Interview with The Liar’s Set Designer Alexander Dodge
Production: THE LIAR, 2016-2017 Season
Q: You were born in Switzerland, grew up in Arizona, and have designed all kinds of theater all over the world. How has your lifelong international journey shaped your identity as an artist?
A: I was able to experience two very different cultures, not to mention climates and geography, very early on in life. When I was born my family lived in a small alpine town in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and then we moved to the hot desert around Scottsdale as I began elementary school.
My father is an architect and studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona. I grew up on the campus, which undeniably had a profound influence on me. As a young boy I initially wanted to be an architect like my father until I moved into theater and scenic design.
Architecture in general has always had a great influence on me. I have always been interested in the volume of space and how the characters inhabit and interact with it. I am very grateful that I have had the chance to see so many architectural styles in person and how different cultures have been able to incorporate those styles together and in close proximity over long time periods. I believe this has really helped me when trying to push the boundaries of a period piece. Knowing what works together and just how far is too far before a piece can become garish or clashing is a very good thing.
Q: Classic Stage Company has a really distinct physical space. Can you tell us about some challenges and opportunities unique to this venue?
A: Classic Stage Company is one of my very favorite theater spaces in New York. I have seen many fantastic productions at this theatre over the years and am certain one of the many reasons they were so successful was the space itself. It has what so many others do not, and that is volume, and especially height. It feels very large and intimate at the same time. That can be part of the challenge in this space – designing a piece that doesn’t feel too small within the space yet making sure it is intimate so the audience feels engaged and a part of the world we are presenting. I have been a fan of Classic Stage Company for a long time and am excited and honored to be able to get to design in it.
Q: What was your starting place for THE LIAR? Can you walk us through some of your very first impulses with this play?
A: I have had the good fortune to work on several David Ives productions over the years. While retaining the essence of the spirit of the piece and its period, he facilely brings the story into the contemporary world. It is clever and playful. Michael and I had done this play previously in Washington, but we realized that this version would have to take quite a different approach. The two theatre spaces are very different in size and configuration. We knew that we wanted to be able to use many of the costume designs from before. While the current design is completely different, it retains much of the same color palette as before. However I have run with the playful nature of the play and pushed the “pop art” quality of it.
Q: What are some common misconceptions audiences have about scenic design?
A: People often think that I actually construct the set. I don’t, and nor for the sake of the set, not to mention everyone’s safety, would you want me to. I explain that I am very much like an architect, but for the stage. We build a scale model, create painter’s elevations and technical drawings. From there the design goes to the scene shop and gets built. My role at that point becomes more supervisory, very much like an architect at a job site. Really the only difference is that the opening of a building can be much more easily postponed than the curtain going up on opening night.
Q: Is there a certain writer, period, or style you have always wanted to design but have not yet had the opportunity to do so? What excites you about it?
A: I have been fortunate enough to have been able to design in myriad periods and styles. In fact, keeping a constant variation of work going is what I find most stimulating. For me, it makes what I do most exciting. That said, what I do enjoy most is getting to push boundaries and create environments that are perhaps unexpected and often exaggerated in some way. Though the set needs to support the play itself, it is also a wonderful device to offer further insight in the telling of the story. As an audience member I always I love it when the scenery is more than just a background and not only enriches the overall experience but becomes integral to it.