Set designer Don Zastoupil has created a guillotine for "The Scarlett Pimpernel," currently playing at Camelot Theatre in Talent.
Set designer Don Zastoupil has created a guillotine for "The Scarlet Pimpernel," playing at Camelot Theatre in Talent. With a background in interior decoration and an interest in cinematography, Zastoupil began designing and constructing stage sets when he was a board member at the Opera House in Woodland, Calif.
One afternoon, we visited in Camelot's newly constructed playhouse as he was finishing the set for "The Scarlet Pimpernel," which takes place during the French Revolution. Individual scenes depict a prison, the Bastille, an estate, a library, a schooner, a drawing room, a garden, a ballroom, a café, a cave hideaway, the inside of a carriage and a seacoast.
EH: How do you show all of those locations?
DZ: It's all of the components that come together, the combination. Between lights and video and the colorful costumes, no one thing works all by itself, especially with something like this. When it's impressionistic, everything counts on everything else to pull it off.
With musicals you don't want to have any extra time between scenes. You want to go from one scene to the next, no stopping the show. Lights down and lights up, or better yet, a cross-fade — something stops here, and lights come up over there, where something else is happening. I just make sure that I'm not going to upstage the action. When you have 30 actors on stage, you have to stay out of their way.
I want to complement whatever the costumes are. With "The Sunshine Boys," I wanted the actors' clothes to contrast what was behind them. I used basically camouflage colors for all of the wallpaper, so the set would disappear behind the characters.
EH: Where do you go for your inspiration?
DZ: "Star Trek," the original series — everything is inspired from that. I was always impressed with how they would re-dress the sets, and the way that they would use stuff over and over again.
They'd use bubble wrap for kelp. But they always pulled it off. It always had nice, clean lines, and they kept it simple. It's the same thing that I do. I take the same pieces, hang a different drape on them and call it good.
I look at everybody else's designs. I watch a lot of movies. I get a lot of inspiration from those musicals from the 1950s. Then the script drives everything.
I didn't feel that I could put a nice, clean-looking set in the old Camelot theater until I fixed the house a little bit, got the light off the ceiling, blacked out around the set, for a nice, finished edge. We've come a long way technically in the last few years.
EH: What is it about theater that is so exciting?
DZ: The team aspect of it all. Everybody's focused on the same thing. Everybody likes what they're doing — that's why they're here. I'd hate to leave here because I'd miss all of my friends.
EH: Does anybody put their head in the guillotine?
DZ: Actually they do, but we have these pins in; the blade comes down, and stops. You know for sure that it won't go past these pins. It is still unnerving for the actor. The stage manager puts the pins in, but the actor is supposed to check that. It's on his list, "Check pins."
You can get away with a guillotine in this show because it is a gag. We're not really suggesting"… the Scarlet Pimpernel winds up hiding behind this thing. This is my first guillotine, after all these years.
"The Scarlet Pimpernel" plays through Dec. 31. For tickets and information, call 541-535-5250 or visit www.camelottheatre.org.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.