Finding Design Inspiration for “Heavier than…”

By Emily Tugwell

It’s no secret that the main character in our upcoming production of Heavier than… is Asterius, the Minotaur who was been imprisoned in a labyrinth for the majority of his life. However, the scenic design for the play has not been revealed to or discussed with anyone outside of the cast and staff. So, we asked Kurt Boetcher, the scenic designer for Heavier than…, to describe his design for the set, which is inspired by the Dominus Winery in Napa Valley (seen in the photos pictured here) that was created by the legendary Swiss architects Herzog & De Mueron.

Discussing his journey selecting a scenic design, as well as elaborating on his inspiration, Kurt explains:

“The director, Abigail Deser, and myself knew we wanted to create a world for the play that captured the anachronistic qualities of Steve Yockey’s wonderful script. It’s based in ancient mythology, and also has a strong, abstract modernity that requires that the story not be set in something as rooted in reality as say, a strictly literal ancient Greek locale. The play takes place at the center of Daedalus’ open-air labyrinth, which is believed to have been located on the island of Crete. Because Daedalus was a highly skilled inventor and innovator, we knew there needed to be a sense that this labyrinth was very carefully designed and executed, using not only organic materials readily available at the time, but also a man made framework with which to contain those organic elements. We began by looking at images of primitive labyrinths, the arts and crafts of the ancient Minoans, geological formations of Crete, enormous ancient Eastern sundials, and antique nautical instruments and seafaring devices and materials such as coils of rope, compasses, sails etc. Very early in our collaboration, we were both very drawn to images of sand, rock and mineral deposits because of their organic beauty and warm hues, and also because of their weight and resolute presence in any given environment.”

“When we began looking at images of the Napa Valley Dominus winery designed by architects Herzog & De Meuron, we immediately knew its design possessed many of the qualities we were looking for. The way the walls of the winery are made up of thousands of small to mid-size stones contained within metal grid architecture gives them a beautiful, surreal, light-as-air quality that seemed like a perfect fit. Usually when one sees a stone wall, especially a stone wall of maze-appropriate height, there is a definite sense of division, entrapment and isolation, which are all important elements in “Heavier than…,” but the winery stones appear almost weightlessly suspended within the man made architectural skeleton, allowing light to filter in between the stones. Within these manufactured, incredibly heavy, imposing rock walls, there is a tangible presence of hope and beauty. So basically we set out to create a beautiful, slightly surreal prison that the Minotaur, Asterius, whose life plays out indefinitely at the center of this labyrinth, could exist in…Exist in without losing his hope, which is essential for his survival.”

“The final scenic design for “Heavier than…” features larger scale stones in general than the Herzog & De Meuron winery, but they are still contained within a manufactured skeleton of industrial materials. Whereas the winery architecture is very clean, specifically cut metalwork and cabling, we wanted the scenic design to feel a bit more raw and weathered. Instead of using high quality steel or aluminum, we decided to use rebar, which is rough, textured steel rods that are commonly used to reinforce concrete for roads, foundations, and other large scale industrial projects. The winery stones are also a cold slate/grey color, and we wanted the world of the play to be warm, dry, and sun-bleached, so we decided to use sandstone as color inspiration rather than slate.”

“The whole concept is anachronism; the labyrinth is hopefully beautiful, yet dangerous; organic, yet constrained by man and structure; impossible, but not hopeless.”

And, to give you an idea of what Kurt’s design will look like, below is a picture of his set model for Heavier than…

Look for more posts about Heavier than… soon. Opening night is getting closer and closer…

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