Designing In The Round for
'Every Brilliant Thing'

by Every Brilliant Thing Scenic Designer Christopher Dunham

The second sentence of the opening stage directions for Every Brilliant Thing is “There is no set”, and I’m the set designer. So… I needed to find my role in a production that doesn’t have most of the pieces that I typically draw upon. It doesn’t have a date attached to it or a unique geographic location, it doesn’t even have a specific room. It takes place on the night it’s performed and in the space it occupies. I couldn’t put a name to it in process, but what the play needs is a container, a space that supports the work of the narrator and allows the audience to be in communion with him and with each other. In a practical sense, the Narrator creates the show with the audience as his ensemble and enabling that is the driving force behind the structure of the design.

Everything said that we should seat this in the round, which for those of you familiar with the space is not the usual configuration. “Unprecedented” might be a good word for this. However, thanks to the efforts of many and after several drawings of what the seating might look like and addressing the unique needs of audience risers and seats as well as fire exits and box office seating charts, the Playhouse will be set for theatre in the round.

The new seating chart used for "round seating" ticket sales on Overture.org

The setting for the play is the theatre, but not in a more typically presentational sense. The play takes place in a theatre because that is where the audience gathers. When I talk about what makes theatre distinct, I often mention the shared experience. We sit together and enjoy something that is momentary. This production is nurtured by the group experience and we encourage the audience to take in the people around them, so while we explored a few different ideas to dress the theatre, we eventually dismissed most of it as distracting.

What remains are a few props to make the space welcoming and warm, but not intended to evoke a space other than where we are. The pieces are specific in texture and appearance and feel unique so they themselves or the experience of them might be on a list of brilliant things. I hope it is a space where you feel secure to join with our Narrator and a few hundred good friends, and together we can tell a story that needs to be told.

Christopher R. Dunham (MFA)
Assistant Professor, Edgewood College