Meet the Artist
LARRY LARSEN, SCENIC DESIGNER
Regards from Broadway Rose
Larry Larsen, scenic designer
The action of Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook takes place within just one setting, making the design of the set itself extremely important. Staffer Dani Wright sat down with Larry Larsen, the scenic designer for Snapshots, for a quick Q&A behind the scenes.
Where do you start when designing a set?
With musicals, the first question I ask is, “Where’s the orchestra?” When I did Nunsense, the orchestra was on stage, part of the action. In Company, the orchestra was not visible. Another question I ask is, “What is the level of reality?” Snapshots is fairly realistic. Adrift in Macao was very silly, and so the set was a much more stylized theatrical world as opposed to a real place, real world type situation.
What’s unique about Snapshots set designs?
So much of this show was based on my grandparents’ attic. Half of the attic had been finished, and then the other half was left unfinished, full of old stuff, and it was kinda cool to rummage through it as a kid. So there was the idea within the set design of the unfinished component as well as the finished, as in the Snapshots story, where pieces of these peoples’ lives had been left unfinished. I also think there are things that designers sometimes subconsciously do to convey the story. For example, the Snapshots set is placed at an angle to the audience. I knew it didn’t want to be straight on, it needed to be off-kilter, off-centered – just like these peoples’ lives were at odds, to create some sort of visual tension.
What was your most challenging set design?
There was a show I did for Third Rail Repertory Theatre years ago, a new play called Collapse about a man who had been in a car during the bridge collapse in Minneapolis over the Mississippi River. I came up with the idea that the set would be a series of fragments of imploding bridge, with the floor a series of asphalt fragments falling apart, and then two bridge structures flying apart into space. Sets like these are the most challenging because you’re trying to find a balance between what is visually engaging without distracting from the story. A set should support the story without getting into the way of the actors trying to tell the story.
What are your dream shows?
Gypsy and Sunday in the Park with George. Gypsy is one of those classically formatted, complex musicals, where I think you’d probably have seven or eight different settings that need to transform and appear. Sunday in the Park with George is one of those really hard to do musicals that is about turning the stage into this famous oil painting by Georges Seurat.
Do you have any advice for designers starting out?
My advice is to always get to know the new young directors in town. Figure out how to build that professional network, the theater community around where you want to work. Even if you don’t get that first job or end up doing something else, like building props, painting, etc. – even being involved in a small way in a production helps build those connections, which is important.
Larry Larsen’s upcoming projects include set designs for The Wolves and Twelfth Night for the University of Portland, and The Magic Flute with Portland State University Opera.