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Photo by Costume sketches by Fly Davis.

Designer Statements

Costumes, Sets, & Lights

Caroline, or Change:

Designer Statements

Fly Davis — Set and Costume Design

The design of a show is about creating a framework for a piece of theatre and helping the audience to understand and invest in it. I believe the designer’s input is becoming more and more of a dramaturgical role, both vocally and aesthetically. This means, as a designer, you collaborate wholly with the director, choreographer, sound and lighting designers from page to stage. All of our disciplines have to work harmoniously as a package to create and support the wonderful worlds of the plays, musicals, and operas.

As Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori have gloriously given us a piece which could be described as more of a play-opera, along with the presence of personified objects like the radio, washer, and dryer, it meant Michael Longhurst,  the director, and I could give the design and some of the costumes more of an operatic gesture.

  • LEFT IMAGE: Costume sketches by Fly Davis for the Radio in Caroline, or Change
  • RIGHT IMAGE: Costume sketch by Fly Davis for the Moon in Caroline, or Change

In the world of costumes, we start the show by delving into the isolated mind of Caroline with her comfort characters: the Washing Machine, Dryer, Moon, and Radio, and we were able to have 3D surrealist fun from the ’60s. The Radio are mood setters and they change in color, they hint at being like The Supremes, but we have turned down the dial of naturalism and upped the futurism of their attire. The washing machine, the cooling influence on Caroline, is covered in bubbles, spraying mist in the air, and the Dryer is acting as conscience and temptation with light-up coils of red hot electricity and a rusted boiler suit and red makeup across his eyes. The moon waxes and wanes in her light and dark costumes, ancient, eternal and of course, sequined and fabulous. We only ever see Caroline in her maid’s uniform until she goes to church, when she changes into her best dress and hat. That’s the only change we see in her. The Gellmans, on the other hand, are constantly changing clothes, especially Rose who loves to shop. Her stepson, the pampered Noah, is very much at odds with Caroline’s poorer children who practically live in the same clothes but nonetheless are richer in many more ways than Noah.

Set Model by Fly Davis for Caroline, or Change

For the set, we have created an environment which isn’t rooted in naturalism; we are not saying that we are literally in this or that room, inside or outside at times—it is slightly more fragmented and abstract. We have enlarged a late 1950’s pattern to help realize the sense of domestic claustrophobia of that time. The split levels connected by the stairs reinforce the class and race divide of the wealthy white Jewish family upstairs and out of reach with their unattainable materialistic goods like a TV—“they got everything.” Caroline described by Rose as the “negro maid” toiling away in the hot “horrible basement” on a very low wage, 16 feet below sea level, surrounded by the noisy swamps of Louisiana. Caroline is working on her double turntables, hinting at her resistance to change and constant routine and cycle of her life, work, and how they are intertwined. Both history, with JFK being assassinated, and Emmie, Caroline’s rebellious daughter, disrupt this rhythm—we alter the architectural framework of the design, rupturing the space, creating caverns between characters, sparking the need for change, acceptance and healing.

We’ve opted to put our wonderful band on stage; raised and split in two, they frame the space. They are visible and absolutely part of our production, as the music is the heart and soul of the storytelling. Jack Knowles, our lighting designer, occasionally illuminates them even more, along with the twinkling Moon, with a series of light bulbs hinting at being stars in the universe. The darkness is key in the design, it surrounds the playing space and it creeps onto the walls and the floor almost like a watermark from a deluge. We connect it to loss, the great unknown, the character’s futures, and where Noah and Caroline’s children dare to dream bigger.

Jack Knowles— Lighting Design

One of the most striking things from listening to Caroline, or Change for the first time is the journey that it goes on, through changes in rhythm, style and emotion. It instantly informs and guides the lighting, being something that the lighting dances with throughout every moment of the show.

This is a musical that uses a range of different techniques to communicate the nuances of the narrative to the audience. It flits between the dank reality of the damp, overheated basement in the middle of the swamp to the fantasy world that Caroline creates, bringing to life appliances and twisting the importance of key things in her life—such as the moon. The lighting has been designed to echo these worlds and to guide the audience through them. Using clear languages that support the fantastical, bold colors and shapes accompany the Radio, Dryer, and Washer in what is otherwise a world of muted pastel tones that exist in the basement.  This allowed me to explore what each “character” was bringing—not only in what they say or their role in the narrative—but also the emotion they bring and the effect that they have on Caroline.

The whole process for the visual world of the musical has been a collaborative process. The world which Fly Davis has created through the set and costume design supports the boldness of the lighting, generating statements and giving room for the visual elements to work in sync. Working alongside Mike, the director, and Ann, the choreographer, we were able to explore how we could tell the narrative through various components and elements. In such an abstract design, the lighting adds clarity and supports the emotional journey of the characters and has been developed closely with the physical use of space in a really exciting way.

Paul Arditti — Sound Design

I hope that when you visit us at Studio 54 for Caroline, or Change, you will enjoy what you hear as much as what you see. I want you to hear every word clearly (for this is the only inviolable rule for sound designers of musicals!) and appreciate how beautifully our twelve superb musicians deliver Jeanine Tesori’s intricately devised mix of rhythm and blues, classical, klezmer, Motown and jazz. You may notice that our drummer and percussionist aren’t in view. They have a massive battery of instruments, including a drum kit, vibraphone, timpani, bells, Chinese opera gong, tam-tam and a length of chain on a washboard—all of which are housed in a studio we have built in the theatre basement. 

It’s my job to make the sound from this studio blend perfectly with the visible musicians on the platforms above the stage. I’m also responsible for designing the loudspeaker system in the auditorium so that every member of the audience can hear everything, no matter where they’re sitting. Sound system design is a bespoke task and varies hugely according to the architecture of the theatre and the nature of the show. I’m also responsible for hiding wireless microphones on all the actors—usually in their hair or wig. Our director, Michael Longhurst, has given me the additional unique challenge of Stuart’s clarinet. Is Stuart playing it for real, or is there some sound design magic involved? You decide. Finally, listen out for the sounds of Louisiana—the insects and frogs and the water. They will be all around you.