Behind the Scenes of Wicked (Set Design)


[MUSIC PLAYING] We’re here in New York
City at the Gershwin Theater. We’re going to get to
go behind the scenes at the Broadway
hit, “Wicked,” so that we can see the creativity
and innovation behind set design. As you can see,
I’m really excited. Let’s go get started. Follow me. This episode is funded by The
Glick Fund and the Christel DeHann Family
Foundation, who inspire philanthropy and creativity. [THEME MUSIC] [MUSIC – IDINA MENZEL & KRISTIN
CHENOWETH, “DEFYING GRAVITY”] IDINA MENZEL:
[SINGING] –and leap. It’s time to try
defying gravity. I think I’ll try
defying gravity. And you can’t pull me down. KRISTIN CHENOWETH:
[SINGING] Can’t I make you understand you’re
having delusions of grandeur. IDINA MENZEL: [SINGING] I’m
through accepting limits– I am here with Edward Pierce. Edward, thank you so much for
taking some time with this. My pleasure. So I got to ask– so
what’s your title here, on the set of “Wicked”? I’m one of the collaborators
on the scenic design. OK, and I have to
ask, because a lot of us are going to wonder– how in the world did
you get on this set? I mean, what led you
to doing this job? Well, from the
very beginning, I started working in
the theater when I was a child in middle
school and in high school, being in the school
plays and the musicals, working backstage, hanging
lights, building sets, working in the wee
hours of the morning. And just doing what
you do in school. So what are we
looking at here, is this like, a
scale model that– Yeah, this is a– –that you put together? EDWARD: This is a scale model. It’s 1/2 of an inch
equals one foot, which is a standard scale
that we work in when we’re designing sets for Broadway. We worked on this model
when we started designing “Wicked,” about 14 years ago. NATE: OK. And this is actually the end
result of a tremendous amount of doing and undoing. So as you design the show,
you have many, many ideas, many of which you throw out. But this is actually
what was leftover and what was actually
built in full-scale on the stage of the
Gershwin Theater. But this part, right in
here, is exactly what we used every day as we worked
and toiled through the script to figure out the
best way to represent the design for “Wicked.” And so you can see here,
we’ve created like, our little time-dragon box. We have our leathery, mechanical
dragon, which is actually a marionette onstage. It’s operated by crew members
who stand on that platform, over here. Wow. They grab the ropes
and the ropes are all going up through pulleys. And each one has
a different job. So you pull on one rope and it
makes the wings go up and down. You pull on another
rope, it makes the head go back and forth. There’s smoke in
the dragon’s mouth. His eyes light up with
the red LED light bulbs. And so all of that happens
mechanically, but also, using the human being
as is the instigator. In the story of
“Wicked,” you’ll learn that the wizard
was slowly trying to get rid of the animals. And it’s actually
a pretty dark tale. And what we liked to
do with the design, even though the story is
really about these two women and their relationship,
underneath of all that, we felt that the
design needed to be dark and heavy and
mechanical, and kind of driven by the wizard. So a lot of what you’ll
see is gears and mechanisms that we really believe are kind
of the workings of the wizard, the man behind the curtain. NATE: Right. So we don’t try
to hide things. When a piece needs to come on
and off the stage from the wing and push onto the stage, we
let the mechanics be visible to the audience. We’ve actually purposely built
other gears and mechanisms that are slightly fake, but
to kind of give the sense that everything’s like
you’re cranking everything with a turn key, and it’s
bringing pieces on and bringing pieces off. What’s important in set
design for the theater, especially for musicals, is
not only what it looks like, but how it functions. Transition from one
scene to the next scene is actually more
important, often, than what it
ultimately looks like. OK, so the artist in me– Yes. It’s like a painter. When you look at a painting,
you like, oh, well, yeah, I see that. And there’s like– no, no,
no, there were so many layers, and how many things were
thought out before– I had absolutely no idea. What does it feel like when
you start– you get this done and you look at your artwork? Now that’s a great question. It’s a little
overwhelming actually, even 14 years later, to step
into the theater and to see it still sitting here and
looking so wonderful. I mean, one of the things that
we did in the Gershwin Theater, which was one of the
largest Broadway houses, is that we were really
kind of concerned about the scale of the show
in such a large theater. Especially a theater
that, for the most part, is generally nondescript. It was built in the 70s and
it’s a little plain, as far as Broadway theaters go. They’re often a
little bit more– NATE: Ornate? EDWARD: –ornate and so forth. So our challenge
there was how do we take what is really
a story about two women, and who play most of the scenes,
you know, center, down center, and make that feel
intimate to a theater with a 1,800,
1,900 people in it. So to do that, we kind
of ignored the fact that there was a proscenium
arch in the theater. We built our own proscenium
arch, brought the whole thing forward. As you can see, we’ve
stretched the design way out onto the sides. We’ve added another wooden
arch about 10 or 12 rows from the orchestra pit
so that this, ultimately, becomes the proscenium arch. And that, the first third
of the orchestra seating is kind of in the set. And for those who are in the
mezzanine and the balcony, they feel also that the whole
