June 1, 2006

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Jersey Boys’ Tony Award Nominee–Set Designer Klara Zieglerova!!

June 1st, 2006

Jersey Boys Blog is thrilled to present a recent interview with Jersey Boys’ Tony Award-nominated set designer Klara Zieglerova, who discusses her craft, her design philosophy, and her extraordinary contributions to the production of Jersey Boys.

JBB: Congratulations on your Tony nomination for Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Jersey Boys! How did you find out, and what did you do after hearing the big news?

KZ: Thank you! I was in London the day the Tony Awards nominations were announced. It was already lunchtime when I saw an e-mail from the Jersey Boys press representative come in. Lunch and a few errands later, my curiosity got the better of me and I opened the e-mail and saw my name on the nominee list! My husband Peter came home that evening carrying my favorite champagne–Veuve Cliquot 1998 reserve!

The two days that followed was filled with phone calls and a slew of e-mails. It was fun to hear from all the people that I haven’t been in touch with much lately, as well as my close friends and family.

JBB: What does the Tony nomination mean to you?

KZ: I’m just thrilled about my nomination–what a terrific reward for my work!

JBB: You have had a very interesting and diverse career, from a graphic designer, to a set designer in regional theatre, off-Broadway, and on Broadway. What was the transition and how did graphic design compliment set design?

KZ: Graphic design is a great basis for working with ideas, shapes, and proportions. But I truly love working with a story–my ideas coming from an emotional place; creating an atmosphere; and giving characters on stage their home.

JBB: How did your interest in set design begin and who or what were some of your biggest influences?

KZ: I studied with Professor Jan Solpera at the Book Culture and Typography Studio at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, which had a strong emphasis on classical design. Although I was working in a 2D territory, I was always interested in sculpture and creating 3D environments. I loved reading plays, the Czech author Karel Capek (Macropulos Thing, RUR), being my favorite at the time. The work of designers Josef Svoboda and Frantisek Troster were extremely inspiring. Following the Czech Velvet revolution, I had the opportunity to study theatre design at Miami of Ohio and later at Yale University. Ming Cho Lee was a major influence on my work for the three years of my studies with him at Yale. Yale had a strong philosophy of teaching students to analyze plays and looking at design from a literary standpoint. This philosophy helps designers to think about what story we are trying to tell as we design scenery for productions. I also closely follow contemporary British design and find contemporary German design fascinating.

JBB: As a set designer, what are your main responsibilities? What do you think is the most important aspect of set design?

KZ: In my opinion, a set designer needs to create an environment that serves the play or musical in the best possible way. That can mean many different things: some plays and musicals require a lot of visual spectacle, but sometimes all that the set needs to do is ‘not get in the way’ and allow the piece to ‘happen’. Recognizing what is right for a particular production is a key to successful design. A successful design could be one that nobody remembers, but it creates the right world for the play.

JBB: Can you please describe the design process for our readers?

KZ: There are two teams involved in the set design process: the design team, which consists of me, associate designer Nancy Thun, and a small team of assistants; and the technical team, which is led by Peter Fulbright. My team focuses on the actual design, while the technical team focuses on the mechanics of making the design work. The design team and the technical production team frequently collaborate, brainstorm, and test things out long before the production begins to make certain that all parts will travel well and that everything will work well onstage. Our design team also works with storyboards that map out each and every scene in the show prior to the beginning of technical rehearsals

JBB: At what time do you become involved in the production? Do you remain involved with the set design process throughout the entire production?

KZ: The set design team becomes involved with the production several months before previews begin—it’s a long journey. Jersey Boys opened at La Jolla Playhouse in the fall of 2004, but as a set designer, I became involved nearly a year before the production went live. Generally, both the set designer and the lighting designer are the first people on board in a theatrical production. The set design team works from the early days of the production and continues working nonstop throughout the previews. It is an especially intense time during previews as we see what works and what doesn’t—so adjustments are made throughout the previews. As of opening night, the set design job is completed. Following opening night, the crew maintains the set.

