Michael Spence on Set Design for Avaricious

Michael is the Associate Artistic Director of Theatre Gargantua and has designed for many of the company’s notable works, and has been awarded two Dora Awards for Outstanding Set Design. Avaricious, a piece about the growing economic gap in society, and the hoarding of wealth and resources in the hands of a few inspired the use of new materials for creating playing spaces for performers. 

What is the design for Avaricious composed of?

MS: There are two elements in this design: structural cardboard and big exercise balls. The balls range in diameter from about two feet to six feet. And there are about 50 cardboard boxes creating a cyclorama across the back of the stage with one tower that will reach all the way to the balcony.

Is there any reason for the tower and cardboard boxes?

MS: The tower itself was inspired by a number of things. When we were doing our initial workshop last spring we looked at a lot of graphs of wealth distribution and they all had this ridiculous peak indicating the top one percent’s worth. So that was one way of portraying the shape of those distorted graphs. And then there was an actual tower, Antillia, built in Mumbai by a billionaire in the middle of a slum, and it is a huge display of disproportionate wealth. Towers are culturally ubiquitous. There’s always something important in the center of a community that’s really tall.

The cardboard has a cardboard-city feel to it. Also, they could hold contents…or not. They imply the possibility of something within; they could be empty or they could be full of goods. There are a lot of allusions to come from cardboard. I like the material itself as a building material; it’s got texture, it has an interior, people will understand it because everyone has experience with cardboard and know that a single piece of cardboard has corrugation inside. That’s the kind of stuff that I dig.

Why did you choose exercise balls?

MS: Again, the balls came from graphs. We were looking at images of different ways of representing economic markets and wealth distribution and the circles came from those graphs. There’s the idea of balloons popping, like a bubble of inflated markets. I like those kinds of symbols and I just loved the ball shapes with the cardboard. They just look great. They’re kind of beautiful, they can be configured to look like a constellation, like a galaxy, like atoms. They also have a sense of volume, empty volumes. So there’s a number of signifiers that appeal to me. They’re a whole lot of fun. I like to give the actors stuff to do, stuff to play with. The cardboard boxes are built to be structural so the actors can build with and climb on them. The balls add a really exciting physical dimension.

AVARICIOUS runs from Nov 4-21 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace.

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photo of Michael Spence in the first installment of Avaricious, 2014, by Michael Cooper

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