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Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sunday Read: Christine Jones on Designing American Idiot

Jones's American Idiot set put to good use

The Other Husband and The Idiot
On finding a dream job
by Christine Jones


Michael Mayer, whom I now refer to as my “other husband”, (because we have done so many shows together), called me to ask me if I wanted to design the set for American Idiot. Sometimes when you get a call offering you a project you need to think about whether you can do it or not. Sometimes you know instantly that the answer is ‘yes’. This was one of those times. When Michael asked I said, “Yes”, without hesitating for a second.

Nothing excites me more than having performers engage in a physically dynamic dance with the set- verging on dangerous, frantic and graceful.


I didn’t know at the time that this, “Yes”, would be to do the project I dreamt about doing when I left Montreal as a starry eyed Concordia student with dreams of Gilles Maheu’s Le Dortoir dancing in my head. After I saw that production in 1989, I sat in the audience and wept, knowing that was the kind of work I wanted to have a hand in making. I headed to grad school at NYU thinking New York would be full of multidisciplinary theatre work. But this was not the case then, and while I worked on many rewarding projects over the years it wasn’t until I started working with Michael and choreographers like Bill T. Jones and Steven Hoggett, that I felt I was finally doing the work I set out to do. 
Nothing excites me more than having performers engage in a physically dynamic dance with the set- verging on dangerous, frantic and graceful.
When I saw that scaffolding pulled down by the actors the first time, I sighed, knowing one piece of my ‘life-as-a-designer puzzle’ had been put into place. 


When I began to work on American Idiot, I knew that the goal was to create a space that would provide the potential for the performers to match the energy and the pulse of the album. At my first meeting with Mayer and Hoggett, I told Hoggett how I had always been inspired by this Canadian Company Carbone 14, and Le Dortoir in particular. It turned out he had seen the film of Le Dortoir and it was seeing that film that made him want to become a choreographer. It was a good place to start. 
The whole set and all the furniture elements were designed to be moved with, climbed on, pushed off of. But a 14’ scaffolding in particular was designed to be spun and turned on its side and then climbed upon and spun around some more to become a bus that the characters ride “to the city”, during the song “HOLIDAY”. When I saw that scaffolding pulled down by the actors the first time, I sighed, knowing one piece of my ‘life-as-a-designer puzzle’ had been put into place. 
The show is on tour now. It opened in Toronto on Dec. 26th and then went off on the road for the next two years. We had to chop off about 25’ of height from the original set, and it has an even more rock and roll look, but the scaffolding is the same, and so is the energy. Those performers have hearts like hand grenades, and I’ve had the time of my life working on this one. “Yes” indeed.

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