Broadway By Design: Scott Pask, Christopher Ash & Jane Greenwood Bring SAINT JOAN from Page to Stage
Who is Annie without her red dress? Or Eva with out her balcony? It is the charge of the Broadway designer to transport the audience into the world of a show, whether it be Great Depression-era New York City or outside of the Casa Rosada.
In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld is shining a spotlight on the stellar designs of this Broadway season, show by show. Today, we continue the series with Scott Pask, Christopher Ash, and Jane Greenwood, who acted as scenic, projection and costume designers for MTC's epic Broadway revival of Saint Joan.
Set in 15th century France, Saint Joan follows a country girl whose mysterious visions propel her into elite circles. When the nation's rulers become threatened by her popularity and influence, they unite to bring her down and she finds herself on trial for her life. This timeless and powerful play dramatizes the limits of an individual in a society dominated by overwhelming political and religious forces.
Scott Pask began his design journey not with time or place, but with a specific image. "The inspiration for the design of Saint Joan came from the percussive musical instrument, the tubular bells, whose sound resembles that of church bells or carillon. I have used them here to create a powerful visual image and a transformative physical environment for the shifting locations of the play," says the scenic designer.
"My goal was the creation of a timeless environment, with a fluidity of transition to each of the spaces onstage being shaped by the otherworldly movement of this instrument," explains Pask. "The image of these bells conjures a surreal impression of the architecture of the period and the majestic nature of the locations in which the play takes place. When we first see the bells they present a regal and majestic image with their gleaming presence. Each bell is individually and loosely hung so that they float and drift like a wind chime. As the play progresses, their shifting configurations and the light that acts upon them creates a more menacing and foreboding tone, their visual weight becoming increasingly more ominous as the threats against Joan appear. The transformation of their visual character amplifies the progression of difficult challenges and imprisonment confronting Joan, and ultimately reflect the actual flames of her demise."
Where did Pask run into his biggest challenges? "The meticulous construction of the bells themselves was a unique process of discovery, using different materials and surface treatments to create the varying sizes, as they range in scale from the smallest at 3 inches to the largest and most upstage bells that are 12 inch diameter."
Projection designer Christopher Ash drew on the heroine's tragic fate to help tell the story. "The projection design for Saint Joan drew from a need to tell the story of the changing wind before the battle of Orleans, but we found opportunity within the text and the scenery to bring alive a sense of Joan's voices that spoke through the bells," says Ash. "We later Discovered the ability to poetically represent the fire and passion that Joan ignited in France and foreshadow her eventual fate. So the embers of fire, and that waves of water became the core inspiration and element of the projection design."
"Saint Joan is not a play that asks for projection to be involved," explains Ash, "So my largest challenge was to find ways to support a nearly hundred year old play about religion and political ideas without feeling like an unnecessary layer of technology that was shoehorned into the classic. This meant that I would need to carefully marry with all other elements. The projections would not be able to survive without being in harmony with a moment of music, a lighting gesture, a scenic move, or Saint Joan's prayers."
Jane Greenwood brought the 15th century characters to life in her own way. "Tapestry and a book about Joan of Arc published in the 1920s were interesting research that triggered my designs," says Greenwood. "The armor was a challenge, especially for Joan with the quick changes Condola Rashad has throughout the play."
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Saint Joan stars four-time Tony Award nominee Condola Rashad (A Doll's House, Part 2; "Billions"). Joining Rashad are Walter Bobbie (marking the theatrical director's first return to Broadway as an actor in over 20 years), Adam Chanler-Berat (Peter and the Starcatcher), Jack Davenport ("Smash"), John Glover (The Cherry Orchard), Patrick Page (MTC's Casa Valentina), Daniel Sunjata (MTC's The Country House), Maurice Jones (MTC's Linda), Russell G. Jones (MTC's Ruined), Max Gordon Moore (Indecent), Matthew Saldivar(MTC's Important Hats of the 20th Century), Robert Stanton (MTC's Fuddy Meers), Lou Sumrall (Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune). the company also includes Tony Carlin (JUNK), Ben Horner (War Horse), Mandi Masden (MTC's August Wilson's Jitney), Howard W. Overshown (Julius Caesar), Michael Rudko (The Audience) and RJ Vaillancourt (Broadway Debut).