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Dane Laffrey on Accessible Design

Theatrical designer Dane Laffrey is having an accessibility moment. Earlier this year, he designed sets and costumes for Deaf West Theatre’s Broadway revival of Spring Awakening. Presently he’s in the early stages of conceiving a set design for the Huntington’s production of Craig Lucas’ I Was Most Alive With You, a play that utilizes both American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English. Speaking about designing with a Deaf audience in mind, Laffrey noted, “We needed a design that had a simplicity to it so that you could zero in on a person signing. You can’t have anything that’s too visually chaotic.”

Last October, Lucas and Laffrey met to comb through the script and discuss what the set should look like and how it should function. In the production, rather than the traditional ASL translation performed by two actors on the periphery of the stage, the translators will be incorporated into the world of the play. Laffrey explained, “The person doing the ASL becomes part of the character’s articulation in the particular moment. Characters are associated with two actors at once — one speaking and one translating — and that tells you something about the style of the show and then ultimately the style of the set.” He continued: “The images in my head are blank, simple, actor-driven. It’s more presentational not mimicking architecture.

"Because the play is about tough things, I am hoping that the design will stress clarity, difficulty, and beauty."

The set is not a machine that happens around the actors; the actors change the space. Craig and I talked about what it means for that to be effortful and exploring that effort in context of the Book of Job. I’m thinking about a space where the agency of the actors and characters are in question.”

For his part, Lucas noted, “I think it asks a lot of Dane because the subject matter is tough — the world of things that do not yield to our desires. Because the play is about tough things, I am hoping that the design will stress clarity, difficulty, and beauty.”

–      LISA TIMMEL


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