The Mecca Tales, Oct. 20 - Nov. 4 in NYC

Started by scenicdesign71, Oct 18, 2017, 11:45 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!


Tent design for The Mecca Tales (with thanks to the amazing Isabel for her help in executing it):

scenic design, rendering & animation ©2017 by David Esler

What this flyaround doesn't show is how the tent gets there in the middle of the show (for a pair of scenes set in the "tent city" of Mina), and likewise goes away later on, without any significant break in the action:

The fabric travels on an aircraft-cable "track" running through its horizontal upper hem -- it is drawn across the stage by an actor, like a large translucent curtain, with the upper triangle initially hanging down flat against the main portion of the tent.  The lantern is lowered from the grid downstage center, then clipped by another actor onto what will become the tent's apex.  Then the lantern is flown back up, pulling the upper triangle of fabric forward (downstage) as well as upward.  Three more actors pull the tent's bottom edges into place around the upstage curve of the "astrolabe" disc, velcro-ing it to the platform's edge at several points to maintain the flared shape.  (The central "tent flaps" are sewn permanently into an "open" position for easy entrances and exits).

The process is then reversed to remove the tent for the play's final scene -- and, coming or going, it's simpler and quicker than it sounds.  Though these transitions involve almost the entire cast manipulating a stage-filling, nearly-white piece of fabric in semi-darkness behind one tightly-lit performer who is speaking throughout, Kareem has staged it so swiftly and gracefully that it enhances the moment rather than detracting. (My favorite touch: one of the women lights the tent lantern just before clipping it to the peak for its ascent).  In fact, I've actually gotten more compliments about the tent, and its "surprise" appearance about two-thirds of the way through the show, than I have about the astrolabe.

During the two consecutive scenes in which it plays, the tent receives various projections; see the production photo labeled "Maya's flashback," on the first page of this thread.  While I worried a bit about the performers, dressed in white from head to toe, getting visually "lost" against the off-white tent, Devorah has sculpted them beautifully with her lighting so that they stand out clearly.

The lantern is actually one of about a dozen, of various shapes and colors, dead-hung at different heights all around the space (mostly over the audience seating risers); they're already lit when the audience arrives, and they fade just after the houselights do.  (Later on, they are briefly illuminated again for one of the "memory" flashbacks set at a Pakistani-American wedding).

The lantern motif also ties into the projections: the preshow image extends the constellation of glowing lanterns from the audience onto the sky "half-cyc" -- at first just five of them, in the specific colors that will later figure vividly into each of the five women's "memory" scenes.  Over the course of about ten minutes before the play begins, these gradually multiply into a projected galaxy of jewel-toned hanging lamps receding deep into virtual space, some swinging slowly back and forth as if in a soft breeze.

As the houselights dim, a pulsing electronic ostinato begins, and the lamps (both real and projected) fade, giving way to a new projection: the galaxy of gently-swaying lights becomes a surging sea of humanity,  an almost pointillistic tide of millions of faces and white-clad bodies.  Directly below and behind this, the five actresses enter one by one -- each "appearing" through various breaks in the black velour, their abayat and hijab etched in stark white light against the void -- and come together in a tableau upstage-center to recite a prayer-like prologue in alternating solo, counterpoint, and unison: a verse from the Qur'an exhorting the faithful to make the hajj.  With a cast of just six, and only a handful of lines throughout the play mentioning the multitudes who converge on Mecca for five days each year, this opening video projection is our one chance to visually establish the sheer density of the throng before focusing-in on our five ostensibly "ordinary" women.


The Mecca Tales at Crossroads Theatre at Middlesex College PAC in Edison, NJ -- only slightly rejiggered for a proscenium house of several times the Sheen Center's audience capacity:

You cannot view this attachment.

We may have approached the upper limit of how much this particular production can support in terms of scale-inflation -- without rebuilding much of the set, at any rate (although, as it is, the painted circle on the floor has been stretched into an oval to fill more of Middlesex's much-wider space).  But it actually works quite well here, much to everyone's relief.

