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Photo by Joan Marcus.

Designing Skintight

I had always imagined this set as double height to immediately convey great wealth, and volume is a luxury in this city.

Lauren Helpern


Designing Skintight

Lauren Helpern - Set Design

When I first read Joshua Harmon’s script for Skintight, the set seemed relatively straightforward: a realistic living room in a West Village brownstone. However, when we looked at a model of what everyone will think of when they hear “brownstone” on stage, we realized it didn’t meet the demands of the show, practically or aesthetically. I had always imagined this set as double height because it needs to immediately convey great wealth, and volume is a luxury in this city. A double height space also let me put a staircase front and center and allowed for multiple entrances and exits to other parts of the home. I went back to photos of brownstones where the owners had removed the back part of the parlor floor to open up the space to the garden level. Even more exciting to me were the few brownstones that had been connected to back buildings, probably former stables. These spaces had height and bold architectural details, like skylights. The director, Daniel Aukin, and I started to explore what a space like this could be if it were gut renovated. Daniel talked about the room being like a jewel box, so we looked at marble walls and other high-end finishes, along with details like linear vents and fireplaces. As with real life renovations, we had to make compromises along the way to fit into the budget! To counter this beautiful pristine interior, we are framing the room with the cross-section of the building, exposing its crumbling inner structure.

Jess Goldstein - Costume Design

As a costume designer the first step in my process is to read the script. I found Skintight  to be immediately evocative of a very particular New York world of people, and I was very excited to see how specifically and satirically the characters are drawn by playwright Joshua Harmon. It was very easy to imagine them in my mind. Elliot Isaac seems to bear a more than passing resemblance to Calvin Klein, a fashion designer whose career and brand have always been based on the sexuality of youth. Elliot appears to be not only obsessed with nubile male beauty but also, like Calvin, with a very expensive, minimal, and sterile style of living. I looked at lots of photos of Calvin, many with his recent boyfriends, who, like the character of Trey, all appear to be several decades younger. They're very much the same type as Trey, All-American and muscular and very comfortable in their bodies. It was fascinating to observe how Calvin and the boys were often dressed in the same tight, form-fitting clothes, which were far more age-appropriate on the boys. The two characters who work for Elliot in his townhouse, his housekeeper Orsolya and his houseboy Jeffrey, will be dressed as an extension of Elliot's design aesthetic. Clean, well-tailored lines in serene tones of white, black, and greys. Idina Menzel plays Elliot's daughter, Jodi. We meet her at an emotional crisis as her marriage has just fallen apart. Her costumes may somehow reflect that disarray and uncertainty, jarring and disrupting the controlled placidity of Elliot's world.The final character of Skintight isBenjamin, Jodi's 20-yearold son. He is a somewhat awkward, yet blunt, out gay college student, majoring in Queer Theory. Director Daniel Aukin suggested he represent Elliot's worst nightmare, as Ben is totally unimpressed by Elliot and his career and has no interest in fashion or style. I imagine Ben in unobtrusive shirts, sweaters, and khakis, slightly rumpled and careless.

Eric Shimelonis - Sound Design

Joshua Harmon's writing and Daniel Aukin's directing aesthetic has me tending toward a wonderfully minimal approach to sound and music for Skintight . There will be a handful of practical sounds to bring the set and the action to life, and transition music will consist of a cycle of spare piano compositions that complement the emotional complexities of the play.