The Arvada Center opens one of the most well-known Broadway musicals tonight with Man of La Mancha. Brian Mallgrave, who is in his seventh consecutive season designing for the Arvada Center, was the scenic designer for the production. Man of La Mancha musically tells the story of Don Quixote – not directly, but as performed by prisoners during the Spanish Inquisition. Challenged with creating a scenic design that supports a play within a play, Mallgrave was excited to think about a non-traditional take on the scenic design. Luckily, the unique configuration of the Arvada Center’s mainstage, paired with a highly talented and collaborative technical team, made joyful work out of this challenge.
Accoding to Mallgrave, the design for Man of La Mancha is “both realistic and representational– much like the play. The design thrusts out into the auditorium in a unique way and envelops the audience into the action of the play,” he says. But this unique take on the scenic design wasn’t without its challenges.
What makes this design especially challenging? For one, sightlines. “The Arvada Center Main Stage space is quite unique in that its configuration is both ‘thrust’ and ‘proscenium’- like,” explains Mallgrave. The thrust element, meaning that the audience surrounds the stage on three sides, combined with the fact that the seats rake upwards from the stage to the back of the audience, makes it difficult to create sets that allow all audience members to see the action onstage, without being able to peek behind the scenes backstage. Mallgrave clarifies that this is a common problem in the mainstage space. “Very often, there are extra measures taken in and around the design of what the audiences see to help mask off backstage elements,” he points out.
For Man of La Mancha, one of the most challenging sightlines deals with the height in the scenic design. “It was important in the space to create an upstage height that seemed realistic as far as keeping prisoners from being able to ‘escape’ from the scenario,” says Mallgrave. “Although our proscenium opening is quite high, the demands and constraints dictated by upper level seating sightlines only allow for so much height onstage,” he says.
However, these logistical challenges often breed creativity. Especially when paired with a capable technical team and collaborators, figuring out the challenges is all part of the fun. According to Mallgrave, designing for the unusual venue also comes with “unparalleled support and knowledge” from the technical staff. In particular, “Working with Mr. Landsberry as a director and producer is always a pleasure in that he brings a wealth of understanding to projects not only technically, but encourages artistic integrity and originality,” says Mallgrave. For this project, that allowed the design process to be organic in nature. “We had the ability as a creative team and shop crew to start with a basis for the design and incorporate refinement in input in textures as the design was being developed,” he says. This created a rich, collaborative, interactive environment, in which everyone could “dip their creative ‘foot’ into the pool.” As a result, Mallgrave feels that more than ever, the process was “a collaboration that showcases the work of everyone involved.”