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The Gaming Table set by Marion Williams. Photo ©2012 Carol Pratt.

Hello there. Emily Trask here. Since writing my previous blog entry about Marion Williams‘ extraordinary set design for The Gaming Table, I became inspired and curious about her idea of the theatre, the building, and the space as a game itself. What was particularly intriguing to me is, that although it surrounds us, this kind of architectural game is designed so well we rarely even know we’re playing!

Nowhere is this notion more readily and shrewdly employed than in a Las Vegas casino. There are numerous tricks up the proverbial sleeves of these gaming institutions (some of which both intentionally and coincidentally show up in our Gaming Table set ) to keep the game going at all times.

The Duce take me if I can hit the Way out. – Ensign Lovely

LAYOUT

To begin with, much like the numerous stairs and confusing passageways of our Gaming Table set, casino layouts are great labyrinths. They are designed for the primary purpose of getting a gambler lost. Just about anyone who has set foot into a Vegas casino can attest to this. Almost as soon as you step inside, the entrance seems to vanish and you have little choice but to be drawn in. In fact, there is intentionally no “main entrance or exit” to most casinos, but rather a handful of small, somewhat disguised doors to the outside world that require you to take numerous escalators, stairs, and/or hallways to get to. Some of the larger casinos even require you to walk through a mall, or external but enclosed village of sorts, before you get to the casino proper, making it even more difficult to find your way out.

Map of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas

THE LOGIC OF THE ILLOGICAL

There is also no logical arrangement to where things are located in a Vegas casino. If you need to use the restroom, get something to eat, or even collect your winnings, you have to wind yourself deep into the gut of the gaming. Often these services are lodged as far back as possible so that you are forced to wander through the building to find what you’re looking for, only to be side tracked to a green-topped table or sexy slot machine. In addition, there are multiple sets of the same game in different locations, so if you ask for directions or remember the location of the bathroom because it is “near the Golden Monkey slot machines,” you will, unfortunately, find that there are three sets of Golden Monkey slot machines, arranged in exactly the same formation but strategically placed around the building to make you think the bathroom is one way – only to be drawn further into the casino. This intentional confusion is coupled with the specific height of slot machines, statues, and plants placed specifically to hinder people from seeing across the floor of a casino. This keeps them from taking stock of where they’ve come from or where they’re going. This all means finding your way out (especially if you’ve had a few free drinks) is a game in and of itself!!!

You wake when you should repose – Lady Lucy

TIME STANDS STILL

There is a sense of timelessness when you are enveloped in a casino. You instantly feel like you are on vacation from the external world. This is also of a design. First of all, there are no clocks in casinos, and therefore it is easy to let time, literally, slip away. You won’t realize you are spending hours on a slot machine if there is nothing around to count the hours spent. Also, there are no windows in the building. This, again, is of a design (and one employed in our set as well!). The view of the outside world is intentionally eschewed and shut out. If you were to see it getting dark outside or to look up from your game and notice the light of the dawn, your internal clock might signal that it’s time to move on, that you should be hungry for dinner or that you need to go to sleep. But with no visual cue that time is passing, and no practical way around you to confirm what time it is, it is easy to understand why someone might – to quote the footman in the opening scene of The Gaming Table – “Game all Night, and Sleep all Day.”

STIMULATION AND DISTRACTIO… I’m sorry, what did you say?

Flashing lights, ornate decorations, bells, music, glitzy attired wait staff, sounds. Not only do these distract a gambler and make it that much more difficult for them to stay focused on the game at hand, but they non-verbally communicate that “winning” surrounds you. Hearing the siren of success from across the casino floor (which we’ve already established you can’t see) gives the impression that people nearby are winning (even though the great majority are losing), and if you keep playing, you could too! However, even when that great majority is losing, whatever machine they are on is still playing festive upbeat music designed to get stuck in your head. Gamblers can’t help but be drawn in to the spectacle of luridness and excess.

The Gaming Table wallpaper

What raises the stakes on this atmosphere of excess is a cleverly crafted ambiance. The lighting that is spilling out of the games is low and mellow, as if you’re in a cozy den somewhere. The carpeting and patterns on the wall are large and busy in a mesmerizing fashion (not unlike the pattern of the wallpaper on our set of The Gaming Table). This maintains an air of easy festivity, while stimulating and distracting a gambler until they are drawn to the smooth green felt of a table. Also, the color of the walls in casinos is often red (again, like the walls on our set), which studies say evokes a luscious feeling of “safety” and comfort. One distraction that is kept at bay is garbage and unwanted clutter. The Casino floor is kept spotlessly clean with workers continuously sweeping and keeping the environment welcoming. Not only is their presence practical but the constant attendance of another person being there to “pick up after you” (not unlike the servants in Lady Reveller’s house) gives the subconscious impression that you’ve already won big and are of that higher class which gets waited on.

Come! Courage Captain, Courage – Lady Reveller

FREEBIES

Every game – both table and machine – is designed to pay out small wins in the short run in order to eventually take more from you in the long run. Slot machines regularly make small payouts, forever keeping the jackpot just one star or cherry away. Other games are designed to give the gambler a feeling of “control” such as craps or keno. The player has direct “contact” with the outcome, like throwing the dice or picking their own numbers. JUST LIKE BASSET!!! It gives the gambler a fabricated sense that they can outsmart the game – causing them to play longer.

The casino also makes sure to ply its patrons with coupons for free meals, buffets, and shows to keep them on the vicinity and coming back for more. This way, even if they lose they feel like they won something free.

And last but not least: Booze. Almost all casinos provide free drinks for their gamblers. These drinks are often served by attractive cocktail waitresses, in flashy outfits (see Stimulation and Distraction section above). Alcohol slows even the smartest player, making them careless, yet leaving them feeling more satisfied and more confident – and therefore more liberal with their bets.

An Expensive Air

There is a myth that casinos pump oxygen into their building to keep patrons more awake (a tactic that might have been useful for a few theatre audiences I’ve seen! None at the Folger, of course). Some sources assert this is mere myth, while others are convinced it’s true, claiming casinos pump in additional oxygen from pressurized tanks so that the gamblers feel refreshed, awake, and able to gamble for longer. There have even been reports that some casinos release pheromones that promote feelings of euphoria or comfort, bringing the addictive nature of gambling to new heights. True or not, I have personally seen oxygen bars selling oxygen for recreational use in many Vegas casinos. Individual flavored scents may be added to enhance the experience of a shot of oxygen that gives you a little head rush and wakes you up. This is, of course, for a small price.

While The Gaming Table show or set does not come equipped with an oxygen bar, there is coffee available in the lobby during intermission.  🙂 

I hope you’ll join us before the show closes on March 4. Tickets are still available at www.folger.edu/gamingtable or by calling the box office at 202.544.7077.

Cheers!