MOCKINGBIRD: A Look Behind The Scenes

During last week’s meetup of First Stage’s Mentorship program participants, the First Stage Design Supervisor, Brandon Kirkham, presented the group with a unique behind the scenes look at MOCKINGBIRD, and the creative process that went into the various aspects of the show. The story of MOCKINGBIRD centers around Caitlin, an 11-year-old on the autism spectrum, dealing with the loss of her older brother, and what this means for her. There is a sense of overwhelm as we accompany Caitlin through her journey to cope with life and loss. Starting immediately with the first scenes as characters and lighting set the very intentional tone of uncomfortability, and in many ways a feeling of being out of place in the world around us. Every element of set design, lighting, sound, and costuming was created with Caitlin’s perspective in mind, guiding the audience along with Caitlin as she continues to cope with the concepts of life and loss, adding to the incredibly thought-provoking, and heartfelt nature of the piece.

Production Stage Model, MOCKINGBIRD, 2017
To literally set the stage, the set design focused on simple lines and shapes, symbolizing Caitlin’s very simplified, black and white view of the world. Few items were clearly defined to bring clarity to that which is important to Caitlin’s character: her blanket, pillow, and the emotional chart she studies to better understand herself and others. All other elements on stage are very abstract and linear, exemplifying Caitlin’s perspective and contrasting those things that are important with sharp clarity, while all others are background and therefore superfluous. The only other item as clearly defined is the project that Caitlin’s brother, Devon, had started before his passing. Devon’s Eagle project, a wooden chest, plays a pivotal role in Caitlin’s journey, and as such is always present on the set, though not in every scene. Only Caitlin and her father ever interact with the chest itself, which brilliantly serves as both a point of conflict for the two characters, as well as an eventual sense of peace.

Costume design, MOCKINGBIRD, 2017
Another of the storytelling elements was presented in the use of costuming. Purple is Caitlin’s favorite color, she does not care for the mixing of colors or patterns. In fact, her uniform consists of sweatpants and a purple long-sleeve t-shirt in the winter and sweatpants and a short-sleeve t-shirt for summer. Costume Designer Lyndsey Kuhlmann expertly used these color details to further define the relationships between Caitlin and the other characters. Those who Caitlin liked less, or who caused her additional stress were wearing bright colors and patterns, things that from Caitlin’s perspective are messy and unnecessary. Those characters she did call friends had a much simpler look, even incorporating her favorite color.

Color plays a key role in Caitlin’s journey from darkness to light. We see her slowly begin to be more open with those around her as she continues to “Work At It,” even going so far as to bring color into her own artwork, as we see with the finished chest.

This play between light and dark, chaos and silence as Caitlin learns to walk her path towards acceptance was captured beautifully by the incredibly talented lighting and sound designers, Jesse Klug and Sarah Ramos. Throughout the show, the grid-like pattern of the stage floor is illuminated to help guide Caitlin, as well as the audience, from scene to scene and moment to moment, providing a grounded reality when things become too overwhelming, as we could hear very clearly through the sound design. The original concept was to have no music whatsoever, but to compose sounds based on schools and classrooms, breathing and words. The effect is incredibly unnerving at times, assailing the senses and drawing us further into Caitlin’s world.

Final performances of MOCKINGBIRD this weekend, including a sensory friendly performance on Saturday, April 8 at 1pm.

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