PlayMakers Repertory Company hopes to make a splash in the Paul Green Theatre — featuring a 15-ton heated pool as part of the set for its rotating repertory of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” and William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
Performances of “The Tempest” and “Metamorphoses” will start Nov. 2 and 3, respectively. In order to give theater technicians ample time to prepare the complex set, no other performances will be held in the theater until then.
Both productions explore the human desire for change and are predicated upon themes of love, release and redemption, said Joseph Haj, PlayMakers’ producing artistic director and co-director for the plays.
“We’re thrilled to share these two plays in conversation with one another,” he said. “Both are plays that take water as their central metaphor, and the opportunity to explore them both on alternating evenings is going to be, I think, very special for our community.”
Haj wouldn’t disclose the exact cost of the pool, but said the price was significant. Preparation for the play mandated an acute awareness of the water’s impact on artistic elements.
For Jade Bettin, the costume designer for PlayMakers and the co-costume designer for the plays, that entailed making costume plots — she listed actors by scene appearances and classified how wet their outfits would get in each scene. She then identified which costumes required two sets.
Fabric types and the reaction of dyes in the pool presented additional concerns. As a solution, Bettin said natural fibers were chosen and dunk tests were performed to test the impact of chlorinated water on the fabric.
Bettin said many afternoon conversations revolved around underclothing.
“You know, this is going to be a wet T-shirt contest. Like, what are they wearing underneath? What do we want to see? Because we’re going to see it. The fabric will be transparent,” she said.
While Bettin said that PlayMakers is not afraid of nudity, they don’t want it to be a point of distraction.
For Jan Chambers, the co-scenic and co-costume designer for the plays, the aesthetic challenge was in balancing the world of the plays with the structural capabilities of the shop.
“We had to think about it according to the engineering requests that the shop gave us so the water would be distributed in a way that could be supported,” Chambers said. “For one thing, we couldn’t have done the pool without removing the festival theater deck that has been in there for the last 25 years.”
But the removal of the thrust and installation of the pool wasn’t easy, said Adam Maxfield, technical director for PlayMakers.
“We took everything down to the mote level, which is our base level. At that point, then, we started into talks with the designers about how much water, where the water would be,” Maxfield said.
“We added additional supports down in the trap room to assist with some of that steel.”
He said there were additional concerns pertaining to the actors’ safety.
“What we didn’t want to have happen is the actors get out of the water and take a tumble into the audience or down the other platforms,” Maxfield said.
“So, everything has to have a texture to it — we can’t have any smooth surfaces.”
Mastic flooring was used to prevent slippage, said McKay Coble, co-scenic and co-costume designer for the plays.
“You’ll also notice if you really look at it that the sides are slightly tipped up,” Coble said. “We call that raking. It’s so the water hopefully will wash back into the pool.”
Coble said the artistic team extensively researched and accommodated for the logistics of the pool.
“What’s fantastic about this scene shop is that we didn’t have to compromise any of the imagination or the needs of the play because of the logistical needs of the pool,” Coble said. “For all the science that’s gone into it, there’s still an awful lot of magic.”
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