JBB: How does set design work in conjunction with lighting design, properties management and choreography? How do they all interrelate and what are the most important considerations in the design process?

KZ: Set and lighting is very closely intertwined! I secretly wish that I could be a lighting designer, too, or at least work with amazing lighting designers (such as Howell Binkley) all the time. Lighting can transform the set in magical ways, such as in the case of Jersey Boys. It’s very rewarding to work with imaginative choreographers. I cherish a memory of working with Kathleen Marshall, as Tony Walton’s associate designer on 1776. Jersey Boys and the collaboration with Sergio Trujillo were equally satisfying. I’ll never forget Sergio dancing on the subway platform of Canal Street, showing me his first ideas for the moves of Jersey Boys. He is fantastic!!!

JBB: How did you become involved as the set designer for Jersey Boys?

KZ: Dodger Theatricals, who became familiar with a Saturday Night Fever set design I created for Holland’s StageHolding Company, introduced me to Des McAnuff at La Jolla Playhouse.

It was a wonderful experience at La Jolla Playhouse–working with a solid company that had great energy! The cast and crew had great fun together both onstage and offstage; it was a wonderful bonding experience.

JBB: Prior to beginning the set design for Jersey Boys, what kind of research did you do to prepare, and how did it contribute to your inspiration of the design of the Jersey Boys’ set?

KZ: Living in New York and traveling to New Jersey often, I was familiar the ‘feel’ of New Jersey. Interestingly, by not being from New Jersey (or even America, for that matter) gave me a little bit of a ‘under the looking glass’ perspective of this state. Certain visual elements that a New Jersey native could take for granted were exciting and inspirational for me. Of course, I also did tons of period research, and photographs of George Tice were particularly inspiring.

JBB: What artistic mood, style, theme or emotion were you trying to capture and evoke on stage with Jersey Boys?

KZ: The Four Seasons, however successful and well traveled they became, never really leave New Jersey emotionally. It’s a part of who they are. That was the principal idea behind the set: the grittiness, the New Jersey skyline is always there.

JBB: As a set designer, you have been involved with a wide variety of productions. What sets Jersey Boys aside from the others?

KZ: Firstly – I usually have a script before I start designing a play or a musical. Here, only a general outline was ready by the time the design had to come in. Ironically, it was a great thing! I started designing based on transcripts of the Four Seasons’ memories. Only later did I start working out specific scenes.

Secondly – on a personal level – I gave birth to my son on the first preview! That would set any production aside from the others!

JBB: What is the single most important thing you did on the set to capture the allure of the Jersey Boys’ story?

KZ: The set of Jersey Boys looks very simple, even though it has many complicated technical issues. I think we were successful in this aspect. We achieved scene changes that look effortless and do not get in the way of telling the story. For example, if you closely follow the microphones on stage, they not only signal the period of the play, but their composition also tells the story of the group (going from four microphones, to three, to one for Frankie Valli).

I am most proud of the fluidity in Jersey Boys—which allows the audience to go where they need to be taken and to use their imagination during quick scene changes.

JBB: From a set design perspective, do you have a scene that stands out as one of the most powerful in Jersey Boys?

KZ: I’m fond of the scene in Gyp DeCarlo’s basement in Act 2, not only from a set design, but also staging and music perspective.

JBB: Are you currently working on other set design projects? What are your future plans?

KZ: I’m currently working on a new play by Aaron Sorkin, and there’s a production of Neil LaBute’s new play, Wrecks, in the works for its American premiere.

Jersey Boys Blog would like to thank Klara Zieglerova once again for this exciting and enlightening interview and to congratulate her for her Tony Award nomination for Best Scenic Design of a Musical!

1 Comment »

  1. Wow – These interviews are so interesting! I’m learning a lot about all the different types of people that make a production successful. All the best to Klara and congratulations on the Tony nomination!

    Comment by JC — June 2, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

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