Arvada Center: We hear that the Arvada Center’s take on Into the Woods this fall will look a little different than a typical production of the Stephen Sondheim classic. Can you describe to us what the audience will see on stage?
Brian Mallgrave: Typically set in a wooded forest with castles and cottages, our setting is a unique location viewed from a child's perspective: a Victorian nursery room. Our room houses resources, props, and furnishings that guide the story along, and transform into representational locations and backgrounds.
This gave us some creative license as we weave through folk and fairy tales to explore different locations through suggestion - not unlike a child inventively "pretending" - only our audience is heartily invited into this imaginative playground as well.
AC: How did the idea to have Into the Woods begin in a child’s nursery come about?
BM: After a few chats with Director Lynne Collins, we shared images and creative solutions for the myriad of "magic tricks" in the show that made this location seem like a viable foundation.
Nestled in one room, this seemed to be not only an efficient location to tell our story, but one that fostered innovation and elevation of our scenic strengths and abilities, while making our production unique.
AC: Where did your inspiration come from for this design?
BM: Initially, my memory of fairy tale books as a child - losing myself in the magic of clever and detailed illustrations that accompanied specific stories.
The thought of a location that supported the concept of visualizing pages "coming to life" was intriguing.
Also inspiring were theatrical productions like The Nutcracker and The Drowsy Chaperone, where rooms actually become supporting characters in the story. Additionally, the children's book Where the Wild Things Are and movie The Princess Bride were considerable influences.
Set rendering sketch done by Brian Mallgrave
AC: This production of Into the Woods is full of hidden magical moments, and the set cleverly transforms through lighting and design. In what collaborative ways does the set design work with the lighting design?
BM: Without the intellect and craftsmanship of the amazing collaborative lighting designer, Shannon McKinney, I would be hesitant to make such bold choices scenically. Her understanding, suggestion, and support while deep-diving into heavy concepts, and her generosity in artistry is unparalleled.
Through conversation and experimentation in lighting, we have created moments where our 2D wallpaper becomes 3D, lighting isolations become individual households in our flooring patterns, and moving light and texture overtake the idea of this “room" as we go deeper "into the woods" in Act 2.
AC: Has anything been reused from previous productions? Are there any unique personal touches or “easter eggs” in the set that audiences should watch for?
BM: As our storage is limited, we usually only hold onto very valuable and unique pieces, in terms of furnishings and props. Several pieces of furniture as well as prop elements have been pulled from our stock that are more "unique" and more "antique" in appearance: side tables, victorian glass lamps, several toys and chairs will be a part of this setting...but given the functionality required by many "tricks," a lot of our other elements have been handcrafted specifically for this production.
In terms of unique touches, one of the most exciting things to watch for will be existing room toys that serve purposes in storytelling that would otherwise be done using more realistic or life-size elements.
One of my favorite "surprise" elements is how we handle the appearance and spirit of Cinderella's departed mother as she encourages and guides several show moments toward the "greater good."