When a play calls for a bowling alley, well, the scenic designer creates one. That is the case in Suzan-Lori Parks’ powerful play about confronting racism, White Noise, on stage through May 5 in the Anspacher at the Public Theatre in NYC. The action jumps from location to location, including the essence of a bowling alley, which is charged with symbolism for the two male characters in the play: one who owns the place and the other who is bowling for his freedom.
The creative team includes: Clint Ramos, sets; Toni-Leslie James, costumes; Xavier Pierce, lighting; Lucy Mackinnon, projections; and Dan Moses Schreier, sound. Live Design’s coverage of this powerful production, whose cast of four features Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame, continues with this Q&A with Clint Ramos on the scenic design for this world premiere directed by Oskar Eustis. Check out our first White Noise story on Schreier's sound design.
Live Design: How did the script inform your design choices, especially in terms of the bowling alley (which is fantastic!) and the quick shifts from location to location?
Clint Ramos: I had been fortunate enough to join the process early. So with Oskar and Suzan-Lori Parks, I was able to follow how the play progressed over months of readings and rewrites. In terms of the design, I don't think any of us were excited about the idea of deep verisimilitude. I really wanted to work more on an emotional/psychic space that was also more about providing solutions to the scenic challenges that play possessed. I don't think I even thought about "style" with a big "S" but rather thought about a space that can contain the work that the characters were doing but also in a utilitarian way, also contain the work that the actors were doing. The bowling alley was a given. It was where everything happened to all of them. I think really the design started there. Solving the bowling dilemma was the impetus for the design and how to succinctly move to and from there with unadorned ease. The performance space is almost blank—domesticity and location are implied. That felt correct, and true to us.
LD: How did you deal with sight lines with the audience on three sides of the stage area?
CR: You kind of just deal with it. I think, again, we had to use the bowling alley as the fulcrum of the scenic "seesaw"—so radiating the order of action and furniture thrust-wise from that seemed appropriate. I mean we made sure that every seat, in spite of the difference of location, had equal experience. We made sure that we had enough media screens to cover all three sides, etc. And really, tech time is very important. We did a lot of walking around.
LD: Can you talk about your collaboration with the other designers?
CR: This show really felt great collaboratively. I think all of us were on the same page in terms of buttressing what Oskar and SLP were trying to do with the storytelling. A lot of the success of the bowling alley is really because of Dan Moses, Lucy, and Xavier. There is a lot of scenic engineering that we had to cover. Also, a large part of the visual experience is Lucy MacKinnon's video design. I think what she does is really complete the psychological and emotional trajectory that the scenery begins. It's truly brilliant work.