Behind the scenes: From an ‘old-lady’ couch to a stunning set piece
How would you represent the destruction of the environment through the medium of dance? It’s a tricky question. But for choreographer Stacey Tookey and So You Think You Can Dance Canada set decorator Shayne Fox, the answer came in a rather unlikely form.
It was a couch.
It might seem like an unlikely symbol at first, but with the vision of these two working together, it was pulled off with grace, originality and context.
“About a week and a half before the show, Stacey requested a couch that was pristine on one end and destroyed on the other, representing the beauty fading into devastation,” Fox says.
Fox creates all of the set pieces on the show, from Luther Brown’s oversized boom box to Melissa Williams’ disco wardrobe. She also oversees all of the special effects, like confetti, falling rose petals, smoke and the red silks for Sergio Trujillo’s circus-inspired Argentinean tango.
For Tookey’s Top 14 duet, Fox imagined a Baroque-style sofa and went on Craigslist to start looking.
“It had to be an interesting piece on its own and I thought the contrast of devastation would work the best with an ornate, delicate, elegant piece,” she says.
“It had a brown floral pattern with gold trim, but it was too much like your grandma’s sofa to work on stage,” Fox notes of the 50-year-old sofa that had lived under plastic for all of its life.
The moment she saw it though, she knew she wanted it to be a monochromatic blue-silver. Before cracking open the paint, she consulted with wardrobe designer Lee Kinoshita-Bevington.
“I had to find out what colour the dancers’ costumes were going to be, because if they were all the same colour, they would fade into the couch, but if they were in green plaid with pink stripes, it just wouldn’t work.”
The viewing audience sees a fabulous set piece, but what goes unseen is just how many emails and phone calls fly back and forth to make it happen. Fox not only has to consult with the choreographer and wardrobe department, she also has to consult with the producers on every prop she creates.
Fox also has to make sure the set pieces she creates will have the structural integrity to withstand dancers jumping and flying off them. The couch passed the test.
With the colour good to go, she had the set painter prime the couch, but not with any old primer. It had to be mixed with fabric paint to avoid peeling and chipping off the couch. “It’s amazing paint,” Fox says of the metallic blue she used. “It just picks up the light!”
To start the “destruction” component of the couch, Fox began by painting one end black.
“We did it one phase at a time, because you can’t reverse it!” Tookey notes. “At first it was gradually painted dark, but it wasn’t enough. On stage, it just looked like it had a shadow.”
It was a tricky finding the right balance between the idea of destruction and the visual look of the piece. “The original idea was to rip the fabric and pull out stuffing and expose the inner structure of the couch,” Fox says. But once they started, she and Tookey quickly realized it was going to look too messy on stage.
“If you start destroying it, you can’t put it back together,” says Tookey.
So instead, Fox began adding layers to the couch – two kinds of black tulle and fake barbed wire made out of rubber.
“Shayne’s awesome at coming up with ideas,” Tookey says. “What I love about her is that she’s not scared to go one step too far and then scale it back. I love the dialogue we have.”
But Tookey still wanted to have some slashing in the cushions, with stuffing coming out. They gave it a go, but Tookey says it “looked really cool up close, but in the dress rehearsal, it looked like two white blobs on screen.”
So Fox added more paint and more tulle!
“The more we added to it, the harder it was for the dancers to work on because I didn’t choreograph the piece thinking the couch would be full on that end,” Tookey says, but it ended up working out.
Because the dancers jumped on and over the couch, it had to be secure, so during a commercial break, Fox’s team drilled the legs into holes on the stage. “Not only does it have to look fabulous on stage, it also has to be functional,” Fox notes.
In a week and a half, this set piece went from an idea in Tookey’s mind to a stunning remodeled piece bolted onto the stage.
“To have an idea this thought through and with such attention and vision, it’s really amazing,” Tookey says. “I’m so happy with how it turned out. It’s so beautiful.”
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