CTC set takes inspiration from Athenaeum


Benjamin Mehl plays Don Adriano de Armado, a fantastical Spaniard, here shouting from the replica Athenaeum Hotel porch in Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Those who have seen the posters around the grounds for Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” may have noticed something familiar about its main image. It is the Athenaeum Hotel, which has played a significant role in the design of CTC’s final production of the 2011 Season.

Scenic Designer Lee Savage said he began designing the set in late May around aspects of the Athenaeum Hotel after he and Director Ethan McSweeny discussed setting the play in a Chautauqua-like place.

“It is set at an academic enclave or institution where they’re hiding away,” Savage said. “Just throughout the conversation about that, I thought, ‘Well, Chautauqua is sort of like that,’ and people go there to learn and be enlightened, and so we thought it would be a really suitable place and give the audience a unique frame of reference to the people in the play.”

Savage has worked on several shows with CTC, including “The Just,” “Death of a Salesman,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Arcadia,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Amadeus.”

Scenic Design Fellow Christopher Murillo assisted Savage in ensuring the scenic designer’s vision of the Athenaeum translated to the actual set. One of Murillo’s major jobs throughout the process was taking photographs of the Athenaeum Hotel to make sure the set’s depiction stayed accurate. This included detailed photos of the railings on the front stairs.

Once Savage had Murillo’s photos of the railings, he traced them on a computer and sized them appropriately for the set. This ensured that “all the railings on the set with those cutouts are exact replicas of what is on the actual Athenaeum Hotel,” Savage said.

When entering Bratton Theater for the production, guests will discover large shrubbery on either side of the stage. In the center of the stage is the main set, which is based off the Athenaeum Hotel, including staircases, railings and pillars. Across the very top of the set is another aspect of Chautauqua Savage chose to include — the four words from the fountain in Bestor Plaza: “Art,” “Music,” “Religion” and “Knowledge.”

“I thought that those words that were on the fountain really spoke to the king’s pledge at the beginning of the play,” Savage added.

The king says, “Our court shall be a little Academe, still and contemplative in living art.”

The designs were finalized and then handed off to Technical Director Christopher Soley, who was responsible for turning the sketches into actual structures.

Soley said construction on the set began during the run of CTC’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” earlier this summer.

This is Soley’s second season with CTC; he constructed the set for last year’s production of “Macbeth.” Soley said this set is more realistic than what was constructed for “Macbeth,” and that the work for “Love’s Labour’s Lost” has been enjoyable.

“I’ve had a lot of fun teching it,” Soley said, “and I know my guys have had a lot of fun building it.”

The biggest challenge Soley faced was translating the design of the two curved staircases on the sides of the set into working drawings for the carpenters, he said.

In order to keep the set true to the Athenaeum Hotel, even the paint color was considered and chosen carefully. The same paint used for the hotel now decorates the set.

Another unique aspect of the set is a real tree placed onstage. Soley said this tree, which sits in the front right corner of the stage, is attached to the floor and the theater itself in two places.

Savage said while the audience will recognzing the set, it is important to point out the play does not take place at Chautauqua.

“Although we took a lot of details from the Athenaeum Hotel, the play is not set there,” Savage said. “We wanted to be inspired by Chautauqua but not be completely literal about a specific place on the grounds.”

Savage said he hoped the similarities between the set and the grounds would help audience members more closely relate to the play.

“There are themes and situations in the play that relate to your life today, even though it takes place in another time and a made-up place,” Savage said. “Having a way to relate it to your life today, I think, is really great when Shakespeare can span that time. Setting it in a familiar place helps do that.”

“Love’s Labour’s Lost”  previews at 8 p.m. Wednesday and opens at 6 p.m. Thursday at Bratton Theater.