environment is much more present to them, as well. So the proscenium arch helps
with that and helps frame that. And that gives us a
place for the dragon. Overhead, you can see there is
a canopy that helps cover up some of the rigging
and just helps bring the ceiling, the
visual ceiling down. You know, a lot of design
is about proportion? Right. And so it’s about
taking the human figure and trying to make sure that
everything serves and points to the human figure. So you can see that
the shape of the arches onstage are circular. We’ve brought the center point
of the circles up to about five or six feet off the ground. So that even though it’s
not necessarily something that an audience
member understands, it’s kind of instinctual. It’s in their body that
they know that centerpoint says where focused goes to. And so that, as
an artistic method of using composition and line
and proportion, helps subtly, always help pointing the
eye towards the location that the design is
kind of focused on. [MUSIC PLAYING] So what are we
looking at here? I mean, this thing is massive. When Glinda first
makes her entrance, she needs an amazing entrance. She’s Glinda the Good. And so the first
thing that happens is she descends from about
30 feet up in the air down into the stage space
in this bubble machine. Wow. Kind of following
our overarching concept that everything is
very mechanical, we’ve built this
aluminum structure that she stands in, here. She’s got a beautiful dress on. For safety, she is attached
with the little clip in the back to this bar here, so
that she can’t fall out. That’s good. And then all of these
bubble machines here, are mechanical bubble machines. And so there’s, like, bubble
fluid inside the canister and there’s a mechanical
wheel that turns around with a fan inside, and it’s
constantly blowing bubbles out. And of course, everything on
Broadway is more complicated. So the bubble juice
is a secret formula– Really? –that provides a lot of
bubbles in a short period of time, that when
they hit the floor, do not leave a soapy residue
so that the dancers don’t slip and fall after
the bubbles have– everything’s been figured out. Everything that you don’t
think about that’s been thought about– wow. Ultimately, scenery
needs to somewhat be lightweight and portable. Correct. So all of the gears,
for the most part, are all carved out of foam,
then covered with, like, a fiberglass coating, and then
paint-textured and painted so that they don’t weigh a ton. Now this is all
steel and constructed because people climb up
it, they jump off of it. There’s lights inside,
it’s mechanical. But all the gears are hooked up
with chains and a drive system, so that as the tower
tracks on and off, which is used to help create
proportion in the show, all the gears turn
proportionately to how the element is moving off. Oh wow, no kidding? It knows– man, that
is so impressive. So when Elphaba and Glinda
get to the Emerald City, the first person they
meet is the Wizard of Oz. Of course. They first go to
the wizard’s chamber. And as they approach
the wizard’s chamber, this immense head,
this puppet head, starts tracking down stage. When it stops, it comes alive. It sits up straight. Smoke is pouring
out of the platform and it begins to speak to them. Once they realize it’s
Elphaba and Glinda, the wizard, who’s the man behind
the curtain operating it all, drops the head down
and comes around, and they begin to have
their conversation. What we felt was
important for this is we used some of the research
from some of the early Baum illustrations from
“The Wizard of Oz,” and then kind of morphed
the design based on that. We worked with an artisan
named Bob Flanagan, who works in Brooklyn. He’s a great puppeteer and
a craftsman and artisan. And his team helped
make little mockettes of different versions of what
we thought this head could be. He made, like, 10 to start with. So this is a puppet. It has various mechanics to it. The jaw opens and shuts. The eyeballs rotate
and the lids blink. The eyebrows can go up and down. The whole head is on a gimbal
that can go left and right and up and down and pivot. And if you come around the
back, you can see the magic. Holy cow. So there’s a platform
here that folds down. That allows the stage
hand to climb up onto it. When they climb up onto it,
they can operate these handles, here. These are just typical bike
handles, as you can see. As you squeeze the
bike handle, it makes the mouth go up and down,
or the eyes close or open. As you turn things
left and right, it makes the head go up
and down, left and right. And this is all done
live every night. So as the music is playing
and the lines are being said, you have a stage and back here
who is operating and working the head. NATE: This is crazy. Somebody got their
“MacGyver” on. There’s so many– This is totally MacGyver. Yeah, wow. As you can see, there’s
like, bungee cords, and everything kind of just
holding it all together. But it works. Edward, man, thank you
so much for your time and your skill and
your creativity, and just a little glimpse
behind what you do, which is fascinating. Thank you very much. And thank you for inspiring
young students and schools to incorporate
art into education and to cross-curricular
components. It’s just– I did a lot of
art when I grew up in school and encouraging
students to do the same. So thank you for what you do. Oh, hey, no problem. Hey, did you know that
subscribing to our channel is one of the most
epic things you can do? That’s right. Subscribe now,
share our episodes so that we can actually
make more of these things. I’m not going to lie,
I love showing you where creativity and
innovation are happening. Get on board and
be “Artrageous.” [MUSIC PLAYING]

15 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *