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From Brian in New Mexico:
I am a junior, and I am directing "The Scarlet Pimpernel" here at my high school. Back in October, my choir director and I began to peruse the scripts of various musicals, unsure of what we were going to produce for the spring semester. He wanted to do "Les Miserables" and I wanted to do "Camelot," but we weren't really sold on either of those ideas. Thankfully, I wanted to read the script to "The Scarlet Pimpernel" simply out of curiosity. I had bought the soundtrack, and I really just wanted to know how the story went.

After I got over the shock from reading a script that was not quite how I remembered it on the CD, I simply let myself be enveloped in a "most intruiging musical adventure." The libretto simply enchanted me. When I finished reading, I said to myself "We have to do this show."

We have just begun rehearsals, and this show is proving to be quite the task. I attend an extremely small school. Our "Auditorium" is a broken-down 85-year-old former church. The size of the stage is, well, a joke. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that we have a drama program barely hanging by a thread, an extremely low budget, and few actors to perform a grand musical on a miniscule acting space.

The scenes of this show take place in many different locales, and I am wondering if you have any advice on how to show those varied places (especially the differences between England and France) in a minimalist way without confusing the audience out of their minds.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Dear Brian,

First, I want to tell you that recently I saw the Broadway production of The Thirty-Nine Steps in which 4 actors played the parts of something like 163 characters and in which the locales changed constantly in a flash with just the aid of a lighting change or a different prop or a flat turned around backwards, etc. So take heart. This sort of thing can be done and, in fact, I think audiences often enjoy a show more when they see the ingenuity brought to a production and when they can participate with their own imaginations. My advice to you with Pimpernel would be to sit down with your most artistic friend (artistic in the sense of painting, sculpting, designing of any kind) and brainstorm for an hour or two. This friend would then obviously become the Set Designer. Talk about how you can use lights to differentiate between France and England, what sort of flats or set-pieces could be turned to create an outdoor scene, an indoor scene, how props can help the audience to identify where they are. If you are fairly consistent with your changes, I don't think the audience will be confused. You could also use a few extra chords of music to help the audience identify locales as in "Ah- that's the French theme. We're in France." The sea coast could also be identified with simply a sound effects recording of an ocean and a large prop to designate high rocks or cliffs. I think once you start down this road, you'll be surprised at how quickly the ideas will come. I would never try to change your look and suddenly have a lush scene filled with all sorts of extravagant pieces of furniture and so forth- that would confuse the audience. Keep to your minimalist style throughout. The audience will catch on to it right away and love it. I hope this has helped you a bit and just have fun with it. Lots of luck- Nan

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