How do you make something look expensive? Spray-paint it gold. That’s the strategy that the Austin, Tex.–based ensemble Rude Mechs took with its devised show Stop Hitting Yourself, commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater in New York City. In this satire/mystery/fable, a wild man is taken from the woods and “civilized” for the entertainment of a queen; the objectivist creed of Ayn Rand is cited. The gold set—which came with a queso fountain, an excess of chandeliers and a gold piano that would have made Liberace proud—glistened with one-percent excess. Click on the images below for a closer look.
Shawn Sides, DIRECTION: We thought we were going to make a show about revolution, over the course of which we would generate a “permanent public good”; I don’t know how we got onto Ayn Rand from there. But I remember we were all kind of befuddled by the conflation of Rand and Christianity that was happening in politics. And Ayn Rand wore those dollar-sign brooches, which pointed us toward a design that was just a shameless display of wealth and tackiness.
The show satirizes our own greed and wealth and wastefulness. We originally wanted to counter the wastefulness that usually happens with every production, where inevitably a bunch of stuff gets tossed in a dumpster and goes to a landfill. Instead, we ended up doing the opposite! Let’s waste $50 worth of cheese substance every night! We’re such assholes [laughs]. The fountain idea—I think it came up in conversations of what heaven was going to be like. We’re Austinites, we’re Tex-Mex pigs, and in heaven, queso will flow freely and with no calories. Then Mimi was looking at images of the Bellagio chocolate fountain in Vegas, which, of course, is American heaven, and voilà!
Mimi Lien, SET DESIGN: Rude Mechs’ concept was a fantasy of rich people—it was really fun to make this portrait of rich people in a sort of unknown land. I love the characters—there’s a prince, a socialite, all of these archetypes. It felt like a fairy tale. It gave me license to be extreme and not bounded by reality.
We raided the Lincoln Center Theater prop-storage room. The idea was to take garbage and spray-paint it gold and pretend we’re rich—that kind of became the motif for the entire production. We were all digging this idea of recycling. One of the chandeliers was actually built out of fake food and flowers that Lincoln Center had in stock; they had five or six fake plastic lobsters, and we basically hot-glued those into a table that we turned into a frame for the chandelier, and then wired in a lot of fake flowers. When we spray-painted it gold, it looked amazing, like a million bucks! We’re such a wasteful industry that I do everything possible to try to recycle things—I feel like if I can make something sublime that doesn’t cost a lot of money, it’s better than making something expensive.
Stop Hitting Yourself, written by Kirk Lynn and created by the Rude Mechs, ran at Lincoln Center Theater’s LTC3 in New York City Jan. 15—Feb. 23. The show will tour to Dallas Theater Center May 28—30, 2015, and to other to-be-announced cities. The production was directed by Shawn Sides and featured set design by Mimi Lien, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting by Brian H. Scott and original music and sound by Graham Reynolds.