Coming Home

by Athol Fugard
directed by Blanka Zizka
October 14, 2009November 15, 2009

Interview with Set & Costume Designer Anne Patterson

plus images chronicling the design process

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How did the design process begin?
I felt pretty strongly that we had to have this very, very realistic home where the action is…At the same time I feel that Fugard’s writing is so incredibly poetic that I felt that there also needed to be something in the set to reflect that. And I also felt that it was important knowing that this home would probably be quite grim, depressing, that there was some sort of visual counter to that because as sad as the story is, there is definitely hope, and love and a real light within it. So I also looked at painters and sculptors for inspiration.

How did you land on Wolf Kahn for inspiration?
Wolf Kahn is one of my favorite painters, but surprisingly I’ve never used him before in any design. I felt that his sense of being able to distill nature down to the most beautiful single image in a very powerful way really worked for this piece.

And the more I started researching the Karoo and getting familiar with what that place really feels like and looks like, the more it seemed like the right direction to go -- especially people’s descriptions of it being so powerful and feeling that you’re very much connected to nature when you’re in that region.

So I showed some of his paintings and pastels to Blanka. Blanka actually found this really wonderful pastel by him [“A Slight Dip in the Landscape”] that we really used as our inspiration

You did a number of thumbnail sketches next. What did you use them for?
Next I did many little color renderings—small, about 2 inches by 3 inches, and I did them very, very small just so that I could really come up with different scenarios…if we had the mountain be blue, or it be red…or we had the mountain be gray, or it be green…I went through a whole color palette to finally figure out which worked best. We have to figure out which works and what sort of feeling you get, emotionally, from the combination of colors…where do we want to take people?

Finally I took one that Blanka and I both really liked and I put that in the model box. At first we had it even more of a surround, in addition to the cyc and the floor. But that didn’t feel right at all when we put it in. But it felt as if the surround was becoming more important than the room and were losing the sense that the play takes place in the room.

The photos of the paint detail on the set are striking.
They had a fantastic shop working on it and a painter, especially. And of course when I went in to see it, you know—when you have a model a quarter-inch in scale, a person is two inches tall. Seeing it stretched out was really something, because you’re like “wow, this is really, really big.” In terms of a painting she has done a really wonderful job. She worked very hard to get the sense of the pastel in it, which I think she has really succeeded at doing. You know? So it doesn’t just look and feel like it’s painted because I thought that was very important that it didn’t look “painted.” The sand there is very, very sandy and the soil there is very clay-based, so I wanted to have that sense, which I think you get only with pastel – probably because a pastel is a chalk and it’s kind of clay-based. So I felt that I wanted it to feel like that, I didn’t want it to feel in any way wet, the way paint would feel because that would be the opposite of that. It was very hard for them to work that, and I think she succeeded beautifully.

The Coming Home backdrop drying after being painted at Proof Productions

A section of the Coming Home backdrop after being painted

The set model for Act One of Coming Home, created by Anne Patterson

The set model for Act Two of Coming Home, created by Anne Patterson

Designer Anne Patterson’s sketches for Coming Home

Preliminary sketches made during Anne Patterson's Coming Home design process that formed the basis for the backdrop

Wolf Kahn's pastel A Slight Dip in the Landscape.

A sunset in the Karoo region of South Africa, the setting for Fugard's play, Coming Home

An abandoned farmhouse and windmill in the Karoo region of South Africa, the setting for Fugard’s play, Coming Home

Two trees in the middle of the akkers

A painting of a house in the Karoo brought to our attention by our South African consultant, Dr. Zolani Ngwane


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