Here Lies Love, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s disco musical about Imelda Marcos, originally premiered in a flexible black-box space at New York City’s Public Theater. Following multiple extensions, including a commercial run at the Public, there were talks of how to take it to the next level (it played in London’s West End but not on Broadway). The question: How do you put a show staged in a club, with audiences standing on the floor while actors perform around them on movable platforms, into a proscenium house? Set designer David Korins will find out when the show heads to Seattle Repertory Theatre, April 7-May 28. “We probably redesigned the show 18 different times,” he says. The team settled on essentially taking the original dance floor and plopping it down on the stage of SRT’s Bagley Wright Theatre. Audiences will have three seating choices: on the dance floor with the actors (as in the original) or seated in either of two galleries.
“To create the right space for Here Lies Love, we are removing seats and leveling our house to the height of the stage and constructing a two-level seating gallery that accommodates about 160 people and surrounds the dance floor/standing area for the rest of the audience, as well as the stage platforms,” explains Elisabeth Farwell-Moreland, the producing director at SRT. Was the theatre built to be reconfigured like that? “Not even a little bit,” she admits. For the galleries, the theatre is basically building “heavy-duty scaffolding,” which required “architects and structural engineers—people who understood weight loads, egress, and capacity issues,” says Farwell-Moreland.
If this design experiment is successful, it might be reconfigured in different proscenium houses nationwide. As Korins notes, “There are hundreds if not thousands more of those things built in America, as opposed to big open rooms. And now that we’ve cracked that code, I have high hopes it could find its way back to New York in a proscenium, eventually a Broadway venue. We can now theoretically use the balcony, hook, line, and sinker, as it is.” He adds happily, “Isn’t that exciting? You heard it here first.”
A version of this piece appears in American Theatre’s April ’17 issue, with the headline “Club Remix.”