A stage set made of plastic pop and juice bottles, old discarded window frames, cast-off plexi-glass panels and junk metal tables and chairs is being built at Roosevelt University for the Theatre Conservatory’s Nov. 17-20 production of Rent.
The project, which includes stacking and shaping 1,000 plastic bottles into partitions and walls, is the brainchild of Michael Lasswell, assistant professor of theatre and scenic designer at the Theatre Conservatory. Lasswell (above center) has been hanging the set in preparation for the upcoming show with Roosevelt students including Harrison Schneider (above left) and Laura Bychowksi.
“Rent presents a world of characters struggling to survive and make it as artists in New York City, and this is an opportunity for us to build a set of hard surfaces emphasizing the frugality of their existence,” said Lasswell.
The Evanston resident began scavenging through his suburb’s alleys and garbage cans last summer for useable trash and recyclables, including clear two-liter plastic bottles and discarded window frames, that are part of the all-recycled stage set now being built in the Theatre Conservatory’s O’Malley Theatre, 431 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago.
Featuring music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, Rent is a rock musical based loosely on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme. The production follows a year in the life of a group of artists who are struggling to survive and create under the shadow of AIDS during the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City on New York City’s Lower East side.
Directed by Roosevelt assistant professor of theatre Ray Frewen, Rent will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 18 and 19 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20 with the region’s first all-recycled stage set that is being built by Lasswell and Theatre Conservatory students.
Anchoring the set will be a plastic-pop-bottle wall that looks like a stained glass window made from blown glass when stage lights are on it, according to Lasswell. Meanwhile, the old windows collected in Evanston and through ads placed on Craig’s List will be used to frame actors and actresses appearing in the Theatre Conservatory production. Discarded plexi-glass panels also found in Evanston comprise the floor of the set. Metal tables and chairs taken from previous Theatre Conservatory productions round the set out.
“It’s the first time I know of that a set made entirely of trash and recycled materials has been built in the region,” Lasswell said.
In the past, the scenic designer has attempted on a limited basis to build specific set components with recyclables at Roosevelt’s O’Malley Theatre and at least one other performance space at Orchestra Hall where 100 pairs of masks were created out of plastic pop bottles for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Concert of Noah’s Flood in 2005.
Lasswell’s interest in creating stage sets from junk began when he was living in New York City and working with New York artists working on low-budget productions.
“At one time, I did a lot of volunteer work with artists in New York City and what I found was that low-budget productions and the artists involved with them were always scrounging through dumpsters for furniture and other useable materials that could be used for their sets,” he said.
At that time, the Tony award-winning Rent was also being performed on Broadway.
“I wanted to capture the feeling of a rock concert and the feeling of a desperate artist in Alphabet City, New York. This was a perfect opportunity to use trash in a creative way and I hope we can do more of it in the future,” he said.
For more information about Lasswell, the stage set and/or to view the set, call Laura Janota, 312-341-3511. For Rent tickets, call 312-341-3831.
430 S. Michigan Ave.Chicago, IL 60605(312) 341-3500
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1400 N. Roosevelt Blvd.Schaumburg, IL 60173(847) 619-7300
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