If I Forget: Designer Statements

Posted on: March 13th, 2017 by Roundabout

Set models for IF I FORGET.

When I first read Steven Levenson’s If I Forget, my brain started to figure out the ground plan or the geometry of this particular house. Basically, my job is to figure out how to solve the requirements of the text scenically. It was very perplexing for me for a while. My ideas kept changing with each new draft of the play. At one point, there was a draft that required a fully equipped and working kitchen. There was another draft where a scene took place on a subway. All that is gone now. The challenge of designing the set for this show is that the text requires that we see various rooms of a two-story house simultaneously. Basically, the locations are a dining room and a living room and upstairs there is a bedroom connected to the rooms downstairs by a staircase. I finally came upon something rather simple and logical. When the action is in the dining room, we will see the living room upstage through an arch and when the action switches to the living room or the bedroom, the whole house will rotate as the various rooms come into focus. The play takes place during the years 2000 and 2001 and the matriarch of the family has passed away—so I decided that the last time there was any substantial remodeling done to the house was sometime around 1975. The décor will reflect solid middle-class taste and the architecture of the house will be reminiscent of houses built in the Bethesda, Maryland area during the ‘30s and ‘40s. Another challenge for me was keeping sight lines in mind. When you design a two-level set, you have to make sure that the audience can see all the action, especially from the side sections in the Pels Theatre at the Steinberg Center


Costume research for the character

There are many projects that require a good deal of research and preparation for a costume designer, certainly anything that is set in an historical period. However, most plays that are set in modern times are usually more about getting to know the actors who will be creating the characters they play and providing them with clothes that help them become the characters. Of course, with period costumes, a costume designer is also designing and choosing clothes that define the character and help tell the story of the play. In this case, the actor is often not familiar with the look of the period, and the more knowledgeable costume designer will take charge in establishing it. Contrary to this process, in a contemporary play, because the actor will usually be wearing costumes not unlike their everyday clothes, actors are more invested in offering opinions, and the design process becomes far more collaborative. Usually, all of the clothes are shopped and it's always appreciated when the designer provides several options for each look the actor will wear. The actor tries on the various choices with the designer's advice, and sometimes with the director's input, and the final look is chosen together. If I Forget is set in the year 2000, 16 years ago. What I find interesting is that until about 30 years ago there would have been a much bigger difference in 16 years of fashion history. For example, people generally dressed very differently in 1986 than they did in 1970. But in the last few decades fashion has become far less rigid and more individualized, and all kinds of shapes and silhouettes prevail. There are differences year to year, but they're far more subtle. The clothes the characters will wear in the play, summer casual in Act I and winter casual in Act II, are not appreciably different from what we wear today. The one exception is the teenage character Joey. Teenage fads in clothing do still change rapidly, and we are likely to see the biggest differences in his costumes.


When I first read If I Forget, I was very struck by how deeply the theme of honesty and truth in the context of sibling relationships kept bubbling to the top. There is a careful dance we do to manipulate our competing agendas within a family, all under the premise that we have what’s best in mind for everyone concerned. The strongest voice in the room wins the argument, but that voice can change and be influenced by outside forces, in this case the spouses of Lou’s children. The lighting reflects the undertone of each scene. In Act I, we meet the family in the hot muggy summer of 2000. Lou’s house is sealed tightly to keep in the air-conditioned cold, and the sunlight penetrates the house through blinds or sheer covered windows. The light is warm, revealing, and inviting. In Act II, as we delve deeper into the family's issues and secrets, the frozen winter morning light carves out the house in a more angular way, creating high contrast and longer shadows. Six months have passed, and the family is once again forced to come together to deal with their father who has suffered a stroke. It’s in Act II that we learn the secret agendas of each of the siblings and watch as the family unravels and the reality of the situation takes hold on them. Finally, as the play comes to its conclusion, Lou delivers his final speech, and the house takes on a surreal and expressionistic quality in complete contrast to the naturalistic light that has defined the space and story up until this point.

The primary challenge with designing the lighting for If I Forget is how to achieve these effects with a low ceiling height. To address this, I have collaborated with Derek McLane to create places throughout the set to hide very small lights to help carve out the rooms. The household lighting fixtures are all thoughtfully chosen and positioned to maximize the drama, as well as providing the major source of light for each of the scenes.


When Daniel Sullivan asked me to compose music for If I Forget, the first question that I asked him was should the music look forward to the character Abby, the granddaughter, who is on a birthright tour of Israel in 2000, or look backward to Lou, the grandfather, who helped liberate the concentration camp at Dachau in 1945. I will be researching contemporary Israeli folk music in the year 2000 and will also look at traditional Jewish melodies of Eastern Europe as the basis for music I will be composing for the production. The character of Abby is never seen in the play, but there are times when the music can work as a symbol of her role in the production. The character Lou has important monologue at the end of the play where music can underscore the framing of that moment.

As for the sound design, a key “character” in the play is the television set that is heard in the background during many of the scenes. There will be times where that content of what is playing on the television will be important. Bernard Shaw, who was a news anchor for CNN, is mentioned in the play. There are also reference to the second “intifada.” These are keys to beginning to build the sound design for the play.

If I Forget is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, If I Forget, Upstage

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