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Collins Designs Set for Play Touring U.S.

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One actor playing a set of twins. Numerous exits off-stage and rapid costume changes. A set that needed to be both adaptable and portable. These were just some of the challenges Owen Collins, W&L professor of theatrical design, faced in designing the set for the NYC-based Aquila Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

The play has been touring the U.S. since September 2008 and has been staged in Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida, with plans to go to Colorado, Nebraska and numerous cities in California. It should end up off-Broadway in New York City’s Greenwich Village in November 2009.

Collins explains that in order to go on tour the show is pared down to its essentials, albeit a very theatrical and poetic version. The comedy about twins and mistaken identity even has just one actor playing both twins, which called for adapting certain parts in order to make it work. “There’s a lot of exiting the stage and quick costume changes,” says Collins.

When working on set design, Collins says he first designs a computer model and tries out different ideas and variations of the set. For Comedy of Errors, the set comprises a backdrop, a ground cloth and some housing structures that can be moved around with different configurations for different scenes. The housing structures are actually panels of fabric on metal frames, and they went through several changes before the final version was decided on.

Collins, head of W&L’s theater department, is skilled in the design of theatrical lighting, scenery, projections and costumes, but “I love scene design the most,” he says. “I love dealing with the details, the architectural research and creating that environment of space for the play to happen in. I always find that to be very exciting and fun. And I really enjoy painting scenery. For me, what theater is about is the joy of live performance and all the elements that are crafted for that performance. That’s what I try and convey in my design classes -- that it’s people doing things right in front of you. That’s what makes it different from just watching TV or a movie.”

Images from Aquila Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors used with permission.

Collins has designed and painted sets throughout the United States. His work has been seen at theaters such as The Flat Rock Playhouse, Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Porthouse Theatre Company. At Acadia Studios in New York City he has painted such events as The Ricki Lake Show, VH1 Storytellers with Jewel, Hard Rock Live and many others.

Collins is also the creator of the Total Theatre Podcast which covers various tips, techniques and discussions of aesthetics for (almost) all the disciplines in design of scenery, lighting, costume and projections.

Visit the Aquila Theatre Company’s Web site to view Collins’ finished design for Comedy of Errors.