The Art Behind the Design – by Erin Greer

Shooting Star Image

Leigh Campbell-Taylor, Jim Hammond in Shooting Star by Steven Dietz at Horizon Theatre


You’ve been there. The coffee shop, the laundromat, the grocery store. Running your errands or completing some midweek chore in a seemingly mundane, impersonal place.
All is as it should be. Or you think so, until that one random Thursday when you run into him on isle three by the assorted plastic cutlery. Suddenly, this impersonal place has suddenly become very, very personal.
Such is the story of Reed and Elana, former lovers who are forced together when inclement weather strands them at the airport. Face to face after decades apart and unable to escape either their current location or their collective pasts, Reed and Elana trudge the snowy paths of memory lane, finding humor, heartache and secrets along the way.
Written by Stephen Dietz, Shooting Star explores the “what ifs” of love, loss and moving on. But while the subject matter navigates a varied tale of two lives across generations and locales, the show takes place entirely in one airport terminal—which presented a welcome challenge for show set designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay.
The Curley-Clays, who run Axis Studios, said they wanted to design a set that promoted the action of the play without visually overwhelming the audience. To do so, the designers studied images of multiple airports—layout, light, color—when conceptualizing the design. The challenge, they said, was to keep the design simple and instantly recognizable, while still adhering to the theater space.
“Horizon’s space is interesting,” they said. “It is a challenging place to design because of the arrangement of seating. In some ways it works a thrust space, a proscenium space and an in-the-round space. We try to give the audience members form each seating area a view that is as strong as any other without being the same all around.”

Shooting Star Set Design

Shooting Star Set Design by Axis Studio

Creating the feeling of an actual airport is, the Curley-Clays maintain, among their favorite achievements. To date, many of the patrons have commented on the transformation of the stage.
“We hope that they (the audience) look at the set and say, ‘Yes! I know that place!’ or ‘Something about it makes me feel something.’ Then sit back and let it support the show. We hope they see the actors in their costumes and smile because they know them and then forget the design because it supports their character. If we’ve done that…then we have done our job well.” 

While Axis was taking care of the visual appeal of the show, Clarke Weigle, information technology manager for the Shakespeare Tavern, had his mind on the audible aspects—Neil Young and Laura Nyro, to be exact.

“The specific mentions of musical artists from the 70’s made choosing music pretty easy, really, since that was the era when I was most aware of popular music,” Weigle said. “However, it turned out that we could not keep all of the continuous underpinning of music from that era that we had originally intended: the more apt the songs, the more of a distraction they became for the audience who needed to remain focused on what the actors were doing.”

As a compromise, Weigle incorporated the music into the pre- and post-show. Weigle said he was pleased with the effect of the compromise, and feels the music in Shooting Star sets the tone for the play’s themes.

“The impersonality of the airport as an in-between space made me want the music to establish it as a sacred space in which past dreams are remembered and current responsibilities are temporarily shed,” Weigle said. “It is a temporary world, even in the third biggest blizzard of the century; we can’t live there forever, but it is useful and necessary, and we can learn something from our time there.”