Upon walking into the Folger Theatre these days, one has the distinct impression that they’ve stumbled into a lush version of an M.C. Escher sketch. What’s more, it’s hard to tell where the theater ends and the stage begins. But this delightful disorientation is all of a design. A scenic design, to be exact, by Marion Williams. I was so awed by the set, from its concept to its construction, that I simply had to pick Marion’s brain about it.
ET — The set for The Gaming Table seems to be such a natural extension of the overall theater space, using the esthetic already in place in the Folger. Was that important to your design and why?
MW — We wanted to make the audience feel as though they were actually inside the house, that the game was going on all around them. I did not want an audience member to be able to tell where the theater ended and the set began. The Folger is such a unique space for a set designer to work, as it has such a powerful aesthetic already. The beautiful wood tones and ornate details of the theater seemed a perfect style for our world, so I thought—lets use what is there and simply make lots more of it!
ET — There seems to be no “easy way out” of the house, and you mentioned that was somewhat inspired by present day casinos*. Could you elaborate?
MW — The design of Vegas casinos is really brilliant and wonderfully manipulative; they are designed specifically to keep the game going all the time. The buildings obscure any view of the outside world, while surrounding you with the enviably rich spectacle of the game. They are designed to keep you at the game with the flow of their plans always funneling you back to the tables.
This seemed like just the world we were dealing with in this play. So in the design we purposely do not see any sign of the outside world. We wanted it to feel like the house really could just go on and on, as if behind every doorway could be another game.
* Watch for an upcoming blog about the tricks Vegas casinos really use to keep their gamers gambling—and how some of those tricks actually appear in our set!
MW — Yes, the design of a playing card has no up or down, it is meant to be viewed form either direction. I thought using this idea, both literally and metaphorically, might be really great for this play, as if there would be no upside down or right side up to this world. The design of the set echoes the design of the playing card.
* Marion found some of that inspiration in the above period playing card, and Eleanor Holdridge, the director, decided it was too fabulous not to make an appearance in the show. Watch for it! It’ll be hard to miss!
ET — The pattern of the wallpaper is so unique. How did you come up with it?
MW — It is, in fact, a real wallpaper pattern from the period of the play. However, I loved the fact that it did in many ways look like patterns on playing cards*.
* So much so that the wallpaper pattern also appears on the back of our playing cards in the scene when we play Basset!
ET — Alright, I have to ask: Did you draw inspiration from Escher as well?
MW — We did actually. Eleanor and I looked specifically at Escher’s Relativity. We loved the way the world worked, that it was just a continuous maze of stairs and walls. I also loved the fact that in some ways it works like the playing card, with no specific right side up or upside down. I thought perhaps we could use the architectural details of the Folger and create a world for the play that worked like that.
ET — Lastly, does the puzzle-like circuitousness of the set itself intentionally reflect the society that these characters live in?
MW — ABSOLUTLEY!
… and if you want to know more, well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself!
Marion has designed productions all of the country, and in Europe, and is part of the “all girl rock band” responsible for the stunning design of The Gaming Table. Learn more about Marion and her work at www.marionwilliamsdesign.com.