featured-image-6168-jpg Jana Mitchell

Video: A tree grows … and grows … in ‘Native Gardens’

Video: DCPA Theatre Company Charge Scenic Artist Jana Mitchell talks about the creative challenges that came with building a massive 30-foot indoor tree. Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk.

How the DCPA’s team of scenic artists built a 30-foot indoor tree for a play in the round without blocking audience views

The set for the DCPA Theatre Company’s new comedy Native Gardens is dominated by a large and meaningful oak tree that grows tall and encompasses the entire space above and below the stage.

But the Space Theatre is in-the-round, which means the indoor tree posed a significant creative challenge for Scenic Designer Lisa M. Orzolek and her team of artists for this first-ever staging of Karen Zacarías’ celebrated comedy in a theatre where the audience is seated in a circle all around the stage.

The play centers on two neighboring couples at odds over the location of their property line — and the presence of a massive backyard oak tree that one couple loves but aggravates the other when it drops its leaves, acorns and branches on the other side of the fence.

How did she pull it off? “That’s the magic of theatre,” Orzolek teased.

featured-image-6168-jpg Jana Mitchell

Jana Mitchell.

On the page, it would seem that the tree should be located between the two houses, just on one side of the property line closest to the fence. But that would be the middle of the Space Theatre, and you can’t put a big tree in the middle of a round stage because of the sightline problems that would create for audiences. So Orzolek put the tree in one of the theatre’s five “voms” (or actor entranceways). And then built it to such a massive size that its branches still create all kinds of havoc for the neighboring couple.

“In order for the tree to reach all the way across the theatre into the neighbor’s yard, it just kept getting taller and longer and wider,” Orzolek said. “It goes up and then comes back down. In the end, it was 24 feet tall and 30 feet wide.”

The tree began as a tiny clay model. Then came wood, steel, chicken wire and muslin. “The bark structure is actually carpet padding,” Orzolek said. “Our amazing scenic-artist team just ripped carpet padding into strips to make bark and then they spray-painted it with drywall texture.” It’s a technique former DCPA Scenic Artist Brian Proud invented for The Secret Graden.

The tree plays a major part in the story, and not just because it represents a physical point of contention. It reveals differences in the way the two couples look at the world.

“The oak tree is very important in any native garden,” Zacarías said. “They have the most biodiversity of any tree species.”

And that’s relevant to one of the couples, and hogwash to the other.

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.

Making of 'Native Gardens'

Photos from the making of the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘Native Gardens.’ To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


Native Gardens
: Ticket information

Dealing with neighbors can be thorny, especially for Pablo and Tania, a young Latino couple who have just moved into a well-established D.C. neighborhood. Though Frank and Virgina have the best intentions for making the new couple feel welcome next door, their newly budding friendship is tested when they realize their shared property line isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Frank is afraid of losing his prized garden, Pablo wants what is legally his, Tania has a pregnancy and a thesis she’d rather be worrying about, and Virginia just wants some peace. But until they address the real roots of their problems, it’s all-out war in this heartfelt play about the lines that divide us and those that connect us.

  • Presented by DCPA Theatre Company
  • Performances through May 6
  • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE


Previous NewsCenter coverage of Native Gardens:

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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