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As a Set and/or Lighting Designer, What Effects Would You Want to Create for Your Audience in Act 1 and Act 2? Explain How Your Set Design/Lighting Design Would Change from Act 1 to Act 2.

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As a set and/or lighting designer, what effects would you want to create for your audience in Act 1 and Act 2? Explain how your set design/lighting design would change from Act 1 to Act 2.

A Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen is an iconic play expressing harsh truths on social rules and etiquette in the late 1800’s. The play allows a simple yet symbolic set and lighting design – forcing the audience to think and question the play writes intentions as well as the interpretation of the director. The play is over a period of three days; Act 1 is on Christmas Eve and Act 2 being over Christmas day –the set changes over both acts in small but significant ways allowing the audience to understand the detrition of the perfect reality in which Nora lives by. As a set or lighting designer, I would want the audience to experience a tense, chilling and abrupt atmosphere that illuminates the distorted reality, which is being broken slowly. As women during the late 1800’s where not meant to become involved with the dealings of money and business – it was the man’s job. By doing this Nora has brought on a sense of shame and disgrace to her family, as Helmer is lead to believe by the influence of society that he can no longer control his wife.

In Act 1, Ibsen indicates to the set and lighting designers how he wishes the play to be set up. From the stage directions I am able to understand that the atmosphere within the opening scene of the play should be ‘comfortable and tasteful’ but ‘not expensively furnished’, allowing the audience to be welcomed to the play. By not ‘expensively’ furnishing the set, the audience understand the previous finical difficulties the family have been though, and can now see their gain in money by certain items. Backstage right a soft wooden oak door leads to a hallway, and backstage left another soft oak door with stairs leading up to Helmers study. The soft oak doors allows an ‘alpine feel’ to the set, indicating the plays context, with the stairs leading up to Helmers study showing the ‘power’ in which men held at the time. Helmer is the head of the family, therefore a ‘higher’ and ‘respected’ member of society. Between these two doors a large window with a typical view of Norway is show to the audience, snow softly falls onto the floor with only a gradual build up – the colour of the sky is light blue, inferring that the ‘perfect reality’ is still in place. As the sky is ‘perfectly’ blue with not a blemish of cloud in sight and the snow has not caused a storm or built up over the house – trapping the family. The window is furnished with brown curtains that reach the floor they are rugged, frayed and worn at the bottom, showing the families previous financial difficulties. This is then juxtaposed as a black shinny baby grand piano is placed in front of the window, the lid is up and music is placed on the stand and across the top of the piano in an organised fashion – indicating order within Nora’s life. The piano looks new, as there is no ‘scuffs’ or scratches along the side, inferring to the audience that this is a new object, suggesting an outburst of money has been received. In the middle of the left hand wall is soft oak door, with a window downstage of it – furnished with the same rugged brown curtains. On the right of the piano a tall Christmas tree is furnished with tinsel, pinecones, candles and homemade decorations – suggesting that the play is set during a festive period, indicating a happy and joyful atmosphere. Near the window, a round dark oak table with dark wooden chairs surround the table; a vase of flowers is in the centre of the table. A rugged leather sofa with button pleats is on the left of the table, in the centre of the stage a square brown fur rug is placed – indicating the county of the play, as well as showing the cold harsh climate outside, as fur keeps the house warm. On the right-hand wall slightly upstage is a another oak door – downstage of this, against the same wall a stove lined with red porcelain tiles surrounded by three dark brown rugged leather armchairs and a wooden rocking chair is placed in front of the fire. This set up allows a familiar yet comfortable, organised and family atmosphere, which is welcoming yet calm. Between the stove and the armchairs a small side table with a mug and knitting needles on the top is placed. On the left of the stove a small wooden bookcase filled with leather bound books. The overall set design allows a homely feel to the play, as the wood used is mainly ‘soft oak’ or warm and dark – creating a comfortable and homely atmosphere, inviting the audience into the Helmer household. There are various doors and windows around the set, creating an illusion that the set is larger than it is – symbolising the fake and distorted reality, as well as giving Nora freedom; she is free to go out side and not be worried or repressed by anyone.

As the play develops and the intensity increases due to secrets being unravelled I would use the set and lighting to symbolise the upcoming events. When Nora announces to Mrs Linde that “Papa didn't give is a penny. It was I who found the money” I would do the following; around the stage various candles would be ‘dotted ’around the place – each time an intense moment in which Nora’s reality crumbles a candle would go out. This symbolise the fading of not only Nora’s perfect reality but the dispersing of her childlike feature and naivety, as the ‘sparks’ within her would slowly fade away. Her bright happy façade would be replaced by a dark thought of leaving her family, and a fading of candle would represent this. Mrs Linde’s reaction too would affect the set and lighting design, “Well a wife can’t borrow money without a husbands consent” – she is shocked and appalled by Nora’s actions, as women where not meant to be involved with business it was not social acceptable at the time. Previously the lights created a warm and comforting atmosphere using three mellow yellow LED’s at a 45 degree angle with a medium light intensity across the stage, with candles flickering making the audience feel warm and welcomed. However as soon as Nora starts to bring up the topic of how she gained the money to ‘save Helmer’s life’, the warm yellow LED’s would slowly dim down to low light intensity and two white birdies would close in on Nora and Mrs Linde – making their faces look harsh and petrified like a ‘rabbit in front of the lights’, illuminating Nora’s vulnerability to towards Mrs Linde. Mrs Linde’s reaction would be heightened further as she stands up from her chair in a swift movement of shock – her armchair would move backwards creating a screeching noise. Nora trusts and relies on the furniture to be a stable comfort within her life, however as her friend loses faith within her, so does the stable comforts with her life – the furniture. By showing the loss of comfort in comparison to the warm and cosy open of the, Ibsen is highlighting the way in which set and lighting design helps the audience to understand the play. As the changing of the lights to intensified harsh brightness, the audience is able to see the cracks in Nora’s reality.

