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Designing Narnia

In Design on February 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Presenting an Old Land With a New Twist

When we were young, we always dreamed about visiting the magical world of Narnia. Instead of searching for monsters at night, we would search high and low in our closets for that gateway into another world. In the daytime we filled our hours talking with Aslan, having tea with Mr. Tumnus, and going on epic quests to vanquish the evil White Witch. What we lacked in reality we made up for in our extravagant imaginations.

 

However, some people have had the opportunity to take their imaginations of Narnia and make them into a reality. Callie Summer is one such lucky daughter of Eve. A senior Dramatic Production major at Bob Jones University, Summer has had a four-year dream of directing The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. After months of demanding work and countless hours collaborating with designers, she is able to see her dreams of Narnia come alive this week in the campus’ intimate theatre space, Performance Hall.

 

I had the opportunity of speaking with Callie Summer and a few of her designers to get an insider’s look at Summer’s overall vision and how that translated into the various elements of design. Having never done a production on this scale before, the young director said the project was a very big learning experience for her, but a time that she has enjoyed immensely. Collaborating with designers was also a first for her, but they were able to work together to create a cohesive whole and take a unique approach to this classic story.

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When asked about her overall vision for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Summer replied, “I wanted it to be a magical experience for the audience, [and] I wanted it to be more stylized.“ One of the first design elements to tackle was the costumes and the looming question of how to present the creatures of Narnia. Options were numerous, but the director knew immediately that in staying consistent with her vision, she did not want a BBC version mockup with full, furry animal costumes. So the long process began, with many twists, turns, and changes in the designs. In the end, the costumes became more suggestive in nature than definitively revealing, relying on color schemes to indicate the specific animals. Most of the creatures wore fairly normal ‘human’ clothing, such as the unicorn wearing a white shirt and pants with a checkered blue vest and Aslan wearing a shimmering, African-style brown and gold tunic with only a touch of rope-like fur around the shoulders of his coat. The actors then were left with more creative responsibility to show the audience what animal they were by their physicality and mannerisms.  The result was a delightful one for the most part, making some characters come alive even more through the hard work of the actors. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver for instance, dressed in shades of brown, became an endearing yet quirky English couple, with Mr. Beaver waving his pipe about and Mrs. Beaver fluttering around in her fur-collared coat.

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several unique costumes featured in this production

Though many directors and designers rely heavily on makeup to also help distinguish the creatures of Narnia from each other and the humans, the opposite was done in this production, taking cues from the costume designs. Talking about his inspiration for the animals, Makeup Designer Paul Jutras said, “What she [Summer] wanted to do was make them look like humans personified as a creature.” Because of this, the majority of the animals had normal, or straight, makeup. The only exceptions were Maugrim, the White Witch’s wolf captain, with a darkened face and shading around the eyes similar to a real wolf, and Aslan whose makeup consisted of yellow and gold highlighting on his face. Makeup was used the most in creating the character of the White Witch. With the creative input of his assistant, Meagan Jones, Jutras came up with the idea of having the Witch’s makeup transform throughout the duration of the play, showing her decline of power. The inspiration for this idea came from one of her lines in which she observes that everything is melting all around her. To show this, the Witch begins the show with a pristine, whitened face, but as Aslan advances and she begins to lose control, her makeup ‘melts’ and becomes darker. In the end at the final battle, the White Witch’s face is harsh and darkly contoured, showing her true, evil nature. The other unique use of makeup was giving distinction to the wood nymphs by tattooing branches on their arms and sides of their faces.

 

The last design element that helped distinguish this production from countless others was the lighting. Once again following Summer’s desire for a magical but stylized Narnia, Lighting Designer Brooke Waters used nearly all motivated lighting. The lights were controlled by and directly reflected the action of the play. One particularly effective moment was Mr. Tumnus’ attempt to kidnap Lucy. As she fell asleep to the lull of his music, the lights similarly grew sleepier, gradually dimming as the song advanced. However, when Tumnus could take no more of his deceit and cried out in anguish, the lights simultaneously snapped back to their former brightness, bringing Lucy and the audience instantly back into the action. Also, much like the transformation of the White Witch’s makeup, Waters initially bathes the world of Narnia in cool tones, reflecting the wintry effect of the Witch’s control over the land. As the action progresses though, the lights become warmer and warmer as Aslan enters the picture, growing to a fiery red background at Aslan’s death and the final battle. Specials (lights with a specific function besides area lighting) were used profusely in the production and consisted of almost half of the total hung lights. Even black lights made an appearance, as the White Witch’s glowing minions crawled through the aisles to the stage, hissing and screeching, creating a chilling atmosphere the audience will not soon forget.

creative uses of lighting

creative uses of lighting

Most theatre-goers put little thought into the hours of manual and creative work a production takes. They file into the theatre with high expectations, hoping to be amazed by something they’ve never quite seen before. The production team of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe certainly took this challenge head on, successfully mesmerizing the audience with a fresh new look at a magical land they hold so dear in their hearts.

DSC_0325By Janie Mayer

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