Acclaimed artist Andromache Chalfant makes her Virginia Opera debut as set designer for A Streetcar Named Desire. She’s taking us behind the scenes with a special sneak peek of the set and the creative team’s vision for the production.
What was the vision for the opera?
The vision for this production was a collaboration between Sam, myself, Kaye and Aaron. We’ve all worked together before, so it sort of developed over time and frequent meetings. It’s hard to say if there was one large vision, in a way we broke the play apart and found its essences and worked from there. For this piece in particular we focused on the relationships between the characters and, in a way, their ground plan and their movements came first and then the set evolved around them.
One major challenge was how to create a sense of confinement, which is key to both the opera and the play. The setting is a two-room apartment and to achieve this on an opera stage is tricky, because your focus is so wide. We came up with this idea of setting the action of the opera on top of a platform that is small and raised, so we were in fact confining the actors by forcing them to interact within a certain space.
How did the characters define the set?
One thing that Sam discovered in our conversations was that there were only three pieces of furniture that seemed to have resonance in the piece, so the set and the characters revolved around these three pieces of furniture. Each character has his or her own piece of furniture and the focus is split by act.
Blanche sort of dominates the first act, so you’ll see her sitting center stage on her truck, which is all she has left in the world. In Act Two, Stanley assumes a powerful position and he’s center stage laid out on the couch reading a magazine. In the third act, we as a group feel it’s about Stella, her new baby and the future, so we see her center stage around a table preparing for Blanche’s birthday.
Describe the color palette of the set.
I think because we moved to such a stripped-down version of the piece, it can be seen as more of a psychological space and less a realistic one. We have really come down to a black and white world. Not completely, as the couch is blue, but I think it’s in part because it has a symbolic meaning. The set is very streamlined and graphic, each piece of furniture feels very real. The table and chairs are of the period (late 40s), the trunk and couch are also of the period. The blue is a color of the time – we wanted to hit upon something that was really iconic.
Did the setting of New Orleans influence you in any way?
New Orleans for us became about mood. In a strange way, I think New Orleans is more in the costumes and the action and the people than the set.
How did you prepare for this production?
I read the play and sometimes I wished I hadn’t. I wonder what it would have been like the other way, but knowledge is important no matter what you do. I think this production is working against some of what we assume with this piece of material we all know so well. So we’re pushing against that to some extent.
Virginia Opera: Debut Off-Broadway: Food and Fadwa (New York Theater Workshop), Wild Animals You Should Know (MCC Theater), Warrior Class, Sex Lives Of Our Parents, Bachelorette (Second Stage Theater), El Gato Con Botas (Gotham Chamber Opera) Regional: The Whipping Man (Hartford Stage), Crimes of the Heart (McCarter Theatre), Endgame (American Repertory Theater), Bustop (Kansas City Repertory Theater), Six Degrees of Separation (The Old Globe), Touched (Williamstown Theater Festival), Faust (Minnesota Opera), Abduction From The Seraglio (Opera Omaha) Education: M.F.A., NYU Tisch School of the Arts.