How did we get to be here? Set Designer Derek McLane spoke to us about re-imagining Merrily We Roll Along.
An edited transcript follows. To read the full interview, check out the Merrily We Roll Along UPSTAGE Guide.
I’ve known Merrily We Roll Along for a long time and have always found it poignant. The genius of Merrily is that it tells the story backwards, so that the story ends when a group of young people are at their most idealistic and ambitious.
Fiasco Theatre Company tells stories through the use of objects, manipulated by actors, so a big part of my job is to invent the “toy chest” out of which these objects come.
"We had a crackling meeting with our set designer, Derek McLane, in which he proposed the wonderful idea of the space being a sort of prop/costume warehouse. It’s a show about people in the entertainment industry, so doing it with only six cast members in a space where you can grab a wig off a shelf to play 'that guy at that party in 1960' got us very excited, mostly because it sounded FUN."— Jesse Austrian, Fiasco Theater Co-Artistic Director
There were two tracks of research for this set design: one was for the overall environment, which in our production is a costume/prop storage area creating the “toy chest” from which we tell the story, and the other was for the individual scenes, which take place in receding time periods and economic conditions.
Fun fact! This is Derek's 12th Sondheim design, his 4th collaboration with Fiasco and his 19th production at Roundabout.
I always start the design process by reading the script, listening to music, and talking with the director. Next, I sketch. I revise and redraw until an idea emerges.
My associates and I then build scale models, which I share with the director. This is often the time when the director figures out how to physicalize the production.
Merrily is a big show and orchestra to fit on the intimate Laura Pels stage. We are building two balconies offstage for the orchestra, using the space below to store furniture and props.
—Derek McLane, November 2018.