Set Design Queered

kjmason's picture
I found the brainstorming exercise we did on Day 24 to be very helpful. I knew that the single most engaging thing for me in this course was the paper I wrote on Crip-Art. I began asking why I enjoyed it so much. Was it the topic? Was it the written format? Was it that I got to synthesize my passion for art with the class material? I decided that was the part that was most exciting to me. During class, I also had the opportunity of having a sort of mini conference with Professor Dalke. I spoke to her about my idea of taking a play that involved topics of gender, sexuality, or disability and doing a set design for an Act of this play. Since I had thrown down the gauntlet in regard to activism in one of my recent online postings, Professor Dalke suggested that I incorporate the balance of Activism and In-class learning into my project. Instead of designing for a play, which is very limiting, we talked about doing a set design (or more than one) for the type of classroom needed in Gender, Sexuality and Disability Studies.
            When I’m approaching a set design for a particular play, I first read the play, thinking about any initial colors or textures I get from my first reading and annotate. Then I do a second reading getting a more detailed picture of how I see the physical space and what sort of feeling I want for the set. Finally I do a third reading, and develop an overarching metaphor for the play. One play I did a set design for was “The Intruder” by Maurice Maeterlinck. Death and illness are reoccurring themes and the majority of the play revolved around the idea of good and evil with the one area where the action took place as the middle ground between these two. The characters talked past each other, in an almost trance-like way, continuously ignoring the one person (the blind man) who had a grasp of what was actually happening. My metaphor for this play was purgatory. This metaphor lent itself to images of tarnished scales, wrought iron (gates) and burgundy. I wanted a lot of the textures and colors used to be juxtaposing, even causing the viewer to be slightly uneasy with the struggle for visual prominence.
            That is a very simplistic explanation of how I would design a set for a play, but since I’m designing a Gender, Sexuality and Disability classroom, there is a big difference in that I first have to imagine what I’m going to later design. In essence I’m the writer and designer of the play and the play is this class. I have some initial ideas that I plan to explore further. I think a praxis sort of education is ideal. When learning is too stuck in theory and books, it sometimes lacks the motivation to become an assertive part of the student’s lives. I think outside visitors who lived the history of the LGBT community are essential to the student’s understanding of the context of Gender, Sexuality and Disability studies, but they only come in briefly. Unless they have an unusually strong impact on a particular student, it is unlikely that their wisdom will translate into the here and now of activism that a course so rooted in revolution needs desperately. Another aspect of the classroom that I found particularly striking stems from Lynda Barry’s quote, “Learning is not a trajectory, 
but a slowly ascending spiral.” This made me think of learning as something very swirling and bleeding, like watercolor paints with too much water.
            This project is not to be confused with an art installment. An installment would be like a set and I’m merely doing the set design and picking up some of the actual materials I would use if I were to set up the actual ideal learning space/balance. I want to incorporate ideas of materials to give the presentation a more tactile dimension.

                 I plan on using resources regarding learning environments and praxis programs as well as   looking at some installments and a lot of photography for inspiration. I’m also toying with the idea of talking with other students in the class and reading some of the course-design papers online to get some more input on learning space and balance. For assistance on the design portion of this project, I'm going to try to speak with Mark Lord as well.

            I’m truly excited for this project. It seems to be a way to incorporate my love for theatre design, my interest in education and education environments as well as the material that we have worked through this semester. 
Works Consulted
Draft for Discussion. 2007. 3 Dec 2009 <>
Educause. Learning Space Design Constituent Group. Educause. 3 Dec 2009 <>
GASWorks. 1994-2009. 3 Dec 2009<>
Lord, Mark. Interview. Dec 2009.





justouttheasylum's picture

Wow, kjmason. Your project

Wow, kjmason. Your project proposal sounds incredible. I don't think it has ever occured to me that our classroom could be redesigned to cater to our studies. One potential setting can promote global discourse. Perhaps we could have webcams and have discussions with students from other classes and schools, domestically and internationally. Computer programs such as Skype make it possible. In class today, Alice mentioned an outside setting that allows for flow into and out of the discourse while making activism that much more possible. I'm thinking of a round table in the middle of the park. Does your set design limit the classroom setting to a single locale? Is it possible that as our needs change, from one of reaching learnedness to that which engages others (i.e., activism), that the set can change? Can we have multiple settings?

I can't wait to see (or read?) your set design.
-Asia Gobourne

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