The press has acclaimed the revival of Kiss Me Kate at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, CA, with stellar notices for the sets by scenic designer John Iacovelli (with costumes by David K. Mickelsen, lighting by Jared A. Sayeg, and sound by Jon Gottlieb). "Scenic designer John Iacovelli takes what we first see as an empty, rundown theater stage and transforms it into a Technicolor-rific Shakespeare world, with David K. Mickelsen giving us one absolutely stunning outfit after other, whether recreating the distinctive ‘New Look’ of the late ‘40s or garbing the cast in full Shakespearean mode. Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting is as gorgeous as lighting designs come, Jon Gottlieb’s sound design provides crystal-clear amplification, and Carol F. Doran gets top marks for her wig and hair design," says Stage Scene LA. Kiss Me Kate runs through October 12, and Live Design has interviewed Iacovelli about his designs. Be sure to read the first half of the interview in Part One. The continuation runs below:
Live Design: Can you discuss one or two scenic elements, how they are actually built?
John Iacovelli: As a student myself of the famed Broadway scenic designer and producer Oliver Smith, I wanted also to pay homage to the way scenery was designed in the 1940s and ‘50s. I have never used jackknifing wagon units and I thought this was the perfect solution for my backstage hallway. I use the jackknives as side walls for “the Backstage” and when they pivot downstage, they make up the front wall of the dressing rooms with a gallery/balcony overhead. There is a spiral staircase on the stage right jackknife and a rolling stair unit that does double duty in Petrucchio’s house in act two that provides access the to the stage left side. I often use slip stages in this theater, but this time I used turntables for both the dressing rooms so that when we can go from corridor to interior by making the turntables revolve.
Brad Enlow, the technical director, did a masterful job of engineering these large units. He used a massive vista pivot for the jackknifes and a 45” slew ring for the turntables. He used triple swivel castors for these units that are together as large as a 40 foot container. He and I talked early on about not using automation. All the scenery is pushed or pulled, as it would have been in 1948. This makes the show much quieter. All the stage hands are costumed in 1948 stage hand garb. All of the scenery for the musical version to Taming the Shrew are wing and drops that fly. Petrucchio’s house backing has translucently painted windows and the garden drop is also a translucency that has the church on the reverse side. When the act curtain first appears, it falls in on a kabuki rig that is impressive in its speed and beauty. The Kabuki was devised by Isa Mistsuharu, from Japan, and it is a traditional Kabuki mechanism with wire rope instead of hemp on a single batten. It is operated from the fly rail.
LD: Where were the sets built?
JI: The scenery was built at The Pasadena Playhouse with a dedicated staff under production manager Joe Wit. A year or so ago the playhouse returned to being under the jurisdiction of the IATSE local 33 for carpenters and stagehands and local 800 for scenic artists. This has worked well as the union has gained skilled members who can now work at the Taper and other local union theatres, and the playhouse has an agreement it can afford. This is almost unheard of in LORT theatres and should prove to be a model for others. The technical director, Brad Enlow, was supportive of the design from the outset, and in fact, started building the scenery two weeks early (primarily to avoid overtime later). I remember this, as Sheldon Epps [the director] and I came to the theatre one day for a meeting in order to finalize the design, and he said, “Do you realize that they have already started building?” And I said “Yes, I’ve just found out. I hope we don’t change anything today!” But it was a smart move and it has worked out beautifully. Brad is the son of the fine designer Randall Enlow, and he and Brad basically grew up on the floor of his father’s scenic shop. He is a great problem solver.
RoseBrand built all of the soft goods. Three of the backdrops (including two translucencies) and both sets of painted legs were painted by the great union painter Ruth Gilmore in Seattle. She has painted shows for me for 30 years and was a painter on Babylon 5 and refurbished and repaired the drops for my set for the most recent “farewell tour” of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby. Johnny Painter painted the show drop on the paint frame at the playhouse. We felt there was too much painting in this show to do it all in house. As it was, we cut a drop because we could not get it painted in time. The props were built and gathered by the new Playhouse propmaster, Ralph Breken, who relocated from Arizona for this job. I am happy that the union found him in their ranks; he is a true prop artisan.
LD: How did you collaborate with the costume and lighting designer for a successful end-result?
JI: Jared Sayeg and I have collaborated on several shows and this was easy for me. I did not want to “see” moving lights or any instruments that were too modern and would take us out of the show. Jared enhanced the romance of the show with rich inky colors that helped the show sink into the backstage darkness without being flat. I also showed him the incredibly color-rich painting of Archibald Motley. David Mickelson, (the single busiest designer in LORT) and I did not talk. Sheldon and I had a brief conversation about how right he would be for this show and I did not see David until the first dress rehearsal. He did see my sketches on Dropbox and I had worked with him at the Denver Center on Amadeus. What I love the most is we did something that one is always told and taught not to do: we have both of our main stars in a red dress and red dressing robe on a red set with red wallpaper.