The staging has been tweaked just a bit in order to better fill the space, and the performers have expertly recalibrated their work in a single afternoon of rehearsal, without losing the piece's essential intimacy.  We previewed Wednesday and Thursday, open tonight, have two shows tomorrow and then close Sunday -- just six performances in five days, but everyone seems happy with the smooth transfer.

I should note that the Middlesex crew has been fantastic, in both venues: they actually built the entire set in their shop, then transported it to Manhattan for the Sheen Center run, and then back again for this "encore"; throughout the entire process, their commitment has played an incalculable role in making the show a success.

You cannot view this attachment.

More production photos to follow...


Hell hell hell, I am so sorry I missed this!  It is indeed a beautiful design.   :'( :'(


Thank you, Robert!

Fret not: Mecca Tales may be gone for the time being, but I'm about to start work on another project with Kareem, set to open next spring and tour each of the five boroughs -- at one point sitting down for two weeks at Urban Stages in Manhattan.  I'll start a new thread about it once we're further along, but it's a fascinating script about a little-known corner of NYC labor-union history, set in the present day and dramatizing the tensions between old-Left labor advocacy and identity politics in ways that are both deeply personal and highly theatrical.

Further off, he's developing a stage adaptation of an acclaimed epic novel from the early 2000s (subsequently made into a film and a TV series). Very early days, but I'm intrigued by the novel and will be attending an exploratory reading shortly after Thanksgiving.

I'll be sure to post more about these things, not just ramblings about the design but useful stuff like dates and box-office links (and discount info, if any) -- not just here but on Facebook: like, actually sending out invites... what a bold idea!  I joke because I've historically been very bad about that kind of thing, but it's high time I corrected that.

Chris L

I haven't added much to this thread so far, but let me say that I'm deeply impressed by the work you've shown us,.Dave, as I've always been impressed with your work in the past. The upcoming project on the tensions between old-time labor advocacy and identity politics sounds amazing and I can't wait to find out what the epic novel made into both a movie and a TV series would be. I'm wracking my brain trying to think of something that meets that description...
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?


Not the Pullman books perchance?  Probably not 2000s
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!


Quote from: Chris L on Nov 19, 2017, 10:49 PMI can't wait to find out what the epic novel made into both a movie and a TV series would be. I'm wracking my brain trying to think of something that meets that description...

Quote from: Leighton on Nov 20, 2017, 12:00 PMNot the Pullman books perchance?  Probably not 2000s

Don't hurt your heads, guys -- sorry, I should've just said: it's a 2002 novel called The Yacoubian Building.

Well-reviewed and translated into 23 languages, it was the best-selling Arabic novel of 2002-03; the 2006 movie was reportedly the highest-budget film in the history of Egyptian cinema.  I haven't found out much about the 2007 TV series, beyond a very basic Wikipedia stub.

"Epic" might not be quite the right word; while it does use the titular apartment building -- a once-glamorous, now-crumbling edifice in downtown Cairo -- to explore a broad cross-section of late-20th-century Egyptian society in microcosm, the novel is a relatively svelte 255 pages.

The film, on the other hand, qualifies as "epic" in both length and scope, running a stately (and absorbing) 165 minutes.  (It also features a score whose main recurring musical motif owes a debt to Michel Legrand's love theme from Les parapluies de Cherbourg, which is now stuck in my head).

Here's a 2012 New Yorker profile of the novelist, Alaa Al-Aswany:


All this looks amazing! I wish I could have seen it!  Well done.
A blank page or canvas. My favorite.


Thank you, Aileen!   ;D
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

On Tuesday we had our first production meeting, followed by a preliminary table read, for the NYC-labor play, Alternating Currents.  The cast for the reading was assembled for that purpose only (the production won't actually be cast until sometime in January), but I thought they gave an exciting account of the script, and it was useful to hear.

And right now I'm about to head downtown for an even-more-preliminary reading of a rough draft of The Yacoubian Building's first act, which I'm equally excited about.