As the play moves on the drama and tension increases, for Nora’s reality is distorted further as Krogstad threatens to tell Helemer of her secret, which will ruin the family. “If I get thrown into the gutter for a second time, I shall take you with me” – Nora is effect by Krogstad’s words and does not know what to do with herself. The set and lighting design help the audience understand the situation and the grave effects of the future of Nora and her family. As Krogstad enters the apartment he instantly imposes his presences on the Helmers as he invites himself in; “I beg you pardon the front door was ajar. Someone must have forgotten to close it.” The ‘ajar door’ symbolises the loss of control within Nora’s life, as she has forgotten to ‘close it’; by doing this she has allowed the threat of interruption, Krogstad being the interruption. As Krogstad enters the room Nora becomes weary of his presence, and states that her husband is not in. The previous mellow yellow LED’s of medium light intensity at a 45-degree angle, dim slowly as cold blue wash is cast across the stage, the fire roars in excitement showing the audience that the intensity of the play has increased – illuminating the rugged leather of the armchairs. The piano lid shuts making a large noise, and music scores fall to the floor, while a candle blows out. By doing the above, I am able to make the audience fear the future of Nora and the play – as Krogstad presences has made the set crumble and deteriorate with fear. A chilling atmosphere is achieved, as the furniture has a ‘mind of its own’ when the piano lid drops – inferring that future joys during the festive period will no longer be celebrated. As a piano and music scores symbolise the previous blissful happiness of Nora and her family. Nora manipulates the set in warning to the audience of her fear for Krogstad, as she ‘hides’ behind chairs and makes herself look busy by cleaning the apartment, trying to make Krogstad feel uncomfortable. Ibsen is highlighting that the previous ‘comfortable’ set design is no longer wanted as, Nora herself is not comfortable in her own home. As the end of Act one reaches to a close, the typical scene of Norway outside the large square window behind the piano has dramatically changed. The snow longer softly falls to the ground, but is replaced by a harsh storm, with a build up of snow on the windows. This indicates to the audience that Nora is not only being mentally trapped via blackmail, but also physically trapped, as she does not have the freedom to look out of her window and see the rest of the world. To show the audience that Nora understands her physically and mental entrapment – she closes the brown rugged curtains, in attempt to regain control with her life. As the closing of the curtains suggests to the audience that she is taking control of her prison. By doing the above I am able as lighting and set designer to highlight the uncomfortable atmosphere that Ibsen wants to create, as we become ourselves weary of Krogstad as the set and lighting help to heighten our opinion of him. To create further drama within the play, as Krogstad leaves the previous roaring fire ‘blows out’ – suggesting to the audience that the tension has gone. However this is not the case, the set helps to betray the audience, in the same way that Nora betrays Helmer. The ‘blowing out’ of the fire lures the audience into a safe perception that Krogstad will not return, as the fire as gone away. This is wrong, as Krogstad returns to redeem his words and the fire will return to roar again in the stove.

The opening of Act 2 is very different in comparison to the opening of the play, the previous organised apartment with a warm family atmosphere has changed to symbolise Nora’s disgrace within the social etiquette and detrition of her reality. The curtains are closed, with only a fragment of light shining down the centre of the stage, creating a line. When Krogstad returns to the apartment he ‘cross the line’ of social rules. By closing the curtains Nora is fooling herself, as she believes she still has control of her life – as she is able to manipulate the set. The piano lid is now closed and the music scores are packed away in a box on the side – suggesting to the audience that this Christmas will not be as happy as expected, as music symbioses the joy and naivety of the previous Nora. The fur rug in the centre of the stage has two corners turned over with the books on the bookshelf falling. Food from yesterday is still on the table, while the flowers have wilted and the petals are dropping on the floor. The Christmas tree stands stripped and ‘dishevelled’, with the candles ‘burned to their sockets’. Nora’s outdoor clothes are spread across the sofa; while a button of the pleated sofa hangs lose. Picture frames hung against the wall, tilt to the left – while the previous unblemished sky now hold dark clouds and a furious storm is shown outside the side windows. The set shakes, as the storm rattles the apartment – enhancing the falling of Nora and her stability in materialistic objects. Only a few candles flicker, with the wax dripping of each candle dripping to the floor. The lights are dimmed, with three blue birdies at the front of the stage on a low light intensity. While two purple birdies on either side of the stage at 40-degree angle shine on the furniture – making them look gloomy and bleak, the rest of the stage is in darkness. By doing the above the set and lighting design effect the audience as the atmosphere is bleak, and uninspiring – they do not know what to expect, as they do not feel welcomed into the ‘family home’. They are not shocked, but in denial as they still have the image of the previous happy home from the start of Act 1. The overall atmosphere I want to achieve is a sense of rejects of truths from the audience, as the do not want to accept their own distorted reality of betrayal from the set and lighting design in the way they have changed. Not only that but a pity for Nora as the set resembles her failure, a cold harsh atmosphere should be prevalent through out Act 2.
To conclude together the lighting and the set help to show the breaking down of Nora’s reality through Act 1 and Act 2. As well as heightening the overall atmosphere of the play creating a chilling effect on the audience, as they do not believe the transformation of the set and lighting. By making a strong comparison of the start of the play and the end of act 2 the audience is able to see the falling of Nora’s reality, creating a sympathetic yet uncomfortable atmosphere, as the audience no longer feel welcome in the Helmer household.

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