By Design: Beowulf Boritt's Sets For Bernhardt/Hamlet

Gender equality was an issue for actresses back in the 1890s, when leading French actress Sarah Bernhardt was ready to tackle new roles, too old for young romantic leads, not old enough for grandmothers... so the premise of Theresa Rebek's new play, Bernhardt/Hamlet, is that the actress—played by Janet McTeer—take on the iconic male role of Hamlet. The design team for this Roundabout Theatre Company production, which opened on September 25, 2018 at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre includes: Beowulf Boritt, set design; Toni Leslie-James, costume design; Bradley King, lighting design; and Fitz Patton, original music and sound design. 

"I wanted to communicate the 'empty space' of a theatre, which is far from empty," says Boritt. "We wanted to give a sense of the kinetic energy of a bare stage; the potential for a story to spring to life. The ropes and sandbags and pulleys of the fly system are there ready to carry scenery in and out. There's a big visible prop storage full of things that might have been in Sarah's prior productions, and of course, the door to Sarah's star dressing room prominent on stage right. Instead of a star, we made a little gold emblem based on Sarah's self created coat of arms: a tragedy mask, Sarah's initials, and her motto 'Quand Meme.'"

In terms of challenges, Boritt notes: "We actually got the go-ahead relatively late—last March I think, and so I needed to get the set designed in about six weeks to get it to the shop in time to build it affordably—and our budget was pretty small, so I couldn't afford much shop overtime!—so that was a challenge. Part of the fun was learning all about Sarah Bernhardt. I didn't know much more than her name when we started, and she's such a colorful figure, and such a mighty woman in an era that sure didn't encourage mighty women. I always love when a show opens new windows for me and I learn about a new world. It was also a joy to collaborate with Moritz von Stuelpnagel who I've worked with before, and always have a good time with. I always love working for the Roundabout; they are very supportive of all the nutty ideas I bring to them, and always try to make them happen! I hadn't worked with Theresa Rebeck before, but it was great to meet her and get to collaborate with her on this very timely play." 

Take a look at the slide show to see, and read more about Boritt's designs.

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