'The Book of Will': Why is there a bobble-head on that set?

The Book of Will Perspectives Sandra Goldmark‘The Book of Will’ Scenic Designer Sandra Goldmark on her commitment to incorporate recycled and reclaimed materials into all of her designs. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

The upcoming world-premiere play The Book of Will takes place in a number of locations including a tap house, a print shop, and the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. But to Scenic Designer Sandra Goldmark, “location is the least interesting part of my job.”

The Book of Will Perspectives Lauren GundersonWhat interests her more is how she and her team of collaborating designers can create a world that is distinct and relevant to each play. And the team from The Book of Will wanted to have a little fun with the idea that a life in the theatre today has not fundamentally changed all that much over the past four centuries.

So even though the story begins in 1619 London, Goldmark has fashioned an intentionally anachronistic set that cleverly links the past to the present by mingling modern elements into the otherwise Elizabethan world of the play. For example, eagle-eyed audience members might spy, say, a small model car on a print-shop shelf, or a baseball bobble-head, or family photos tacked onto a bulletin board. “This is 2017, after all,” said Goldmark, “so why not have some fun with that?”

Here are five more fun things we learned last Friday at Perspectives, a series of free conversations hosted by DCPA Theatre Company Literary Director Douglas Langworthy with cast and crew on the evening of each first preview performance. He was joined by Goldmark, Playwright Lauren Gunderson, Lighting Designer Paul Toben, Sound Designer Stowe Nelson, Assistant Director Alyssa Miller and actors Triney Sandoval and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick.

(Pictured above and right: Playwright Lauren Gunderson wore your study guide to the first preview performance of ‘The Book of Will.’ The opening performance is Friday, Jan. 20. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

NUMBER 1A The Book of Will Perspectives 400 2As important as it was to Goldmark to be playful in creating her set, she is equally serious about carrying her considerable personal interest in climate change and sustainability into her all of her work across the country. So her sets are almost entirely made up of reclaimed and recycled materials, or in the case of the DCPA, pulled from storage. “I hope that adds a richness and history and integrity to the objects and the materials that are on stage,” Goldmark said. The Ricketson Theatre floor, for example, is now made up of old wooden bleacher boards that came from an old school gymnasium. The beams and railings that denote the Globe Theatre come from trees that were cut down to make room for the expansion of a local ski resort. “The set does feel like it very much could exist in 1623, but it does have these subtle modern touches that make it feel very current as well,” added Sound Designer Stowe Nelson. 

NUMBER 2Ben Jonson, the Shakespeare contemporary perhaps best known for writing The Alchemist, would not approve. So says the playwright and the actor playing him, Triney Sandoval, who doubles as the famous actor of the day, Richard Burbage. It’s great fun for Sandoval to play both, he said, “because Ben Jonson had an utter disdain for actors.” Added Playwright Lauren Gunderson, with a laugh: “Every time I see Triney as Ben Jonson, it reminds me of how (bleeped) off Jonson would be by the way I have written him.” The fierce rivalry between Shakespeare and Jonson reminds Sandoval of the famous feud between the painters Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. “The actor John Houseman was having lunch with Picasso one day at a restaurant and there was a hair in Picasso’s soup,” Sandoval said. “And Picasso’s response was, ‘Oh look – a Matisse.’ ”

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The Theatre Company has recently presented A Weekend with Pablo Picasso and One Night in Miami, both plays where the writer completely imagines what might have happened during an otherwise unrecorded moment in history. So Gunderson was asked how much of her play is true, and how much of it is imagined? “The most important thing to me is that the true things are all true in the play – and most of it is absolutely true,” she said. “It’s true that Shakespeare died in 1619. It’s true that only 18 of his plays had been published, and that were they not printed on paper that was meant to be saved. It’s true that Burbage and Henry Condell and John Heminges decided to publish the complete collected works after Shakespeare was gone. We know they published the book in 1623. And there are a couple of fabulous plot elements that I am not going to tell you here, but I did not make them up; I just took them from history. The small stuff we invented is still, at heart, true, and it honors the people and their story.”

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The DCPA Theatre Company has launched dozens of world premieres over the years, but The Book of Will is the first to have its second staging lined up before the original even bows in Denver. The Book of Will already has been added to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival summer lineup in New York, where it will run from June 9 through July 28. That production also will be directed by the DCPA’s Davis McCallum, and Gunderson said that staging will feature about half of the Denver cast. By the time The Legend of Georgia McBride closed in Denver in 2014, plans were set for that premiere to have its New York debut at the MCC Theatre.

NUMBER 5If you saw the reading of The Book of Will at the Colorado New Play Summit last February, Gunderson promises that the play opening on Jan. 20 has a new ending. There were two potential endings written into the original script. “The ending we did before worked very well, but this one has a little more …” Gunderson said as Sandoval suggested the word “pizazz” to complete her sentence.  “Exactly,” Gunderson teased. “You’ll see.”

Bonus: The cost of publishing Shakespeare’s collected works in 1623 was the equivalent of the average yearly salary for most working-class people in London at that time. 

Bonus: It was mentioned above that the actor’s life has not essentially changed in 400 years. But here are three ways that it has: 1. The advent of the director. “They didn’t have them back then,” said Sandoval. 2. Actors today primarily perform indoors. And 3. Actors are provided full scripts. In Shakespeare’s day, they were only given their own handwritten lines, as well as the cues that told them when to speak. That was all to save on paper.

The next Perspectives will cover The Christians at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, in the Conservatory Theatre. All are welcome. It’s free.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

The Book of Will: Ticket information
The Book of WillWithout William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. But without two of his friends, we would have lost Shakespeare’s plays forever. A comic and heartfelt story of the characters behind the stories we know so well.

Jan. 13-Feb. 26
Ricketson Theatre
ASL and Audio-Described Matinee 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4
303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

Photo gallery: The making of The Book of Will in Denver:

'The Book of Will' in Denver
Photos from the making of Lauren Gunderson’s world-premiere play ‘The Book of Will’ by the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Click again to download. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Book of Will:
Meet the cast: Rodney Lizcano
Guest columnist Lauren Gunderson: How one word can change a play
Five things we learned at ‘The Book of Will’ opening rehearsal
‘The Year of Gunderson’ has begun in Colorado
Shakespeare in a season with no Shakespeare
First Folio: The world’s second-most important book heads to Boulder
Video: Our look back at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
Summit Spotlight: Playwright Lauren Gunderson
Lauren Gunderson wins Lanford Wilson Award from Dramatists Guild of America
Just who were all the king’s men, anyway?
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

 The Book of Will Perspectives

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