“AUDIENCES DON’T LEAVE HUMMING THE SCENERY”: 2014 TONY NOMINATED SET DESIGNER DISCUSSES CREATIVE PROCESS

This guy designs drama… and an opera or two.

Fifteen years ago, Alexander Dodge graduated Yale School of Drama and quickly began dressing some of the finest and most renowned stages around the country.

Always with a whimsical eye and respect for architecture, Dodge designs sets that morph a playwright and director’s vision into an experience that audiences will remember long after the velvet curtains close.

His most recent work, the ingenious modular set for the musical comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” has been nominated for a Best Scenic Design in a Musical Tony Award.  The production received the most Tony nominations this year.  For “Gentleman’s Guide,” Dodge designed a stage that supports the physical comedy-rich script while advancing the aesthetic of a story set in the early 1900’s.

This is the second nomination Dodge has received in five years (the first was in 2010 for “Present Laughter”), in addition to winning a Lucille Lortel Award.  I spoke with Dodge, part-time Asbury Park resident, last week when he raised the curtain on the Broadway creative process…

Alexander Dodge is nominated for a Best Scenic Design in a Musical Tony Award for his work on Broadway’s “Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Alexander Dodge is nominated for a Best Scenic Design in a Musical Tony Award for his work on Broadway’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theater. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

TBP:  Where does your brain start when you are hired to design a set?

Dodge:  Audiences don’t leave a show “humming the scenery” as young set designers are often told in school.  I think a good set allows the play to “live” within it.  It adds to the overall production without being too literal.  Of course, there are times where the set is the center of attention but those moments have to balance with the entire piece otherwise it becomes the loud, irritating guest at the party.

For me, the design process always starts with an examination of the script which is shortly thereafter followed by a discussion with the director.  Some directors have very formed visions about what they think the space needs to be and others let me just run with ideas.

My favorite experiences are when it’s a collaboration – a true give and take.  I find that’s when the most interesting results evolve and it’s also what makes the process the most fun.

TBP:  The set for “Gentleman’s Guide” is brilliant.

Dodge:  Early on, it became clear that we needed to confine our playing space due to all the locations in the script.  Otherwise, it would be a never ending show about changing scenery.  We created a toy theatre inside the theater which seemed the perfect enclosure for a comedy about a serial killer.

TBP:  This is your second Tony nomination in five years.  As someone who sees you as a great talent, I am not “just honored” that you have been nominated.  I want to see you win and celebrated.

Dodge:  I know people say it is an honor to be nominated all the time and it sounds like a broken record by now but it is actually true.  It always feels good to be asked to the prom even if you aren’t voted prom queen.

It is amazing being nominated for a Tony again. Getting recognized for good work is a great thing and an important thing.  It’s important to step back, take a breath, and savor all of it, even for just a moment.

This year has been an extraordinary one for my family and I.  As incredible as the recognition for my work has been, my son Nicholas (born in March) is by far the most amazing thing I have been blessed with.  He is truly a miracle.

Read The Coaster and TheBPlot’s 2010 interview with Dodge here.  For more about Dodge, click here.  And for tickets to the most-nominated show on Broadway, click here.

Richard@TheBPlot.com

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