Meet Barrymore-Nominated Set Designer Dirk Durossette

My name is Tamanya Garza and I am a freelance director and producer here in Philadelphia as well as a the President of the Board of Directors for Azuka Theatre. I recently had the opportunity to spend a few minutes inside of the brain of Dirk Durossette our fantastic (and recently Barrymore nominated) set designer for THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE.

Tamanya: First, tell me a bit about the shows you have designed for Azuka and the elements you liked most about the shows you have designed with us.

Dirk: I have designed five shows for Azuka over the past seven years and I’ve worked both with Kevin and Allison. Two considerate and talented personalities who really know how to work with a designer.  Every show has been very different.  Their seasons showcase a diverse choice of plays that have allowed me the chance to really explore the visuals and the worlds of some very interesting stories.  Every show I’ve worked on at Azuka has been a very gratifying experience and I’ve always been treated like an artist and not just an artisan.  They also put together great teams of designers who work very closely worth one another.  I am very proud of every show I’ve done at Azuka.

Tamanya: What was it about last season’s Skin & Bone script that most piqued your interest?  What was most challenging?

Dirk: SKIN & BONE was a new play and I love working on new plays.  It was funny, heartbreaking and surprising. After reading it, I had definite ideas immediately.  I knew the characters needed to be surrounded by something that really spoke to their world views.

Tamanya: While we’re on the topic of reading a script, what are the steps of your personal process when turning a script into a design?

Dirk: When I first approach a script, I rely on the characters to tell me what the world of the play needs.  What they say about where they are, their attitudes towards one another, and how they move around the space.  Even if they say nothing directly about the space they are in, their words and actions still produce visual clues for me.  It can be very subjective and intuitive obviously. I try to hold off on research, and quickly sketch, in pencil, my initial impulses.  Then I get into the research and problem solving.  I like to work big and general then whittle down to the specifics.

Tamanya: Considering that there are so many memorable elements of the WATSON design which one are you most looking forward seeing onstage and why?

Dirk: My hope for the WATSON design is that it will feel very specific to many different places while serving as a visual anchor for the overall arc of the story line.  I hope it feels like a place in motion.  I’ve used forced perspective to create a sense of depth and movement.  The hints of train station architecture, contrasted against warm interior wood tones hopefully will feel natural and appropriate.

Tamanya: Congratulations on the nomination for your exciting work on SKIN & BONE. How does it feel to get that call that you’ve been nominated?

Dirk: It feels good to be nominated and that people were affected by the play. I really paid attention to details on this one and Jaqueline Goldfinger, the playwright, created characters that really helped me shape the room and choose textures and colors. Allison and I worked very closely and and her guidance was very helpful. It was the first time I had designed in that space and that always makes me feel a little nervous. And while it may seem cliche, this really was a team effort.  The work of the lighting, costume,and sound designers along with the scenic artists, carpenters, and electricians all has to coalesce to make the production what it is.

Meet Amanda Sharp

Azuka snagged the chance to ask a few Failure: A Love Story related questions of our cast and crew.
So…without further ado…

Meet Amanda Sharp (Costume Designer)

What is your favorite time of day?

Very early morning, around 4 am, when it’s still dark, but the birds start to wake up and greet the day.

Describe one thing you had to share with your siblings.

Only child, and I don’t know that I share very well.

What is one other book, film, song, or work of art that reminds you of ‘Failure’ and why?

The Peasall Sisters.*  They’re three sisters who sing folk music in beautiful 3 part harmony.  They are reminiscent of the place between dreams and reality much like the Fail Girls themselves. They have a haunting quality to their voices, and they seem of another place and time, which works well with the theme of memory and surrealism that we focused on so heavily while in process.

*Azuka Note: Here’s a link to YouTube for a video of the Peasall Sisters – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg1CyWSJ7E4

What is your favorite moment when working on a new production?

More than anything else, I really love doing research.  Image research specifically.  I think feeling inspired is my favorite sensation, and when I do research, it gets really intense.  I hoard images of other people from other times, in old photographs or fashion plates. I bookmark what’s de mode in sub-sub cultures, and I rip out photo-editorials from big, thick, fashion magazines.  All the images help me see this person coming to life inside my mind.  Then it needs to be talked over and actualized.  It’s the most fun for me.

Any childhood pets?

I had a cat named Keke, I found her under the Christmas tree when I was two.  We were best friends, siblings even, and oh man did we love each other.  I used to cut baby doll clothes to fit her and push her around in a stroller.  Any cat that sticks around after that deserves sainthood. We were best friends until she died in 2009

I also had a Leopard Spotted gecko named Rizzo in fourth grade and my mom killed her by accident by leaving the window open on a cool spring day so that Rizzo could “Get some air”.  She froze.

Amanda Sharp (Costume Designer)

Amanda Sharp (Costume Designer)

Lighting Design: There’s an app for that?

I Instagram a lot.

Almost every picture I decide is worth sharing on social networks is altered before I even get to the posting part. I add a filter, change the contrast, focus it and then post it to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m not sure why that is either. Maybe I think the filters look cool or that my pictures aren’t good enough for public consumption unless they are changed in some way. I’m sure this says something about my personality, but that’s not what this post is about!

I find that lighting design is rather similar to the act of applying a filter to digital photos. You get to apply your own “earlybird” or “kelvin” or “inkwell” look to the stage picture. The colors a lighting designer chooses can change the colors of the costumes and the colors of the set that the other designers so carefully handpicked. You can’t just willy-nilly pick out a gel and hope it works. You also can’t change your choices as quickly as sliding over to another filter.

While and after reading Failure: A Love Story, I saw most of the moments taking place in a sepia-toned world, with soft, rounded edges. The words flow seamlessly through the lives of the characters, but focus on moments that could be vintage snapshots of most peoples’ lives- the first time they see their first love, the first time they experience great loss and the moment they realize they can live through the heartbreak.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story or show you too many pictures, but below are some examples of the Instagram photos (before and after I applied the filters) I took during tech. Come see the show and decide what filter you would apply.

Robin Photos

Robin Stamey (Lighting Designer)

Robin Stamey (Lighting Designer)