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360-degree set debuts at Utah State University

March 22nd, 2015 Posted in Arts and Life

By Jaesea Gatherum
Behind The Scenes

Utah State University’s Department of Theatre Arts designed its spring play, “Rabbit Hole,” in a way that hasn’t been done before at USU. The audience will be seated along three sides of the stage, while the fourth section cuts directly through the set, creating an arena setting.

“It puts the audience in the action,” said Leslie Brott, one of the directors of the show.

Building the stage in this type of setting creates technical challenges, said Bruce Duerden, the professor in charge of the lighting and sound design for the play.

“You can’t put in walls, doors or windows because people are sitting on all four sides of the space. If you do, the audience won’t be able to see the actors,” he said.

Instead of putting in walls, rooms are established by light, said Mandolynn Browning, a graduate student working on the lighting for the production.

Even though the lighting solves some problems, it also creates others.

Lighting is difficult to do because light can’t be in the audience members’ faces, but they also have to be able to see the actors’ faces at 360 degrees, Duerden said.

If the lighting isn’t just right, the audience will see only half of the actors’ faces; the rest will be in shadows, Browning said. 

Because the audience is so close to the actors and the set, everything has to be more realistic, Duerden said.

“A piece of plastic can’t look like a piece of plastic,” he said.

The costumes have to be done well, because being this close, the audience can see even a stray thread, Browning said.

The set and lighting designs aren’t the only challenges of this set. The actors experience their own difficulties.

“The actors have to learn how to act to an audience on all four sides, not just forward,” Duerden said.

They have to move around because there is always some part of the audience that is looking at their backs. Everyone in the audience needs to view the actors at points throughout the show, Browning said.  

According to Duerden, the set is much more challenging than a normal set, but there’s much more involvement for the audience.

“You are in the living room. You are the fly on the wall, experiencing what they are experiencing. The audience experiences the play instead of just watching the play,” he said.

The set is difficult to design, but difficult isn’t bad, Browning said.

The arena setting gives the audience the opportunity to be in the moment as well as special acting experience for the actors, Duerden said.

“We are planning on doing more of these kinds of productions in the future,” he said.


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