The scenic canvas of 'Lord of the Flies': Fire, smoke, rocks … and blood

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When the boys decide to set a ritualistic fire, flames go up about 24 inches in the center of the Space Theatre … ” And it’s just beyond beautiful,” says Scenic Designer James Kronzer. Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen

Lord of the Flies brings fire and smoke to the stage. An airplane crash. A parachuting corpse. A bloody pig. A murder off a high rock.

Clearly, the actors in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ visceral adaptation of William Golding’s masterwork don’t get to have all the fun. The Space Theatre has become scenic designer Jim Kronzer’s personal sandbox.

Seriously. We’re talking tons of sand.

Kronzer, a DCPA veteran (When Tang Met Laika and Ed, Downloaded), talks about creating both an indoor island … and a metaphorical monster.
 
John Moore: Lord of the Flies was my favorite book growing up, even though it gave me night terrors. What are your earliest recollections?

Jim Kronzer: When I first encountered the story, I took it literally: That it was just a story about a bunch of stranded kids who do bad things while trying to survive. I am much more aware now that it is a metaphor for where society can go very quickly and very easily, given how we are tribal, how society deals with those who are weaker, and how reason doesn’t always win.

John Moore: What rings truest for you today?

Jim Kronzer: How timeless it is. Reading the script, I couldn’t help but think about Vladimir Putin launching his way into the Crimea. He’s the big bully going in and getting his way without concern for reason. That’s what makes Lord of the Flies so interesting and universal — and frightening.

John Moore: Do you want people to enter The Space and feel they’ve been transported to an actual island? Or do you want to take them into a more surreal world? Because, let’s face it — you have a roof. And no ocean.

Jim Kronzer: Well, you start with, “What is this place…really?” I wanted to get a literal, visual sense of where these kids are running around. So Phase 1 was researching islands and rocks and that kind of thing. And then you have to consider that the architecture of your theatre space always dictates design. But I was very excited to learn that we are doing it in The Space Theatre because it is the perfect place to tell this story.

John Moore: Beyond roundness, what else makes The Space the right venue for this island story?

Jim Kronzer: It gives us the sense that the kids can be anywhere and come out from anywhere in the theatre. I love the idea of us not being so comfortable when watching theatre. So I think The Space Theatre can be a little less predictable, more expansive and more immersive.

John Moore: Let’s talk about a few of your staging challenges. How about the aerial battle, when a dead fighter pilot drifts down to the island in a parachute and gets tangled in a tree?

Jim Kronzer: That’s why I love my job. When I read a stage direction like that one, it’s just so wonderful to figure out. Without giving too much away, yes, there is a pilot, and it will be chilling and creepy. I will say I found these great pictures of parachute test dummies from the 1940s, and they were almost puppet-like. And you have to remember, the pilot is the symbol of something larger.

John Moore: Here’s a biggie: When Jack’s savages set fire to the forest, much of the island is consumed in flames.

Jim Kronzer: We have actual fire on the stage. [Shop Foreman] Bob Orzolek did a great test in the shop. It’s a burner ring with propane gas. When the boys decide to set this ritualistic fire, they pull up a piece of almost sand-colored rock that covers the propane ring. The flames go up about 24 inches or so, and it’s just beyond beautiful. Now, that comes with all kinds of other responsibilities, like working with the Fire Department about safety mechanisms. Part of the process was trying to figure out just how much real flame and fire we could do. In the theatre, the artistic is always buffeted by the pragmatic.

John Moore: And the murder of Piggy?

Jim Kronzer: He jumps off a rock and into an abyss. And it was important to me that we got it so that everybody in the audience can see it. That’s such a pivotal moment in the story, we all felt we had to pull it off, and pull it off well. So basically these two rocks  part to reveal a hole in the stage, and this kid jumps into a pit. He’s standing on a rock that is 48 inches off the floor, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you figure he’s dropping down at least another 6 to 8 feet, he does do quite the plummet into a black hole surrounded by a ring of rocks. That was the toughest challenge of all for me, and I think we solved it quite beautifully.

John Moore: It sounds like the island is going to be as pivotal a character in this story as any human.

Jim Kronzer: It certainly is a great canvas for these larger stories to play out in. The island starts out neutral, but it becomes a stronger personality as time goes on. This all goes back to the sense that there is always a larger story being told here.

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.

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The set of “Lord of the Flies” at the DCPA, designed by Jim Kronzer. Photo by Gabe Koskinen.

Lord of the Flies: Ticket information
Performances run through Nov. 2
The Space Theatre
Featuring Charlie Franklin, Gregory Isaac Stone, Matthew Gumley, Kurt Hellerich, Jack DiFalco, Ben Radcliffe, Noah Radcliffe, Allen Dorsey, Skyler Gallun, Ben Griffin, Charlie Korman and Geoffrey Kent.
303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at www.DenverCenter.Org

Our Previous Lord of the Flies coverage on Denver CenterStage:

Meet the cast video episodes:
Charlie Franklin
Matthew Gumley

Ben and Noah Radcliffe



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