An Interview with LEAVING Set Designer Klara Zieglerova
Richard W. Kotulski, Wilma Literary Programming Assistant and Casting Director: The set for Leaving is quite non-realistic: a vast array of doors everywhere the eye looks. Yet I understand that each door was meticulously researched. Could you tell us a little bit about how you and Jiri Zizka arrived at this design?
Klara Zieglevora, Set Designer: Jiri and I started our meetings in Prague this past December. We were talking about the metaphysical nature of the play and drew a number of different sketches and ideas on the proverbial napkin. Somehow the idea of multiple doors of various sizes and characters was present in most of these sketches. It just felt right.
I think of all these doors as the hundreds of choices we make every day that steer our lives whichever way. It’s our version of Robert Frost's famous 'fork', only in the design of Leaving the ‘two roads diverged’ look more like a busy intersection or 'octopus' or… well: 'many many doors'. What's behind the doors? What's the behind the choices we make every day? We never quite know... sometimes we make the right choice, sometimes we make the most comfortable choice, sometimes we wish we took another exit or entered elsewhere and at a different time. We don't really know at the time we are making our choice if it's the right one or not...sometimes we may have an intuition... and other times we have no clue...
RWK: What influenced the decision to put grass all over the set, including the walls?
KZ: Jiri and I were interested in evoking a claustrophobic feel in the Leaving set. We wanted to create an environment that helps us look inside Rieger's mind and aimed for a space with a feeling of being trapped in a box, albeit with many possible entrances and exits. The script calls for an exterior and therefore the use of grass was something that conveys the 'outside space' immediately. Taking the grass idea further and creating a box with it, using doors not only within the walls but also on the deck - where they transform into graves - as well as up above the set - where they turn into heaven’s doors - gave us the claustrophobic, transformative feel we were looking for.
RWK: Can you talk a little bit about the use of the many doors in the set?
KZ: Most of the doors in the set have their specific function. The doors have their hierarchy: the largest Villa door with steps leading to it being the most crucial, the door to the outside gives us an oppressive, dark feeling, the barn doors are porous, accessible. There are doors too little to fit in, too high too access easily, too narrow to walk through, too low to walk in without bending one's head, or even so low that has an actor crawl through. The physical entrances mimic the psychological state of the characters.
RWK: Since the last time you worked here, your career has really taken off, both on Broadway and internationally. We're really happy to have you back. Could you tell us a little bit about what you've been working on since Raw Boys?
KZ: My passion has always been the design of new work by contemporary writers. At the Wilma I was very fortunate to have been involved in the production of Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith, Chay Yew’s Red, and another of Dael’s plays, Raw Boys (all directed by Blanka Zizka)
Shortly after Raw Boys I designed a production of a musical based on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys, directed by Des McAnuff. This musical originated at La Jolla Playhouse. We have continued with a successful Broadway run, as well as London’s West End, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Australia and others.
I was also thrilled to design a new Aaron Sorkin’s play The Farnsworth Invention (both on Broadway and at LaJolla Playhouse), a smart, fast paced play about the invention of Television.
My collaboration with Franco Dragone in a new production of Carmen (original music by the British-Dutch composer John Ewbank) as well as Palm Beach (directed by Des McAnuff) continued my interest in the development of new musicals.
My latest design of a new musical is a production of Sister Act, which opened at the Palladium Theatre in London’s West End. We are developing this musical for other European theatres at the moment.
I’m very excited to be working at the Wilma again, on such an exciting new play such as Leaving.