Minneapolis area-based scenic & lighting designer Courtney Schmitz gives us a rare peek into the inspiration of the very cool 'Kimberly Akimbo' set...
When asked to write an artist’s statement about the design of Kimberly Akimbo, I was torn. On one hand, I am a firm believer that the audience should interpret the design elements of a show for themselves with no guidance from the designers or directors. I equate it to watching a movie with someone who keeps spoiling plot points for me: let me make the discovery on my own! After all, you’re going to have your own visceral reactions to the show that might not be the same as your neighbor’s or even mine, and that’s the beauty of theatre. On the other hand, often times we as theatre artists forget that we have an unfair advantage over our audience members. We hold all of the information about the journey that led to the current incarnation of the show you are watching. In a way, we hold the map, and good luck to you on finding your way. Ultimately, I’d like to think of this as not an explanation, but as the key to that map, allowing you to choose your own path…but maybe with a little helpful information in your back pocket.
Sean [the director] and I have worked together too many times to count, both with Riverside and with Working Group Theatre. We’ve unconsciously created a short hand to our collaboration process and to the way we communicate with each other. If you saw our emails back and forth, you might need an interpreter. Sean conveyed two key elements to me: ice/snow/winter and the concept of minimalism/simplicity. The theme of winter kept jumping out at him from within the script as being important to establish, while the ease of transitions were paramount for pacing. As I combed through the script, I quickly realized that what we needed to support the multiple locations was a background piece that could morph and meld with us. Leave the segmentation of space to moveable furniture pieces and to the lighting designer (good thing it’s like the lighting designer and I share a brain…).
As I delved into winter themed research, I was continually struck by images of dead and bare tree branches with still very much alive cherries hanging off of them. The marriage of both life and death, the pop of red against dreary brown, intrigued me, much like Kimberly, who is already in the decline of life, yet still so full of life and energy and color. Sean responded strongly to the images I sent him, and thus the idea of the background sculpture you see before you was born. The rest of the set, the interior walls and the snow/winter inspired paint treatments, naturally followed, combining to make an environment that could sway from being outside at night in the New Jersey winter to spending the afternoon inside of the local library.
With Kimberly Akimbo, the entire production team has strived to keep a balance between the comedic elements of the show and the beauty of Kimberly’s trajectory in life. My ultimate goal, as with any show I work on, is to both support the script in the best way possible while still creating an image on stage that is visually pleasing to look at. I like to believe I got pretty darn close to my goal. But hey, you get to be the judge of that, not me.
Courtney Schmitz (lighting & scenic designer) is a freelance designer based in the Minneapolis area. She received her MFA in lighting design from the University of Iowa in 2009. She has worked with such Twin Cities companies as 20% Theatre, nimbus theatre, Yellow Tree Theatre, Theatre in the Round, Six Elements Theatre, Freshwater Theatre, Lyric Arts, Dangerous Productions, crash.dance productions, and Savage Umbrella. She is also the resident lighting designer for Working Group Theatre. This is Courtney’s sixth season designing with Riverside Theatre.