Scenic Designer James Fenton Talks Inspiration Behind Pru Payne Set
With any play, the scenic designer has a responsibility to bring the words in the script to life based off of hints laid throughout it. Some scripts are more literal when it comes to describing the set, while others can be as vague as naming a simple room. Pru Payne is graced with the creative talent of scenic designer James Fenton who finds himself at creative liberty to set the precedence of what Pru Payne looks like.
“In theatre, it would be so easy just to do a room,” Fenton says. “I don’t subscribe to that usually. It always begins with the script. I read the script and look for poetic phrases that are beyond what the literal environment is… With Pru Payne, we very rapidly leap not only through space and time, but internally her mind is also coming and going from a certain degree of cognizant solidity.”
After the first read of a script, Fenton finds inspiration in anything and everything. Nothing is off the table as far as he is concerned. These initial impressions are followed by an abundance of research. Impressions lead to scribbles and scribbles lead to design renderings. Several iterations later, a 3D model eventually becomes the set. Even then, after landing on a concept the set design is constantly evolving.
The quick pacing between scenes and environments presents certain parameters that require a set adaptable enough to cater to the script’s needs. “I needed to provide a space where they can take a chair, move a chair, be in a new space, change a couple of lights to illuminate configurations of different things that are all backed by an image of the subject of the entire play.”
When we asked Fenton what he would be doing with the Pru Payne set that he had never done with any other set before, he said, “This entire set is something I’ve never done before. Every single thing about this is unique. The internally illuminating skeletal framing is probably the biggest coup. I am taking a risk … In theatre and in the creation of a new play, I believe you must always dare yourself. Otherwise, what are you doing? Right? What are you here for?”
We dare you to come see the inner workings of Fenton’s mind as inspired by the words of Steven Drukman come to life in the world premiere of Pru Payne. Join us to see the final results!