Details set the stage for She Stoops to Conquer
by Deneia Washington
All hands are on deck as Temple Theaters’ She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th century comedy about an high class country woman’s attempt to woo a wealthy London man who’s more at easy with lower-class women, will be making its debut in Randall Theater soon. Graduate student and set designer Mandy Goynes has been hard at work capturing elements of this period piece that’ll make audience members feel like they’re back in time.
“For She Stoops, we have really changed the setting of this room so it’s really almost like you’re walking into this house as an audience member,” says Goynes.
As staple pieces of the set have their humble beginnings as raw wood transformed into artistic elements that capture the historical aspects of this production, Goynes believes that building pieces from the ground up strips one of certain limitations, leaving room for more creative freedom.“You get to build the world to what you want it to be, whereas if I were renting, say, the walls, I could only rent wall that’s this size or this size because that’s all they have,” Goynes explains. “It gives you the creativity of building a world to where you need it to be, whereas if we were purchasing a lot I don’t think we’d have that.”
This was especially the case for Goynes as she picked out specific elements of various fireplaces she liked, molding and configuring these elements together to create one uniquely made unit. “I got to design that from scratch and say, ‘well I like that thing from this fireplace, and I like that thing from this fireplace,’ and I got to decide what I wanted and it allowed me to totally create that,” says Goynes. “Whereas if we were renting, it’s more of a ‘that one’s pretty,’ kind of thing.”
Goynes believes that inspiration can come from anywhere, thus she documents fascinating elements she comes across on her daily ventures. “I have a visual diary and I take pictures when I’m walking down the street and see a cool piece of graffiti or a really cool decorative ornament on a house, and I keep all those because sometimes the smallest thing can inspire you,” she says.
Set designs are also helpful to actors as well. Instead of standing on a bare stage, actors are given the ability to enhance their capacity to narrate through interaction with the set pieces. This artistic touch makes actors appear even more realistic as their movements around these pieces mirror what an audience member would do in their everyday lives.
“There are plenty of shows out there that you can go to and the actor is standing on a blank stage, maybe on a box or something, but you then have to really have some juxtaposition to tell the audience about what we are, where we are at, what is the show,” Goynes says. “Whereas if they can walk into this room and there’s a set that really explains it, they know and they can immediately dive into that world and dive into that realm that we’re in.”
Although She Stoops to Conquer is set in the 18th century, the visual dynamics of this production showcases a multitude of time periods through costumes and location.“The set is supposed to look like [the Hardcastle family has] been in this house for a really long time, so it’s actually a little bit of an older period than what you’re seeing in the costumes,” Goynes explains. “But there is almost a few periods happening in this because we wanna show that this house is older, its been lived in and it’s not something new and fancy.”
Because of the the bold and accentuated fashion of 18th century women, Goynes had an interesting obstacle of making sure her set was actor friendly. “Women use to wear panniers which use to bring the hips out really, really wide, so that was something I had to worry about. Could they get through the doorways? Could they get through these areas with these extra wide hips?”
During the run, Goynes hopes that the audience captures the essence of the set as if they are common dwellers of this space. “I want them to feel the majesty of this location that we’re in. We’re in this beautiful, old London house owned by somebody who has quite a bit of money and I want them to feel that, says Goynes. “I want them to feel that they are really apart of this show.”