Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

The Apparatus From Page to Stage: The Transformation of Kafka’s Writing into Visual Metaphor

  • Photo by Donald Tetto

by: Rob Crane & Justin Smith
Advisor: John Ore

The world of a play is created by many elements converging together - these elements include the script, the director, the actors, and the four designs: scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound. Each of these elements brings something different to the theatrical stage. The script brings the words, which the actors give life to, guided by the director. The costumes bring the characters of the play to life, showing how they do or do not fit in with the rest of the characters and with the world in which they live. Sound provides everything from background noises to underscoring to sound effects. With this grant, the two of us decided to focus on the design elements of scenery and lighting.

The scenery provides the location of a play, the space in which the actors can create and reveal their characters. In the case of The Apparatus, the location is a remote aboriginal island. The script also provides several other requirements - a machine used to administer sentences on prisoners being one of the main needs. Lighting for a show can serve many purposes, including setting the mood, the time of day, a setting, or special effects. For this project, we first read through the script, finding all the show’s needs, and then began to plan what the scenery and lighting would be like for the show, and how to turn these ideas into reality.

The set design began as a ground plan, drawn with a computer-drafting program. Computer renderings were shown to the director and other designers to give an idea of what we felt the show should look like. After the director and design team agreed that the layout of the set would work, we set to work deciding how to physically put it together. The biggest challenge was the apparatus itself. This seven-foot tall machine needed a sheet of glass with spikes on it to move up and down, and eventually kill a character in the play. We needed to figure out how to create this machine, make the moving parts work smoothly, as well as find a way to give the audience the appearance of killing a character, while not actually harming him. Many steps went into this process, including a ground plan, computer renderings, models, shop draftings, and paint elevations. We were fortunate enough to have several volunteers assist us in building and painting the scenery.

The ideas for lighting The Apparatus also began with the script. The characters in the play make several references to the island’s heat. There are also several flashbacks written into the script, which called for a different visual feel. The script as a whole is less about realism and more about conveying a point about justice in society, so we felt like the lighting did not have to make the characters appear realistic - we could use a lot of deeper colors not found in nature to help emphasize the style of the show. As with the scenery, the lighting is all planned ahead - a light plot was drafted with a computer, and a volunteer crew hung and focused it. The week before the show opened light cues - different looks - were written on a computer lighting board, and used in the technical rehearsals prior to opening night. The stage manager of the show coordinates all of the light and sound cues, as well as the operation of the apparatus, costume changes, makeup, a fog machine, a drop that flies in and out, and everything else related to the production.

On opening night, the scenery and lighting were ready, as planned. The months of working together with the director and other designers, as well as the drawings and models helped ensure that what the audience saw onstage helped to bring them into the world of this play.