The Intersection of Public and Private Space

Sara Brown, scenic designer

sketch of The Temperamentals set

In order to recount the founding of the Mattachine Society, Jon Marans’ script flows quickly through a number of scenes that take place in a variety of different locations. These scenes are written to flow into one another seamlessly. The design challenge is to create an architecture for the space that supports these varied locations while remaining flexible. To me, the stage design had to reflect the seamless nature of the script and allow for the performers to move through it to get to different locales as opposed to having the scenery move to the performers to make different scenes.

While the play is documenting the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement in America – it is also very much about the imperfect individuals and personal relationships that formed this movement. They each had to struggle with the intersection of the public and private in a very real way. Most of the men in the play are attempting to live out a ‘normalized’ family life while maintaining relationships outside of the bounds of this social structure. I was interested in the idea of the home as the extension of the family. I was drawn to the look of California Modern homes and in particular Eichler Homes. Not only are these homes of the time and place of the play, they reflect an idealized notion of the family as America’s best hope for the future.  Placing the house structure at the center of the stage allows the performers to physically occupy a family space, to stand outside of it, or to use it as a place to hide in plain site. 

As a designer, I start by mapping out the action of the text. The initial conversations tend to focus on use and action. I bring images that I think reflect the world that we are creating and then find ways to deconstruct elements in a way that supports the performance. In this case, we talked a great deal about creating opportunities for lighting. The scenery is designed to create shadows and texture in light. Each element can be lit from the front or from the back to stand in silhouette.