Reid Thompson/Set Design
Too Heavy for Your Pocket is set on a place in between. It is in between the city and the country, between nature and civilization, modernity and the past. Sally and Tony's home is a refuge for our four characters, a safe and warm space of their own making where they can be themselves, hidden and protected from the outside world. Our characters draw strength from the earth and the natural world, and we wanted the set to be both Sally and Tony's home and Bowzie's field, simultaneously. The landscape is burned into the walls, and grass grows on top of the floorboards. We wanted a fully immersive environment that takes full advantage of every inch of the intimate Black Box Theatre, where the audience is literally invited into our quartet's world. The materials and props are inspired by meticulous historical research, but realized with an emphasis on the poetic feeling of the place over accurate historical recreation. As the play progresses, the ugliness of the outside world starts to intrude on our refuge, and we wanted the physical environment to reflect a shift as well.
Valérie Bart/Costume Design
I wanted to fully immerse myself in the period and culture, so I began looking at a lot of photographs of civil rights protests, freedom riders, school desegregation, but staying away from such recognizable figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. I became aware of two photographers of the time, Gordon Parks and Bruce Davidson. While the latter focused more on actual protests, rallies, and clashes, Gordon Parks went to the South and captured how black families and people actually lived. There are collections of color photos that show the effects of segregation and systemic racism, and Parks frames it in such a beautifully heartbreaking way. These were the inspiration for the color palette of the costumes. My design process involves a quirky way of sketching. I like to do what I call “paperdoll-ing.” Essentially, sketching all the clothes that will be layered on a base body, rather than spending the time sketching new poses and re-drawing faces for the same character, I would trace the clothes using a light box and cut the clothes out to layer on top. The varying looks would then be scanned and lightly photoshopped and printed out as complete sketches. It ultimately also became a great tool to discover how a character would wear clothes—layer up or down, buttoned or not, tucked/untucked, etc. It would also get me thinking about quick changes and the tracking of clothing. Edits and adjustments would be vastly easier and faster with just having to re-draw the clothes and not spend the time with faces/hands and poses.
A great example of this was with Bowzie. Even though he doesn’t have many costume looks, he layers up and down his pieces throughout the show in some major character arcs. Margot Bordelon, the director, and I spoke at length about what it meant for him to be barefoot and shirtless, as well as in a full suit. And then to see the suit be taken off, the “stripping” of his humanity and the reveal of his human body when in nothing but underwear. To see the underwear eventually deteriorate over time along with his dignity, and the last image of the once immaculate suit that was supposed to mean so much now crumpled and dirty were important visual storytelling points, which we hope will heighten the experience for the audience
Jiyoun Chang/Lighting Design
Although we haven’t sat in the same room at the same time, I feel we have been in the same room from the beginning of this journey. We have all been open to new ideas and concepts even though some have joined the journey at different points in the life of this production. We honored what worked in the Alliance Theatre production in Atlanta, focusing on how to transfer those ideas and reimagining how to make them work in a new space. Most of all, we all value the poetic nature of Jiréh Holder’s play, although its domestic set-up is based on naturalism. That lyric naturalism anchored and guided our meetings and led us to a new visual landscape. The new ground plan is simpler and open -- allowing light to perform at its best in poetic, abstract, and impressionistic ways. This new ground plan will heighten the nature of the play, and it also allows for exciting fluidity in staging. Margot Bordelon, the director, and Reid Thompson, the set designer, gave warm and open direction, and Jiréh’s soft and supportive voice in the meetings was helpful for the entire design team to arrive at this crucial point in our journey together.
Ian Williams/Sound Design
On my initial read of the play, I responded immediately to Evelyn, considering how our social/political climate is behaving in its current condition. I felt this strong and radiating tension inside as I asked myself, “Could I leave my family behind to stand up for what I believed was right?” I don’t know the answer to that question because, as a young and privileged man, I still don’t know what my personal thresholds are just yet. That’s been part of my personal journey while interacting with the play. Overall, I am a steadfast believer in the magic and imagination that Jiréh puts on the page. When I hear and read his stories, my imagination runs wild and my heart is moved. When I begin sound research for a show of this nature, I always start with a history lesson. I ask questions like, “What is common knowledge to an American citizen?” or “What is popular in my age group right now?” I create playlists of popular music and listen to the sounds of commonly used appliances or gadgets. In this way, I gain an understanding of what people would hear on a da- to-day basis and move forward from there, letting my heart lead the way. The challenge on any show for me is always finding the balance between responding with my heart and keeping moments honest in the sound design. I know that I am susceptible to having a sentimental response. Being in the rehearsal room is how I avoid this happening. I can respond to the director and actor as the crow flies during the process.
Too Heavy for Your Pocket runs through November 26 at The Black Box Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website here.
2017-2018 Season, Roundabout Underground, Too Heavy for Your Pocket