Young Man From Atlanta: The Making of a Living Room

by Suzi Tucker

Young Man From Atlanta Scenic Designer

Floor Plan Sketch

In The Young Man from Atlanta, Will and Lily Dale Kidder live in an expensive, newly-built home in Houston. As the scenic designer, however, I had only a small, 800 sq. ft., black-box of a theater within which to create these characters’ reality. How did I do it? First, I recognized that if we were to create one room of the house very well (we chose the living room for this), the audience would believe in the rest of the house without it having to exist. To enhance the reality of this one room, I chose to construct all 4 sides of the room, thus immersing the audience in the characters’ world. Yet I was still stuck with a small space that needed to appear larger. Toward this end, I built angled side walls (see floor plan, sketch, ABOVE), as they exaggerate the perspective and create an enhanced sense of depth.

But once I’ve built the walls, what should they look like? The year of the play is 1950, so I studied US home architectural interiors from the late 1940’s, a period of extensive, but less-ornate, trim and strong wall colors from a dark-pastel pallet. Within this look and feel, I incorporated pilasters to emphasize the verticality of the walls, chose a lightened version of a typical wall color to keep the space feeling large, and added a fireplace with mantle, trim elements, and a marble hearthstone to imply the sense of wealth appropriate to the Kidders’ living room.

Another key element in the design is the wood flooring. De rigueur for expensive residences of the time, wood flooring also served to give depth to the space and make it feel larger. This comes in part from the way that a series of thin lines emphasizes our ability to see perspective effects (that is,the width of the wood strips appear to get thinner as they get further away from you). Of course, we couldn’t buy a real wood floor, so I painted this one.

Creating the Wood Floor

To do so, I started with a base coat of light yellow ochre for warmth. Then I brushed on wood-plank-sized strips of a thin, yellow-burnt-sienna glaze coat. This glazing is done using a lining stick (see photo, LEFT) to keep the “board” edges straight and properly aligned, and it is the variation of color between “boards” achieved with this layer that makes the floor read as wood. Then, using the same glaze color, visible graining is added to a select few “boards.” Finally, a very thin burnt-umber glaze, which includes a protective varnish, is overlain in order to tie everything together and add depth and gloss. Once the walls and floor are completed, all you have to do is add period and social class appropriate furniture and voila, your theater has become the Kidders’ living room (photo below)!

Lily Dale (Maggie Heffernan) and Clara (Maria Knox) in the Kidders' Living Room

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Suzi Tucker designs and builds for theater and educational exhibits. She has contributed her talent (and elbow grease) to numerous recent productions, including Seattle Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sound Theater’s Pygmalion, Satori’s Fabulous Prizes, and Annex’s Duel of the The Linguistic Mages and frequently builds with Seattle Scenic Studios. The Young Man From Atlanta runs Feb 17-Mar 10; tickets can be purchased by calling the box office or online at Brown Paper Tickets.

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