorry, why did you agree?
Reading the play, it felt like one piece. It didn’t feel like the scenery was going to be structures that needed to define a world, or structures that then needed light. It seemed that the people in the play lived in a world where there were elements of the outside, and of color and wind and temperature changes. It felt like a quiet drama, and that these people lived in an abstract space. What do I mean by that, by abstract space? The play takes place in a dining room, yes—it’s absolutely a real dining room: the furniture is real, they sit in real places, it’s in real time. And yet they are not surrounded by walls of the house; there are edges that feel like void, but not edges that feel like they are running into the edge of the room. So, this idea that everything is very focused on them, on the people in the play; and everything else becomes elemental surround—THAT’S interesting, THAT’s why I wanted to do the set, too.
From our very first design meeting, everything you showed me—all your sketches, pictures, even the very rough model—contained organic matter. You had bare, white, birch-like trees in one; black branches in another; strings of light that mimicked trees flowing up from the ground and over the stage and audience in a third. Why was that so important to you?
Again, I had a sense of what the void around them should feel like, and it’s not a blackness, or an emptiness, but a sort of real world swirling of clouds and sky and color out there, and they are in this warm gem of a place, in this particular moment, talking face to face, heart to heart, and very honestly and very openly—it just seemed like the world needed to move around them, while they are very still and concentrated. That’s it.
Come the time of tech rehearsal, do you think that you, the lighting designer, will feel any frustration with what you, the scenery designer, gave you to light?
(Laughing) You mean, will I say “who put that dang piece of furniture there?” No, I think we’ll get along just fine.