Interview with Set Designer Jeff Cowie
TS: Will your design for Talley's Folly spill into the audience?
JC: The play begins with Matt entering through the audience, breaking the fourth wall andoutlining his plans to charm Sally in the course of 90 or so minutes. He describes everything on the set. He tells us that Uncle Whistler, who built the boathouse, "must have broken a lot of jigsaws." He lists the attributes of this setting and says, "You people (the audience) are in the water." And then the dialogue between him and Sally begins. I had to make a list of everything the characters say about the boathouse and incorporate all those things into the design. It was really a lot of fun. Rui has designed a wonderful rippling water effect and Mark has a super 360 degree sound plot planned; so, yes, I think we're bringing the play out into the audience as much as possible.We were all in the theatre recently and it was a very open and collaborative discussion, working out the challenges before they become problems.
TS: What challenges did you face in creating the design of this show?
JC: I don't think you can draft the kind of damage caused when a building is falling into a river. I don't think you can draw it. It's even difficult in a model. I have a giant label on all my drawings that reads, "Consult with the designer for the level of destruction." It sounds like I'm going to head into the shop with a sledgehammer-which I'd love to do-and basically break the set down. I find it's difficult to design a set that really looks like it has aged naturally. That's a challenge.
TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?
JC: I still make paintings. I find it difficult to split time between making paintings and scenic design because the mindset is different, but I'll go through phases of working a lot on paintings. I think inspiration comes from one's everyday life. When I'm working on a show that takes place in a brownstone, I start looking at brownstones, and literally, all I see while I am working on that show is brownstones! They jump out at me. Whatever the thing is that I'm researching at the moment is the only thing I will see.