By Alicia Hansen
As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team. Alicia recently interviewed Bunny Christie, the Scenic & Costume Designer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about her experience in designing this Tony Award winning play.
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Scotland and was involved in my school drama group although performing, not designing. We would sometimes go to Glasgow to an amazing theatre called The Glasgow Citizens Theatre. They produced incredibly visual, decadent pieces of theatre and employed very beautiful actors. I then went to Art School in London and found that the Theatre Design students were having much more fun than the painters or sculptors.
I first heard about The National Theatre doing a version of Curious Incident when Marianne Elliott rang me asking if I knew the book and if I would like to have a go at designing the show. I absolutely loved the book. I had read it along with the rest of the UK when it first came out. I love working with Marianne so it was a very decision to say YES!!!
In taking a book to the stage, how did the novel of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time inspire or influence your designs?
It was really lovely to have the book and the script to work with. The book is beautiful and has lovely pictures, maps and equations in it. I really wanted to use some of the illustrations in the book in our production. Also, the book is very playful. The chapters aren’t numbered 1, 2, 3. They are numbered as prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, so I wanted to keep some of that playful, irreverent feeling. There are also nice descriptions of the people in the book that I used in the costume designs. Christopher often notices the shoes that people wear or their t-shirts because he doesn’t do eye contact.
The most striking aspect of the scenic design is the electronic panels that provide the flexibility to tell this tale. Can you describe your process in developing that important feature?
It felt to me that we should be in a space that is Christopher’s domain, almost inside his head, and that would be a world of technology, science and math. I also really wanted the space of the stage to feel exciting and vibrant, and celebrate the world of computers and technology. I was looking at lots of computer gaming rooms and club interiors for inspiration, and talking to Paule Constable, the lighting designer, about how to make the space feel like a computer game and fizz with energy and light. The space needed to become so many different locations, and be very fluid and fast moving.
What were some of the most important aspects on your mind when creating the costume designs for Curious Incident?
I wanted the colors on the clothes to really glow – as though when Christopher sees a color, it is super bright and almost vibrates. I also use Christopher’s favorite colors on his clothes and the colors he hates on the characters he doesn’t like. Anyone wearing something yellow or brown is not a good person. The characters need to be able to change very quickly, sometimes onstage.
The company who become all the characters in the story and also sometimes act almost as neurons in Christopher’s brain have a monochrome ‘skin’ of clothes that sort of match the black and white set. They can then add character elements to quickly become an individual person, or melt into the set when the focus is really on Christopher and we need to see only him clearly. Siobhan, his favorite teacher, is dressed in white, so she glows in the space a little. I always felt like she is a guardian angel for Christopher.
As I said, I used particular details from descriptions in the book of how people looked: Mrs. Shears in her pajamas and pink toe-nails; Mrs. Alexander, the neighbor who wears New Balance trainers with red laces; the neighbor, Mr. Thompson, who wears a T-shirt with “Beer. Helping ugly people have sex for 2,000 years”!
Was there any one character you especially enjoyed crafting costumes for in this production?
I do really like Mrs. Alexander the older lady neighbor. She’s a really nice person and I love the look of her wearing her trainers to do work in the garden. The policemen were actually really fun to do. London and Swindon police have quite particular kit and the actors always love dressing up and trying on the London Bobby helmets.
What scenes in the show leave the audience with the strongest visual impacts thanks to the work you created?
I love the moments when all the visual and aural elements work together. The section when Christopher is searching the house for evidence is really fun. All the pixel lighting is firing, the actors are moving through the space and its fun and playful.
I also love the bit we call Astro-boy when Christopher imagines himself in space. Again the projection, sound, light, music and movement are all working together and we spent a lot of time orchestrating this section to make it feel magical.
The journey on the train to London is lovely. I can really clearly remember coming up with this idea way back at the beginning of the design process with Marianne. It’s still exactly as we imagined – that’s very satisfying.
What makes Curious Incident stand out to you from the other productions you’ve worked on over the years?
Definitely the teamwork. Although Marianne and I worked alone on the design and feel of the production for many weeks, once the rest of the team got involved, we all bounced off each other and they added layers of ideas. It’s a large team of people all working together – this includes the actors and all the backstage teams. It’s a very precise piece of work. We all became very particular about the detail of each moment. Although the show is very visual and loud at times, it is also quiet, moving and delicate with beautiful acting and writing. I always love watching it. The story gets me every time.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs March 21 – April 9, 2017 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.
Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a local yoga teacher, event professional, marketer and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.