On Building the Walls of Verona

Connor W. Munion is a New York based designer, and he is excited to be working with The WorkShop Theater for the first time. Connor’s recent credits include Oh, Hello Live! (The Cherry Lane Theatre) directed by Alex Timbers, Spinning Into Butter (The Naples Players), and Richard II (Shakespeare in the Square). 

 Q.  How do you get a design concept for a show?

 
A. For me, the design concept of a show always begins with the text. Of course all plays dictate a time and place for the action, but I only use that as a starting point and try to translate the themes of the play into the scenic design. In Verona Walls there are a multiple themes from which I can pull. This play, as with Romeo and Juliet, is defined by the struggle between love and war, or in terms of Mercutio’s story, flight and fight. There are also a lot of anachronisms referenced in the script which present the play as timeless. Just as the characters of Romeo and Juliet are timelessso are the themes of love and war. When I initially read the script this idea was mostly imminent in the comparison of Romeo’s classic romantic style of love and Mercutio’s new modern style of love. They go about wooing women in very different ways, and since the story is told through the eyes of Mercutio, I knew that the concept of the design had to reflect his concept of love and his view of the world. With that in mind we have created a timeless Verona that could exist today as the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets has raged on for centuries just like we see in ancient cities being ripped apart by modern warfare today.
 
Q.  I’d imagine to a large extent budget plays a role.  Do you have alternate versions based on that?
 

A. There are many logistical factors that go into designing a set, and the budget is always the largest factor. I would like to think, though, that the budget doesn’t dictate my design. I always start with a limit in mind, and try to balance the needs of the play with the budget I have been given. Often scenery is built in such typical ways that I can easily predict the range of how much it will cost in the end, but there are always unforeseen issues that can be difficult to plan for ahead of time. To be safe, I have learned to design scenery with

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Set Designer Connor W. Munion

excess elements that can sort of be used as bargaining chips in a budget conversation. If I am over budget, it is nice to know that there are pieces of scenery that I am fine with losing if it means being able to execute the important parts of the set in the proper way. This idea of over-designing is the closest I would come to creating an alternate set altogether. I would not want to present one great design that is over budget, and then a less-great set just to represent the budget reality. To me it is important to acknowledge the financial limitations and design the ideal set within those circumstances.

Q.  In what ways do you see actors performances change from a rehearsal space to being onstage with the set?
 
A. The first day that actors are onstage with the set is always exciting for me. There is always a lot of problem solving that goes into that time. The actors learn where they have less space than they thought, or they learn they have more space. If the set has lots of moving parts it is important that the actors get plenty of practice using those piece, so they are comfortable during a performance. Overall rehearsals in a rehearsal room seem more like a pantomime when compared to the onstage experience. Having a properly spaced set fleshes out the movements of the actors and creates a more natural performance for the audience. Designing scenery is really about creating a space that supports the work being done by the performers, either visually or spatially, and I enjoy seeing that collaboration become a reality onstage.
Q.  In this piece how is your set like a character in the play?
 
A. I guess it would make sense to consider the set as the title character in Verona Walls. From the very first discussions I had with Laura and DeLisa about this play, we knew that the walls of the city needed to be ever-present within the space. I believe the walls provide a psychological barrier for Mercutio, who is kept within Verona by his loyalty to Romeo and the rest of the Montague clan. The walls do provide a literal barrier, of course, but scenically we have tried to represent the walls as a product of the ageless feud to which Mercutio is indebted. In the play the audience will see the shape of the walls change so that they can create multiple confining atmospheres for the action onstage where they act as an inanimate foil to Mercutio and move the action forward as much as any other character.
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