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Interview with Set Designer, Allen Moyer

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When did you decide to design scenery for the theatre?

Allen Moyer: I was born in Schuylkill Haven. It is close to Reading, right before the coal region begins in Pennsylvania. I was the kid that always drew and painted and made puppets. I started out at Albright College, where I studied biochemistry-then I changed majors. I decided I wanted to study directing or design, but Albright had no theatre department, so I went to Penn State and ended up focusing on design. Then I went to graduate school at NYU.

TS: Will you talk about what you look for in a director when you are meeting to discuss a play?

AM: I like someone who is able to think about the big picture and understands what is important thematically in a piece, while being able to speak in specific terms about practical ideas and requirements. What I have enjoyed about working withPam MacKinnon is that she does those things really well. Pam is always clear about the things that are important to her, while at the same time giving me a sense of freedom to find a way to make an environment that can express our particular feelings or response to the piece.

TS: I love the coup de théâtre you designed for the set at the top of Act Two.

AM: Well, the whole design is based on that moment, really. I think this play is very cleverly structured. The beginning of Act Two really puts the whole play in focus. Often what interests me most when I am designing a piece is its structure.

TS: We don't want to give away too much, but you worked with an artist from Martha's Vineyard, where the top of Act Two takes place. How did you find her?

AM: I went onto Google and I typed "Martha's Vineyard Paintings," of course. There are hundreds of them, if not thousands. I picked a few that were in different styles and showed them to Pam. We kept being drawn to several paintings by a woman named Page Railsback, which were not realistic. We liked the idea of an image that was much more abstract. I think we were both drawn to the energy and enthusiasm of the piece and the way it appeared to be so quickly painted. The colors were also so right for the feel of the scene, when these characters were younger and their relationships were still being defined. I contacted the artist through her website, and I explained how I was hoping to have her permission to use the image. The painting had been sold, but Page suggested she paint a similar one and to the exact proportions I needed. The painting was used by the scenic artists to paint the very large version we needed, and we hope to use it onstage as well, on the wall behind the bed in the very last scene of the show. The character of Beth is a painter, so I suppose if someone thinks this might be something she painted that weekend years before, it wouldn't be a bad thing, right?

Set model for Dinner with Friends

Heather Burns and Darren Pettie in Dinner with Friends.

TS: When they did the original production, they used a turntable. Did you deliberately decide not to because they did it before?

AM: Not necessarily. I do think it is nice to do something different, but I don't think it valuable to just throw an idea out simply because it was done in another production. I don't think a turntable would work very well in the Laura Pels Theatre. Turntables can be predictable and limiting; you sit in the audience and the thing turns and you say, "Oh I get it." More importantly, we are able to surprise people at the beginning of Act Two in a way I wouldn't be able to do with a turntable. I wanted to figure out a way for the piece to move from scene to scene that could make for beautiful transitions to watch. In a way, the routine of changing the scenery for Dinner with Friends can mirror the routines of the characters' lives, but this way I am able to break it and to make the first scene in Act Two remarkably different. I like when the way we choose to get from one scene to another can add to the emotional event, no matter how subtle it may be.

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Roundabout Theatre Company Roundabout Theatre Company is a not-for-profit theatre dedicated to providing a nurturing artistic home for theatre artists at all stages of their careers where the widest possible audience can experience their work at affordable prices. Roundabout fulfills its mission each season through the revival of classic plays and musicals; development and production of new works by established playwrights and emerging writers; educational initiatives that enrich the lives of children and adults; and a subscription model and audience outreach programs that cultivate loyal audiences.