Q & A: Michael Lewis

Senior Michael Lewis, co-set designer for Theater Emory’s upcoming production of “Macbeth,” sits down with Theater Emory to give us a peek into his creative process and share what excites him about his chosen field.

Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis at work on his designs

Q: Tell us how the set for Macbeth developed during your design process.

A: The idea for the design developed through countless conversations I had with Sara Culpepper (co-set designer) and Clint Thornton (director). The concept for the play evolved dynamically during the design process; my original ground plans and thumbnail sketches represent a production with a much more literal academic and militaristic setting than it currently has. We were always interested in creating tension between the modern elements of the set and the more period-influenced elements of the set. All along, we wanted to make the set appear timeless, which is what drew us toward our most influential piece of research, a design rendering by Edward Gordon Craig. Craig’s design is certainly not modern, but gives a sense that the world of the play has no determinate time whatsoever. We decided to draw from Craig’s scenic designs to create large, looming panels (that also act as projection surfaces) which would then be confronted by sleek, modern balconies.

Edward Gordon Craig

Q: Is there any particular element in the design that you’re most excited to see come to life?

A: The majority of the important moments in the play are staged on a hexagonal platform (center stage). The hexagon will be faced with translucent plexiglass that will light up during the witches’ scenes (to act as their cauldron). I am particularly interested in seeing how the lighting will work– this element has presented numerous challenges to the production staff as the translucent facing requires that all integral structure be somehow justifiable in the grand scheme of the design. As the construction process draws closer to completion, I anticipate this element changing the entire aesthetic of the set.

Set model for “Macbeth”

Q: If you could choose one production to design a set for, what would you choose and what would the set look like?

A: I do not have a particular “dream show,” but I am always interested in designing scenery for plays with a heavy period influence. Research is my favorite aspect of design– I love to read about the ways in which architecture and painting are influenced by history.

Q: Any artists or designers that inspire you? What’s the coolest image of scenic design that you’ve ever seen?

A: One of my favorite scenic designs comes from the Bregenz Festival, an Austrian music festival that stages opera on a stage floating over Lake Constance. Richard Jones and Antony McDonald directed and designed a rather spectacular production of La Boheme. The set is an assemblage of different artifacts on a few giant cafe tables. I am fascinated by images from this particular production for the sheer scope of its scenery and for the creativity of playing with scale and period to create a unit set to serve a story that requires so many locations.

La Boheme
Richard Jones and Antony McDonald’s “La Boheme”

Q: So what’s next for you?

A: I am in the process of applying to graduate school for an MFA in scenic design. Hopefully I will be accepted for this coming fall– if I am not I am interested in several year-long internships in scenic art and design.

Thank you so much for your time, Michael and good luck with all your future endeavors! We can’t wait to see your amazing design come to life on November 14 (not to mention the incredible creations that are surely in your future).




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