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Scenic Artist Christie DeBacker Creates Some Clouds at The Alley Theatre

Stage Directions • October 2019Theatre Buzz • October 16, 2019

Check out Scenic Artist Christie DeBacker’s cloud creation for The Alley Theatre production of The Winter’s Tale. Each cloud took about 8 to 10 hours for the scenic artists and painters to create.

This whimsical tale of romance, tragedy, and comedy will take center stage in familiar places for Alley audiences. Set in Texas, this magical tale will be seen through the imaginative eyes of a young, Houstonian child. This play is a sweeping story of wrath and redemption and of lost and then found love. 

Behind the scenic design of The Winter’s Tale with Scenic Designer Michael Locher
Theatre performances in Shakespeare’s time rarely involved scenery as we know it – meaning that a shift from a battlefield to a bedroom was meant to be a subtle gesture, suggested by the actors onstage and the words they spoke. Contemporary audiences, however, have come to appreciate what designers bring to the table. Because we work to realize what Shakespeare only hints at, four-hundred-year-old plays written for a bare stage that dish out some of our biggest challenges.

The Winter’s Tale is one of the toughest, as the action is split between two locations, Sicilia and Bohemia, which are meant to look and feel very distinct. Sicilia is an urbane society in the throes of palace intrigue; Bohemia is a pastoral, relaxed community. A scenic designer tackling The Winter’s Tale needs to think strategically right off the bat: “How are we going to depict the play’s split geography?” As director, Rob Melrose introduced a take on the play which teased some really unique solutions. Melrose loved the idea of creating a Sicilia inspired by modern day Houston: a stylish, art-filled penthouse where sophisticated Texans mingled, drinks in hand. “He also asked me to devise a way to imagine Bohemia as a rural counterpart: a balmy amalgam of the West Texas desert, Hill Country, and even the Gulf Coast.”
A scene set in Bohemia in The Winters Tale at the Alley Theatre. Photographer Lynn Lane

When Melrose further proposed that the story could unfold from the imagination of a young character onstage, almost like a dream, a concept clicked: we would set the entirety of The Winter’s Tale within a Houston penthouse, and permit mythic imagery of wild Texas to seep in and blossom like a fantasy.

I always find it helpful to devise a “theory of the design” – for each production, a guiding principle that explains my approach and frames my choices. For Murder on the Orient Express, it was the notion of a story conjured from Poirot’s memory, with visuals emerging from a dark ether. In this case, establishing that our story was fundamentally rooted in a single interior was fun and liberating. What does it look like when a sunset on the desert invades an urban penthouse? Or when wildflowers blossom in a Houston highrise? I’m looking forward to seeing how our audience appreciates the premise – and I hope they enjoy, as we have, an unexpected celebration of this beautiful region!
A scene set in Bohemia in The Winters Tale at the Alley Theatre. Photographer Lynn Lane

The design and production team includes:
Scenic Designer: Michael Locher
Lighting Designer: Cat Tate Starmer
Costume Designer: Raquel Barreto
Sound Designer: Cliff Carruthers
Stage Manager: Rebecca R.D. Hamlin
Assistant Stage Manager: Kristen Larson


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