Justin: Art was always important to both of us growing up. We were also fortunate to see many different kinds of theatre, all of which shaped an understanding of how a story could be told visually onstage. It wasn't really until halfway through high school when we both started to realize that these two interests - art and theatre - could collide together and become an eventual career path.
Christopher: I do have a memory of when we performed in our first show, "The Music Man" at a summer theatre in sixth grade, and after the show closed, we found the model of the set in the trashcan. We proudly took it home and studied all of the intricate little pieces. I don't know how defining that moment was, but it was surely one of many signals that theatre design would become a strong part of our lives.
What brought you to New York City?
Justin: After graduating from Ball State University in Indiana, Justin and I were offered a design fellowship at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. While we definitely had intentions of moving to New York sometime after graduation, we felt a greater urge to move after spending the summer immersed with talented artists and the exciting exchange of creative ideas. It just felt like it was now or never. And fortunately, there were a handful of our classmates and friends that were also in the city, which made for a comfortable (and mostly stress-free) transition.
How does being a team influence your design work?
Christopher: There is certainly an instinctual sense of collaboration between us that fuels each project. And I wouldn't necessarily say that's true because we are twins - we just understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and let that guide the process.
Justin: It's hard to articulate exactly how the two of us work together. Sometimes it’s as if we are reading each other's mind: I'll say one thing, he may add something to it, and so on. By the end, it gets hard to distinguish exactly where the original instincts came from. Even a disagreement can sometimes spark a new idea and lead us down a completely different path.
Tell me about your creative process. What do you look for in a first reading of a script? The second read?
Justin: Christopher and I usually read the script separately and try not to share opinions, ideas, and impulses until both of us have finished it. My main focus during the first read is always on the text and pinpointing the elements that excite, challenge, and pull me into the world of the play.
Christopher: We both usually have lots of questions, some of them very specific and others extremely open-ended. The subsequent reads of the script are where we really start to make some assumptions and let the wheels start turning. It is always constructive when the initial discussions with the director are primarily focused on what excites them about the play, and then slowly start to let that excitement manifest into what the world might be. While it's not always the case, having the other designers in the room early on is a real treat. It is always a thrilling experience when everyone is actively discovering and problem-solving as a group – those inspired moments of cross-collaboration, where perhaps a sound designer solves an issue that is affecting the set designer or the lighting designer and costume designer work hand-in-hand to make a particular moment come to life. That’s what makes creating art in theatre so rewarding.
How do you approach an indie show with limited time, labor and budget? Do you have any special techniques for maximizing artistic expression?
Christopher: We always start with the story - what does it truly need to come alive? And from there, it's just a matter of finding that right balance between too little and too much. That goes for any project. Honestly, our best work usually happens when we have some kind of constraints - whether it is time, money, lack of labor or all of the above. As much it feels like our creativity could be stifled with those limitations, it actually pushes us to think outside the box and make bolder choices.
Justin: It's always a plus to use found and second-hand materials from resources like Craigslist and ArtCube - they're usually cheaper, greener, and filled with much more character and authenticity. And how else would we find our way into a to places like a sub-basement filled with books, abandoned law offices, or other quirky places in the underbelly of New York City.
Tell me about FLAMINGO. Can you describe how you landed on the final design?
Justin: FLAMINGO calls for multiple locations and seamless cinematic transitions from one place to another. There's just no time to stop for complicated scene changes - the story needs to constantly propel forward. In this case, we realized that only the bare essentials were important in establishing a link between each distinct location. A couch, table and two chairs can take us everywhere we need to go with the help of lighting and sound filling in the rest. The play has a lot of raw emotions that need room to unfold, so we have kept the space open and playable - and the intimacy of the IRT Theater naturally keeps things up close and personal with the audience. We appreciate Sanguine Theatre Company for sharing this exciting play and continuing to champion new works and artists.
Is there anything the indie theatre community can do to make things easier for theatre designers? Anything you’d love to ask of producers, production managers, or artistic directors? Anything you’d like to ask of other designers?
Christopher: Good communication is the key to making sure all of the pieces come together, and sometimes the right questions don't get asked or large tasks are not prioritized - it's always important to make sure that everyone is collectively working towards the same goal and understand each other's individual responsibilities. Usually, our job as designers feels a bit more at ease when there is someone in a production manager role to oversee the whole picture and keep the team under control.