On my first read of Collapse, I got really excited about the script. It’s funny, timely, heartbreaking, and weaves together metaphor and events that are just crazy enough to feel real in a way that’s both powerful and entertaining.
Plus it has a couple of “how the heck are we going to do that?” moments that make theatrical design in quirky spaces particularly exciting.
For the characters in Collapse, the I-35 Bridges (both the old one and its replacement) are a constant presence in their lives. In creating the world of the play, we wanted the structure of the bridge to be an omnipresent visual for the audience, physicalizing the psychological presence.
The design of the bridge structure that forms the set is a bit of a mashup between the old Bridge and the New. The old bridge was quite complicated visually, with crisscrossing girders that affect the play of light and shadow. It’s a twentieth century bridge, with all the hopes and dreams that carries.
The New Bridge, on the other hand, is sleek and contemporary, a bridge for the 21st century. With it’s pale colors, it’s a canvas for other light, and has a way of fitting in with the landscape rather than imposing itself.
With it’s elegant concrete arches, it would be extremely difficult for us to replicate the majesty of the new I-35 Bridge in our space with a 12 foot ceiling.
And the design of new bridge doesn’t really work for one of the scenes in the play.
So, rather than being slavish to either the old or new reality, the bridge that we put on stage draws elements from both structures (the design of the guardrail is, for example, based on drawings from the approval process for the new bridge). Our bridge has complicated crisscrossing elements while maintaining a 21st century feel.
The elements of I-beams and girders also make our bridge multipurpose: it’s the exposed industrial beams of David and Hannah’s Loft Condo; it’s the pipes and girders of the basement where a support group meets; and it’s the bridge itself, whether illuminated and present or as a shadowy reminder. We also kept the color story of the bridge in pale grays as a nod to the new I-35 Bridge, that way, as with the new bridge, we could wash the structure in colored light to give it a very different feel.
Here you can see a rendering done in my drafting software, Vectorworks. As a designer who’s continually travelling, I always use these kind of 3d renderings to communicate with the director and other members of the production team. This way I could be working in California while sending drawings to Jason Bruffy in Florida. We would talk, I would tweak some things, and then by the end of the day we could have updates to the rest of the Know team in Cincinnati. Working with a traditional physical model, this process could take weeks.
The final overall visual element for the show is the floor, which you can get a sense of in the above rendering. I wanted the floor treatment to be evocative of light coming through the twisted girders of the wreckage of the old bridge, as though even though the structure we see is pristine, the shadow it casts is a continual reminder of the accident. Here’s a quick view of my concept for the stage from above.
And here it is, when all of those elements come together.