!nsp!re – 12 Days of Cre8tivity: Donyale Werle, Recycling Imagination

Post 9 of 12

I went to see the touring version of “Peter and the Starcatcher” recently, after having caught it at New World Stages in New York this past May. The tour retains the intimate feeling of the New York version, which I was happy to see. The cast does a wonderful job with the dense, wordy, witty material and includes a number of standout performances. Again, though, I was taken with Donyale Werle’s Tony-award-winning scenic design. Donyale is a leading member of the Broadway Green Alliance, which strives to educate the theater community about making environmentally-friendly choices.

Donyale Werle, during production of "Peter and the Starcatcher"
Donyale Werle, during production of “Peter and the Starcatcher”

Donyale has said that her approach to the design of “Peter” fits perfectly with the show in that it’s about, “creating something out of nothing”. The proscenium for the New York version includes bottle caps, kitchen implements, sippers, toys, rope and a variety of other items, most collected or donated by kids through the Broadway Green Alliance. Each iteration of the show has embraced that aesthetic, of starting with collected items, then making them into something creative and artistic that fits the show. Due to the rigors of travel, the touring set has less recycled material than the New York versions, but the vision remains intact using green materials.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" Touring Set, Act 1
“Peter and the Starcatcher” Touring Set, Act 1

That vision embraces the imaginative and hand-made. Throughout the show, which takes place on two separate ships and numerous locales on a remote island, the scenery only suggests the locations. The cast fills in the rest, stimulating the audiences imagination by using ladders, fabric, umbrellas, rope, and other various props, along with their bodies to tell the story.

The cast, surrounding Peter and Molly, using tiny LED's to suggest stars.
The cast, surrounding Peter and Molly, using tiny LED’s to suggest stars.

The overall effect is magnificent, but not in an over-the-top way that makes you loudly exclaim “WOW!” It’s more understated, like an under-your-breath “wwwooooowwww”, as you re-engage parts of your imagination that may have been closed off for years. The show pulls off the unique feat of asking the audience to participate in a different way; by taking us to far-off places that are only barely suggested. The encouraging thing is that audiences appear to love the idea and are happy to go along for the ride.

Donyale Werle at work in her Brooklyn studio. (Photo James Estrin, New York Times)
Donyale Werle at work in her Brooklyn studio. (Photo James Estrin, New York Times)

Of course, some theaters have recycled for years, mostly by re-using flats and furniture for different productions; but this approach is significantly different from that. By going out into the community to collect cast-offs and trash, sifting and sorting through the detritus, then re-combining the elements into something new and artful, we have a different conversation about how and what we consume, and what happens to items after they’re no longer supposedly “useful”.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I suppose an argument could be made that all this approach does is delay the inevitable; that after this usage, the items will then end up in a landfill. While that may be true in some cases, I think the greater value is in asking the question: What can we use that’s already out there? How can we be creative and artful with what already exists? Inevitably, creation and destruction are bound together; but are there ways to minimize the impact to our world? These are heady questions; and I’m hopeful that we can find answers, with artists like Donyale Werle leading the way.