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JACKSON - Jeromy Hopgood thinks about scenic design as story telling when he creates the sets for each production of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. In his third season as the MSF scenic designer and technical director, Hopgood has taken on this year's works with his usual combination of artistic flair and professional practicality. The 2012 MSF season will feature Shakespeare's "Richard III" and "Love's Labour's Lost" as well as George Bernard Shaw's classic "Pygmalion." The season runs July 12 through Aug. 12 at the Baughman Theater in Jackson.
"Set design is complicated," explains Hopgood, "because there are so many factors to consider. In each show, I begin with the playwright's text combined with what the director is trying to do. Then we need to construct a solution that is going to work with the other two shows, since we have all three running simultaneously. On top of that, custom sets are expensive and we need to work within a strict budget."
Hopgood is a member of the theater faculty at Eastern Michigan University teaching most design related courses. MSF sets are constructed in his fully equipped scene shop. This year, his crew includes graduates and current students of the EMU theater program.
"This year, each show will have a completely individual look," says Hopgood. "Our setting for 'Richard III' is dark and stark to fit the mood of the play."
Fourth in line for the throne of England, Richard, duke of Gloucester, uses cunning intelligence, fearsome charm, and political wit to overthrow every rival standing between him and ultimate power. "We have hung banners to represent all the various competing houses. One at a time they come down symbolically as Richard eliminates each of his rivals," notes Hopgood. "There is a great deal of combat, and I chose to create a minimal landscape to keep the focus on the action."
In contrast, George Bernard Shaw's classic comedy "Pygmalion" will have sets that echo the cubist style of artist Pablo Picasso. Cubism has been called the most influential art movement of the 20th century. In cubist artworks, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form. Instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. "Pygmalion," Shaw's most witty and popular play, is a bright and funny battle of wills between renowned phonetics professor Henry Higgins and the lowly street-smart flower girl he is determined to turn into a lady, Eliza Doolittle. Since it opened in 1914, the play has been produced in many languages and adapted to film many times, most notably as the 1964 film "My Fair Lady."
"When Jeromy and I first sat down to discuss the sets for 'Pygmalion,'" says director Janice L. Blixt, "we saw an interesting parallel between what Picasso was doing and the way Henry Higgins tries to deconstruct Eliza and reassemble her as something new only to find that she has a will as strong as his. We decided that an abstract set motif would give this production something that will complement Shaw's brilliant text."
Love's Labour's Lost
The Festival's second play by William Shakespeare is "Love's Labour's Lost" directed by Robert Kauzlaric. Kauzlaric is a Chicago-based actor, playwright and director whose directing credits include the MSF production of "Tartuffe" in 2011. "Love's Labour's Lost" is one of Shakespeare's early works that provides a delightfully witty and effervescent combination of puns, allusions and sophisticated word play. "This play could be the model of every sitcom ever written," says Hopgood. "A king and his three buddies take an oath to live three years in study and introspection – no women allowed. And of course, the first thing that happens is that a beautiful princess and her three companions show up. What follows involves four couples teetering headlong into love, country bumpkins enjoying silly courtships, and a fantastical Spanish swordsman. You know from the beginning how silly these people are and that's the fun of it."
Hopgood and Kauzlaric decided on a playful look that resembles the look of a modern musical. Set around the time of WWI, the action all takes place outdoors on a lord's estate. "Rob has found a great way to make this play timely for a modern audience. We have created a playful landscape with lots of bright colors to set the right mood for the actors," Hopgood said.
Festival fundraising drive continues
Managing director Bart Williams takes pride in the Festival's high production values, but notes that it makes fundraising all the more urgent. The Festival is still seeking donors to support this year's Festival. "We have made great strides, but the Festival still must raise a significant amount of money if we are to finish the year in the black," said Williams. "Ticket sales are a big help, but they only pay about half the cost of the season. With less than a month to go before the curtain rises, we encourage our friends and patrons to consider both purchasing tickets and making a donation."
For ticket information or to make a donation, go to www.michiganshakespearefestival.com or call the Festival Office at 517-998-3673.