Bronte on a Budget

By McCormack, Susan | Stage Directions, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Bronte on a Budget


McCormack, Susan, Stage Directions


SPECIAL SECTION

SETS, SCENERY & RIGGING

How an L.A. theater troupe used limited funds to recreate the haunted settings of Wuthering Heights.

Last summer, Joseph Stachura, founder of Knightsbridge Theatre in Southern California, found himself in a dilemma: How could he produce an adaptation of Emily Bronte's scene-reliant novel Wuthering Heights on a shoestring budget? Further complicating matters, the set for the brooding 19th-century story would have to serve for a second show opening the same weekend, The Rivals, an 18th-century comedy of manners.

"The set had to be a blend for the two, dark and moving for Wuthering Heights with areas to make fun of [for The Rivals]," recalls Stachura, who played Heathcliff, the tortured Gypsy and starcrossed love of Catherine Earnshaw, the story's fiery and tragic heroine. But it was a dilemma familiar to the actor who, with his colleagues, produces about 36 shows each year in two small theaters, both called Knightsbridge Theatre. The first theater, which opened eight years ago in an historic building in downtown Pasadena, offers three shows at the same time for a run of six to eight weeks. Stachura says the size of the Pasadena stage, not quite eight feet high and 20 feet wide by 20 feet deep, limits set design.

"The difficulties there are extreme, so the set has to be something to work with all three shows," he says. "It has to be taken ofi very quickly and easily." Among his tricks in Pasadena, the stage has built-in grid flats onto which facing flats can be placed.

The opening last August of a larger, second Knightsbridge Theatre in Los Angeles gave Stachura the opportunity to create what he calls his most elaborate set yet-the one used for Wuthering Heights and The Rivals. The added space was much needed to produce Wuthering Heights, a story in which the characters and action are intimately tied to their surroundings. Bronte's novel takes place in three places: a rugged home called Wuthering Heights, a grand, elegant home called Thrushcross Grange and the harsh, rocky moors of Northern England.

While his Los Angeles stage was twice the size of the one in Pasadena, Stachura still was challenged to find a creative way to depict the three large places on a diamondshaped stage only 35 feet long and 40 feet wide. Stage left became Wuthering Heights and stage right, Thrushcross Grange. On center stage, a staircase led to a second story of Wuthering Heights positioned on stage right and the second level of Thrushcross Grange on stage left. This design created the illusion of spaciousness. …

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