The Divine Sister: Unit Set Production Photos

The production of The Divine Sister that opened June was the Iowa premiere of the play by Charles Busch.  The play is set in a variety of locations in Pittsburgh in 1966.  The main location is the cloister of St. Veronica’s convent school, but the action unfolds in 11 scenes and alternates with other locations including the street in a fashionable part of town, the sitting room of a grand mansion in the city, and the catacomb of St Veronica’s.

Scene 1, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 9, Scene 11: The school courtyard of St. Veronica’s convent school.

Most of the action unfolds in the courtyard of St Veronica’s school.  I envisioned the setting as the corner of a cloister.  Throughout the play the Mother Superior and the nuns of St. Veronica’s are trying to raise funds to tear down the dilapidated structure.  It is also described as having “rare Gothic details”.  The script  also spoofs just about every nun movie ever made.  When I read the script, I imagined stained glass windows on whimsical, irreverent subject.  While further researching the play, I learned that the original production featured a series of stained glass windows depicting the hand of God reaching down from heaven to perform mundane tasks such as grilling steak, raking leaves and watering flowers.  I took the images in a different direction (see the next post on the stained glass windows).  Meanwhile, the false perspective of the cloister walls allowed the suggestion of a more sculptural space than the sight-lines of the wide shallow thrust of the acting area permitted while the low-angle distotion created a feeling of unbalanced precariousness.

Scene 2, Scene 8:  A dark secret room underneath the convent.

Scenes 2 & 8 occur in a secret room under the convent that turns out to be a a catacomb or crypt containing the remains of a long-lost relative of Jesus.  The unit set featured an oversized stone bench CSR.  While the unit set remained essentially unchanged.  The director staged the scene around and to SR of the oversized stone bench that sat CSR. Meanwhile, the Lighting Designer brushed the stage with a gobo texture featuring an angular, bar like pattern.  Cool blue color and low intensities contribute to the sense of creepy foreboding suggestive of such a location.

Scene 3: A street in a fashionable part of town

In the 3rd scene Mother Superior and Sister Acacius are on their way to visit Mrs. Levinson, whom they hope will offer her mansion as an interim school and convent.  They are walking down a fashionable street.  Since the scene is one of the shortest of the play, it didn’t make much sense to engage in a major scene shift.  We added a lamp-post to suggest a street corner and the staging and lighting restricted the action to the DS & SL portions of the stage.  Although the prop lamp was capable of being lighted, since the scene takes place during the afternoon, we decided to forgo running the circuit to it.

Scene 4, Scene 7, Scene 10: The sitting room in Mrs Levinson’s grand mansion.

Mrs. Levinson’s house was created on the unit set by introducing a  Victorian Eastlake style settee and matching chair.  Props to Austin Kopsa who knew exactly where to find the often-hard-to-come-by set/furniture props.  The bench-high low wall DSL doubled in this scene as a table  and held a tea service, ash tray and other hand and food props that were needed for the scenes.  The action in Mrs. Levinson’s house was restricted to the SL side of the stage, except for a flashback in scene 4 where Jeremy (Mrs. Levinson’s house guest) re-lives meeting a young girl-reporter and her sidekick (younger  versions of Mother Superior and Sister Acacius).

Scene 12: A charity bazaar.

 While the script doesn’t give too many clues about the location of the charity bazaar, it made a lot of sense that it be in the courtyard of the school. We created a series of sandwich-style signs that Sister Acacia puts out at the opening of the scene.  The signs advertise “fishers of men fish-bowl-toss”, “12 Disciples shooting gallery”,  and  “Dunk the Nun”.  Sister Acacia’s first line of Scene 12 is “Sister Michael, raise these lights a little higher…”  This suggested the strings of colored lights that we rigged during the scene shift between scene 11 & scene 12.

That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!



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