Behind the Curtain with Scenic Designer Cameron Purdy
by: Carly Covel
Its no surprise that seasoned theatre artist and scenic designer Cameron Purdy is both a madman and technical genius when it comes to designing and building on the DCP Theatre stage. His ability to create not just a set, but a lived in, believable atmosphere for a story to come to life is art within itself. I had the unique pleasure of gaining a glimpse into Cameron's creative process through a series of questions he so graciously took the time to answer.
What was your vision and process for the design and construction of this set?
"First the director told me about the show, and I got a sense of his ideas, his vision. Then I read the script, and immediately knew this needed to be an intimate piece. Only 4 actors, so they can’t get swallowed up by a gigantic set. We decided we wanted a basement bar, low ceilings, warm and cozy, so lots of stained wood and darker colors. The low ceilings presented an extra challenge since the majority of our stock pieces are ten feet high. I insisted on 8 foot walls. We had to build 10 new flats Online research of classic Irish Pubs, built in the 50’s almost consistently showed rich, ornate wood work, paneling and exposed beams. I chose to bisect a “square” building across the corners, effectively creating a triangular set, to draw focus into the set and its characters. It’s sort of a single point perspective effect. Also, it’s a “corner bar”, so double win! I created a few sketches and shared them with the director, the lighting designer (especially for the challenges of lighting through hanging beams) and the scenic painter, Colleen Algeo, who would have to turn every surface into woodgrain. Once we had a consensus, I scaled it out and presented it to the cast and crew to begin blocking it in real scale. That worked a few bugs out regarding spaces, locations of items. Final renderings and elevations were created and we worked from those. Because of an incredibly truncated build schedule, I constructed many set pieces at home before the stage was available to us. We also had a couple pre-build parties at the theater to build and store items for load in later. Thanks to an incredibly ambitious and talented build crew, we had the set almost completely finished in one weekend."
What details do you hope audiences will notice within your design?
"Actually, I hope they don’t lean into details. Oh, the details are there – every panel on the wall was hand made. The overhead beams were hand built. The bar, the taps, the landing at “street level” outside the upper window. I can’t even begin to list the detail that went into Colleen’s artistry. But I really wanted to create a mood. A familiar feel, like the audience is home. They can look at this set and think “I’ve been here. I know this place. I remember this place.” That brings them into the story and they are part of it."
What is the most rewarding part of this kind of work?
"Hands down. Working with the best of the best. Ray Thompson (director), who never calls me out for being crazy; Colleen Algeo (Scenic charge Artist) without whom none of my work would amount to anything realistic; Mike Addice (LD) who will add the sepia-toned charm with his lights and carefully considered shadows, Beth Cohen (Producer) who tirelessly supported my every whim (and the expense thereof) and scoured the earth for the littlest details to make this set a home for the cast. There is no other team I’d rather be a part of. I am honored."
What are some of the challenges and limitations when designing a set like this?
"Time. Budget. So much creativity is spent overcoming these challenges, before I can even start putting my mind towards the art. Logistics are always the first drain on my resources. That being said, we were granted budget flexibility when we needed it, and no compromises were made due to lack of funds. And the theater was very gracious in allowing us to use the space during another show’s run to begin building so we could best use our time once we had the stage."
What are your favorite parts of volunteering with DCP Theatre?
"Being able to create. Making something out of nothing. I can build a deck or remodel a house or repair a rotted beam, but that’s not the same as creating art, often by repurposing every day items into special things for the stage. Same goes for acting. Words on a page that rise and swirl and are somehow hewn into a visceral character that holds audiences spellbound for 2 hours. There’s nowhere else in our workaday lives that gives us that joy, after an inordinate amount of frustration, self-doubt, tunnel-vision, imposter syndrome, denial, anxiety and insomnia, of course. The Gods must always exact their fee. Also, being with others who share the same passion. Insanity. Potato, potahto."
You can see Cameron's design for Now and Then playing March 17-26th at DCP Theatre 795 Ridge Road, Telford, PA. Tickets available now: https://www.dcptheatre.org/buy-tickets
Photography by: Stephen Gordon Studios