MEG DISCIORIO, CO-DIRECTION AND VIDEO DESIGN: An Outopia for Pigeons is an absurdist piece about Martha Washington, the last surviving passenger pigeon in the U.S. She passed away in 1914. In the show, she is trying to save her species, unaware that the passenger pigeon has become extinct, except for her. So she builds an outopia—a term Foucault defined as a non-place. And in her mind, she thinks if she builds a non-place, no one can harm the passenger pigeon.
We’re a design-based company, so the designers and the actors all work together to create the world and the feel of the show. Justin Maxwell’s script described the set as 1914 Victorian and ahistorical—a mishmash of odd, historical objects. Because we’re a small theatre company, there was no way we could buy or rent enough stuff to fill the huge set. Our prop designer Séan McArdle had this brilliant idea to crowdsource the stuff for the outopia. The set was really informed by those donations. We happened to get a bunch of glass bottles donated, so we had a glass-bottles section. We had a lot of taxidermied animals. It’s amazing the odd things people had in their houses! Crowdsourcing sparked a lot of interest in the show early on. After performances, we would invite the audience up on the set to walk around.
If I had to guess, 150–200 pieces on the set were donated. The rest was rented from the Guthrie Theatre’s props loft. The cost of the whole thing from top to bottom was just shy of $12,000—that included set, props, costumes and everybody’s stipends and fees.
URSULA K. BOWDEN, SET DESIGN: Martha Washington is being kept at the Cincinnati Zoological Society, away from her family, and psychologically she’s stuck. She can’t get away. You get this literal sense of a caged bird. And there’s also the sense that we get very comfortable in the cages we put up for ourselves, but ultimately we need to go beyond those bars and get out. We literally made a 12-foot-in-diameter birdcage, which falls in the middle of the space, painted it to look like antique copper, and hung items from it. That’s what’s slightly deceptive about the photos; the stage is actually only 20 feet wide, and it’s curved, so at its deepest, it’s 20 feet, and the shallowest parts are 12–14 feet.
One of the phrases we came back to was the Room of Requirement, if you’re a Harry Potter fan. We wanted a sense of things that are old and cluttered. What would you take with you if you were making your favorite place in the world, with everybody that you wanted to be with forever? We wanted to create a sense of ultimate comfort for both people and birds.
An Outopia for Pigeons by Justin Maxwell ran Nov. 8–22, 2013, at Swandive Theatre in Minneapolis, with direction and video design by Meg DiSciorio and Damon Runnals. The production also featured set design by Ursula K. Bowden, space and prop design by Séan McArdle, lighting design by Per Greibrok, costume design by Lisa Conley and sound design and live mix by Kevin Springer.
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