The Forest of Arden is one of the best-known and most-loved settings in the history of English dramatic literature. At once playful, mysterious, dangerous, and brightly generative, it provides a welcome challenge for any designer. Below, As You Like It scenic designer Liliana Duque-Piñeiro describes her the creation of a Forest of Arden with a young, DIY feel.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate
The project started with the traditional meeting with the director, Mark Rucker. He wanted our Forest of Arden to be a warm magical place in a world that speaks of today, but without a modern look, necessarily. The world he wanted to create would be influenced by today’s San Francisco, a trend that permeates all levels—in his words: “Etsy” [for the artisanal crafts website www.etsy.com]. It would revolve around handcrafted, reused, and recycled materials, in stark contrast to new, hi-tech sleek modern design. I left our first meeting with a bag of ideas and two words: felt and cork.
Research began, and sketches took center stage on my table, as well as a big practical question: “How can we create magical woods out of felt and stay within budget?” Add to the puzzle a stage that is very wide compared to its depth, and steep audience seating that makes it tough for actors and spectators to connect easily. I love challenges, though, and this one, in particular, since I would clearly have to dig into my sculptor bag for some out-of-the-box solutions.
For the trees, we settled on sweaters of all sizes and colors: they had the warmth and textural qualities of felt, but would be cheap and easy to find. Half of the sweaters were donated by A.C.T. staff members, and the rest handpicked at the Salvation Army. The range we could choose from offered us a rich palette.
This project that had started as a normal design process quickly became very organic. Normally I would’ve drafted each element and submitted the drawings for construction to the [scene] shop. But in this case, the assembly and placement of each sweater was too specific. We started with some initial tests to see how the material would react when quilted and stretched. From then on, it was like painting big canvases with sweaters; every tree had its own personality, its own fungi, roots, knobs, and squirrel holes . . . all of them discovered by manipulating fabric, collars, turtlenecks, seams, buttons, and zippers.
The stage platforms also have their own story, as they are made of recycled material and finished with a thin wash of color to connect them to the trees. They were dressed with numerous toadstools that Mark Robinson, the technical director, created from old pieces of furniture. Add the other designers’ woodland bird-call echoes, mysterious lighting washes, a scattering of fireflies, and one could almost smell the forest.
What a joy this process has been! My hope is that each person discovers in this forest their own Arden; I know I certainly have.