The Warp And Weft, Part 2: Stitching Together The Art Of Neil Gaiman and Lee Bontecou

As anyone who has been reading this blog for the past few months already knows, I’m designing the set for the Robert Kauzlaric adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”, at the Sacred Fools theater. I’ve gone into great detail about the musical, artistic, and cinematic inspiration for the scenic design in this previous post. As I type this, auditions are underway at the theater, and I’m going to deliver the set model this afternoon to director Scott Leggett, the intrepid leader of this creative expedition. This set will be heavily influenced by the sculpture of Lee Bontecou, and I’m finally ready to reveal the set model to the public! Some snaps of it follow later in this post.

To be honest, it’s kind of a dream of mine to mash-up the art of two of my “artistic heroes”, Neil Gaiman and Lee Bontecou. The former, because I enjoy the hell out of his storytelling, and the latter because find her art moving. Below is an example of her canvas-and-metal sculpture that I’ll attempt to replicate for the set:

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1962...the jumping-off point for my set design for "Neverwhere"
Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1962…the jumping-off point for my set design for “Neverwhere”

The process started with a simple sketch (more after the break),

"First-pass" sketch, plan and elevation
“First-pass” sketch, plan and elevation

…and then, once I met with Scott a few times, graduated to the plan and elevation. I also met multiple times with the talented Michael Mahaffey, Master Carpenter for this project.

Stage right
Stage right

I then set about constructing the model…it was a revelation. First, because of the small scale of the model, I could never hope to approach the level of detail or texture of Ms. Bontecou’s art. That was discouraging at first, but really, the purpose of a model isn’t to replicate those things about a particular set, but more as a tool for the director and everyone else involved to be able to start visualizing the playing area.

Stage left, with a glimpse of "The Boiler"
Stage left, with a glimpse of “The Boiler”

The second revelation was that there is a deliberateness, and careful calculation to every choice Lee Bontecou made in her sculptures. She speaks a certain “language” in the arcs, and voids, and shades of fabric she uses. Whenever I would get stuck on what choice to make for a pattern, I would ask myself “WWBD”, “What Would Bontecou Do?” And although I don’t presume to even approach the level of skill or artistry that she possesses, I’d like to think that I now at least speak conversational Bontecou, if not fluent.

Full set by Michael James Schneider, inspiration by Lee Bontecou
Full set by Michael James Schneider, inspiration by Lee Bontecou

This scenic design is the most important project of my artistic career, and I’m humbled and honored to be a part of a team filled with such talented people. Many, many thanks go out to Scott Leggett, the producers, and countless others who have made this dream a reality.

I’ll be posting more pictures in the next few weeks leading up to the opening of Neverwhere, on April 5th, 2013. Feel free to catch all of them by following BLCKSMTH on Twitter, following BLCKSMTH on Facebook, and taking a look at the @BLCKSMTH Instagram feed. Also, more importantly, please check out both the NeverwhereLA Twitter feed, and the official NeverwhereLA Tumblr: you can see some of (the very talented) Martin Morse’s costume sketches there right now.

See you “below”!

Michael James Schneider with Lee Bontecou-inspired set design for "Neverwhere"
Michael James Schneider with Lee Bontecou -inspired set design for “Neverwhere”

Coda: I just delivered the model to Scott and the rest of the team. On the way to the theater, I needed to stop by the local cobbler to put an extra hole in my belt. While I was there, I set the model, shrouded in a rough burlap, down on the counter. It attracted the attention of another patron waiting for a repair. He gestured towards the back of it, thinking it a cage. “For rabbit?”, he inquired in Spanish (I understand a bit of Spanish, having grown up in a Spanish-speaking household…I just can’t speak it much). I shook my head. He frowned. “Para gato?”, he asked. “No, not for cat” I said. He came around to the front of the model, peered through the rough burlap in the dim shop, straightened up and proudly declared to me, “For mouse!” I smiled and nodded, thinking of the Rat King, the Rat-Speakers. “Yes”, I said, “for mouse.”

And here’s Part 3: Mind The Gap, in which I reveal the set and interview Robert Kauzlaric!

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