Spotlight on Scenic Designer David Gallo

Scenic Designer David Gallo has a Tony Award (The Drowsy Chaperone), an exhibition of his work in the Smithsonian Institute's permanent collection, and he still drafts his designs with a pencil and paper rather than a computer. Recently he took some time to talk to Artistic Associate M. Bevin O'Gara about his work on Stick Fly.

    Our audiences are familiar with your work from Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf where you said "music sets the tone." Did you hear any music when designing Stick Fly?
    It's not musical influences in the LeVay family so much as visual arts. There's an extensive art collection on stage, and I've been inspired by the artists the family would collect. These artists are funky, a little rough around the edges, and yet in this house, they are displayed in perfect frames.
    What specific artists or literary figures did you look at?
    The classic Harlem Renaissance stuff, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, some cutting-edge, contemporary, highly political works from Kara Walker, and brilliant artists of the modern era like Jean-Michel Basquiat. We chose the actual works themselves very carefully. The idea is that everything on stage very specifically tells the story.
    What attracted you to this piece?
    I've been doing the Wilson plays for years, Lorraine Hansbery's plays, and working with Marion McClinton and Keith Glover, but none of those stories are about these people [in Stick Fly]. As a person dedicated to designing for the African-American experience, this is a play about people you donít see on stage, so I wanted to see what their story was about and see where they were coming from. People don't think these characters exist. It will be interesting to see that barrier broken. The typical August Wilson play is all about struggle, fighting for equality or respect or real estate or a piano — basic human needs. This play is about filthy rich people. It's a very different type of show than what people are used to. And, of course, Kenny. I adore him and it's always an honor when he asks me to collaborate.
    What other kinds of research did you do for this show? Did you visit Martha's Vineyard?
    Kenny went; I never did. But, from the beginning he was very specific. Stick Fly takes place in Edgartown, which is different from Oak Bluffs. When I first read the play, I thought, "Oh boy, I get to design a Victorian cottage," but I was wrong. In Oak Bluffs, there are these big old mansions, heavily Queen Anne style. Edgartown is more Federalist. The architecture is much more intense. Itís much older, and itís much more expensive.
    Your hobby is deep-sea diving and wreckage exploration. Does this influence your design work?
    Strangely enough, yes. What's so interesting about shipwrecks is you're going to places people haven't seen for hundreds of years. There are very few places on Earth you can see something that's been completely undisturbed in its natural environment. My interest in the past and connection to history is where the passion for scuba comes from. When I'm creating a scenic design, I'm imagining a time and a place and putting it up on stage as a portrait or a fantasy. I'm seeing it for the first time.

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