Wednesday, May 9, 2012

American Buffalo: Behind the Design Part 1

After a 16 year hiatus I have started designing sets again in addition to my usual costume design gigs. Before the big summer production hits, I am cutting my teeth on Elm Shakespeare's current project American Buffalo. While at first glance, it seems  like a small play, it has been a big challenge to get a 1970's junk shop installed in  the Kehler Liddel Gallery.

How does one go from this...

to this?

First, you treat it like an art installation. I call it: "American Junk Shop." For me American Buffalo represents beginning of the journey of where we are as a Nation today. The 70's are the beginning of the end of the American Dream.  For more of my thoughts on the play check out my previous post: American Buffalo An Introduction.
Next, we took a trip to the warehouse of our Lighting Designer, Jamie Burnett. Myself, Jamie, Mark-the Director, and the Artistic team Jim and Margie spent a few hours one Sunday afternoon "shopping" around the various piles of scenery and furniture.  We found lots of cool stuff, like this amazing yellow poker table, old guitars, chairs, and crates.

And check out this amazing 70's latch hook. It's very The Shining. (I want it.)

Once we got all of the furniture over to the Gallery, I started dressing the set. I've managed to gather various things from home, thrift stores, Yale, and a generous donation from some thrifting buddies. Because we are not able to install a full scale junk shop, I had to abstract the junk around the edges to suggest that there is more junk beyond what you see.
Everything on the set was either found or borrowed. In this corner we have Ye Olde Elm Shakespeare Trunk as a base with junk piled on and around it.

The large black speaker is actually part of our sound system and while it is not 70's, it is unobtrusive enough that it blends into the junk pile. Especially with the period speaker on the floor.

The golf clubs, ukulele, pedestal ashtray, and tennis racket all came from Jamie's warehouse. Jim brought the chainsaw. The stoneware jug was donated by a friend. I borrowed the spittoon from Yale. Because what kind of male hangout doesn't have a spittoon?

I provided the bowling bag, ice skates, shoe forms and the metal crate. The metal crate is a personal favorite and a Goodwill Outlet by the pound purchase. It probably cost $2. There is one other item in this pile that isn't in the photos, but is mentioned in the script. See if you can spot it when you come to see the show!

Stay tuned for more American Buffalo: Behind the Design later this week. I will show you Bobby's costumes from design to completion and give you a tour of Donny's desk. If you are visiting my blog via Elm Shakespeare's Facebook Wall please stop by the Vintage Spinster Facebook Page and give it a "Like". Then, you will get updates on my latest Jell-O creations and thrift store finds in addition to all of my Elm Shakespeare design projects. (I'm not kidding about the Jell-O.)


  1. Looks great! If the set and the costumes are any indication, the show will be a huge success.