Set design should be more than an afterthought

It’s unfortunate few directors appreciate the help a set can offer in telling a story, and maybe “Jesus Christ Superstar” — the excellent Philip Shelburne production at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park through Thursday — will help solve this.

After complaining about his anemic set for “110 in the Shade,” I received a note from director Byron Tidwell that said his budget had been severely cut. He was implying that the set was the best the money could do. That claim is tested with Evan Baroletti’s celestial design for “Superstar.” Baroletti’s creativity works hard at creating mood and feeling — not necessarily place. A designer is more of an expressionist painter than a realistic architect.

Dana Martin proved during the recent run of Project Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Fischer Black Box that a good eye is worth more than an expense account. She placed the play in a garden setting, with nothing but a few decorated platforms, knickknacks, foliage and the like. Yet, that $1.99 physical environment was instrumental in establishing and maintaining the spirit of lightness.

Too many directors treat sets as afterthoughts, nothing but pieces of furniture that need to be thrown onto the stage just before the audience schleps in. They’re losing out on a great storytelling aid, and they are wrong to put the blame on the budget. …

It’s likely every American theater undergrad has heard the word “URTAs.” That’s why it’s good to report the URTAs are moving to Vegas.

The acronym belongs to the University/Resident Theatre Association. But to the students, the letters spell fear and opportunity.

The association holds tryouts to help place potential Streeps in outstanding programs. It used to be that participants would have to go to either New York, Chicago or San Francisco. But the organization has just named Las Vegas its West Coast site. Hundreds of acting and technical wizards will be roaming the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus in February in the hopes of impressing reps from some of our nation’s best schools. …

Last weekend, members of the Las Vegas Little Theatre performed a preview reading of their upcoming season. In a half-hour, you saw moments from most of their shows. But what a miserable execution it was of a great marketing idea. If you’re going to try to get people interested in your productions, why do a reading in which the actors have no characters, little charisma, sound like walking encyclopedias and look as if they were just pulled off the street? A preview should show a product at its best, otherwise, what’s the point?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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