Designing a Dream

A7ae5b9b 203c 4961 99af da6cd5b5a1adTallgrass Theatre Company opens their production of Stop Kiss on January 19. A riveting and emotional play with great characters and social relevance, the show is also this year’s Dream Project at Tallgrass, Stop Kiss marks the first time in the history of the Dream Project that the featured show was chosen from a proposal by the design team. Designers Ty Klobassa and Erica Spiller saw an opportunity to put their vision in place and create a unique and special presentation.

“Ty and I began discussing a Dream Project as a passion project for us about a year ago,” says Erica, “when we realized that to date all the Dream Projects have been actor-driven. We felt that the Tallgrass design team, a team of designers who have consistently worked together at Tallgrass for years, could have an opportunity to engage in a production where the designs can communicate in as equal a voice and presence as the actors on the stage. To do this, we needed a scripted that allowed creativity and expression, which [Stop Kiss author Diana] Son’s work fits well. Additionally, it only seemed right to align our mission with what we believe is a goal of the author as well.”


“As those familiar with this show know, Stop Kiss tackles an issue that to merely classify as ‘important’ would be an understatement. Son elevates the very real human experience of two women meeting and their journey toward love to the center of a narrative, instead of relegating LGBTQ+ characters to stock roles or tokenizing the characters as so often happens in entertainment. So as Son gives diverse characters full attention and equal footing, we hope to do the same by elevating the design aspects of the production into the spotlight with the actors.”


Design Creativity

Ac1106c2 ea0c 47d0 be7e 5dd5065d0217As a play, Stop Kiss is structured in a non-linear fashion, with events in the characters’ lives being portrayed out of the typical chronological order. There are literally 23 scenes in the show, meaning a significant amount of design challenges to establish time and place to the audience at any given moment. Erica is ready for the tasks ahead. “The large number of short scenes that make up the show require fast and fluid transitions that will provide challenges for many of the designers and actors.”


“I personally am excited to design the lights for this show for a few reasons: we are expanding the lighting design family, we have a play that allows us to move away from standard, realistic light and into a place where we can play with bold, saturated colors and interesting transitions, and there may be a surprise or two you will have to join us to see.”


Stop Kiss provides a sort of a blank canvas from a design perspective, which opens the door for creativity and allows the design to have its own voice and influence. The script and setting are not so prescribed that the design has to be executed within narrow or pre-defined parameters. While the seemingly limitless design possibilities allow designs to flow freely, the script does present fun challenges as well.”


Design Limitations

The challenges aren’t just found in the script for Stop Kiss. Tallgrass Theatre’s home for many years has been the Rex Mathes Auditorium, and while the stage and seating have been sufficient for the shows they’ve performed there, the technical aspects have not always been the most desirable. And while investment in a new lighting system this year has gone a long way towards significant improvement, there still isn’t a very large space “backstage”, meaning not a lot of available area for sets, costumes, and props, let alone any other kind of storage. For a show with 23 scenes in multiple locations and time frames, the requirements of the venue also come into play. 


“One of Tallgrass Theatre Company’s strengths is a team of designers that has stayed consistent for all of our shows over the past few seasons, so we understand the limitations of the space up front,” says Erica knowingly. “Additionally, Ty and I have been very pro-active about working through design and staging options that complement the space as opposed to presenting challenges. The leaders of Tallgrass are also upfront with directors and new company members about our space, so there are no surprises for anyone and these details can be considered well in advance.”


“For Stop Kiss, we are excited to share with audiences our moveable set. While some elements will be a surprise, you can visit our Tallgrass Facebook page or some of our designers’ pages to see sneak peeks of the rotating set. Three of the main set pieces are built on revolves so various locations can rotate in and out of the space.”


B64fb69e 3e85 4f2e aeeb 4a7fa18fd56a“One of the more challenging elements is the number of scenes in this play, which requires careful attention so that the show is not doubled in length merely by the time needed to change scenery. One of our goals all along has been fast and efficient scene changes, which has been a collaborative process in which we have involved designers and actors.”



Design Responsibilities

In addition to their significant design duties, Ty and Erica are also both co-directing Stop Kiss. It would seem that their hands are already rather full, and yet to them this is just one more step in bringing their Dream Project to fruition. Erica is obviously excited about the whole package.


“For us, the desire to direct as well as design elements of the show was prompted by our sincere passion that the designers be given a chance to play in the spotlight with the actors. Historically, many shows done in the past have had fairly prescribed locations or time periods required by the script (On Golden Pond, Barefoot in the Park, Calendar Girls). While shows such as these are fun to work on and provide engaging challenges, they do not always allow designers to flex their mind and muscles, or to incorporate some great element a designer has always wanted to try.”


“While design compelled us to submit this Dream Project, our goal is to give it equal voice with the actors – no more, no less. We try to balance the voice of the design with the voice of the actors because both elements propel the narrative and present the vision of the work. From day one we talked with the actors about the nature of this show as a design-driven Dream Project, and it has been awesome to hear actors talking about the design elements when working through staging and rehearsals.”


Design Desires

Bfbb9cba 51ff 4a19 befa 1fc029a9a6263e25db70 1831 4d3d b56c 13a90e9c28bcErica and Ty are firmly of the opinion that more attention needs to be paid to the production team, and all those “behind-the-scenes” people who are so instrumental in making a presentation happen. 


And while the pretty faces saying the lines are a necessary element, the dozens of people who help put them there in the best light, with the best costumes, and the best set, need to be recognized as well.


“We have all watched the awards shows, Emmys, Oscars, you name it. The majority of the awards are for acting. Sometimes, you see overall best movie, director, writer, and maybe costumes in a year full of huge period pieces. Oftentimes any awards for design or backstage elements are relegated to the scrolls during commercial breaks and are certainly never the last awards of the night handed out by the hugely famous actors.”


“We also don’t see a famous designer as the person presenting the award. Culturally, acting is what people notice, and acting is what sells movies, tickets, and draws people to entertainment in general. We need actors, and those actors make us experience the emotions, struggles, and humanity that makes entertainment cathartic and necessary.”


“However, they don’t do it alone. One goal with this show is to give the production team a little boost toward sharing center stage. We have been talking about this show and about how we will stage it since the day we found out it was selected as the Fifth Annual Dream Project.”


Erica and Ty are more than willing to share their dream with you, as Stop Kiss opens for Tallgrass Theatre Company at the Rex Mathes Auditorium beginning January 19. The show runs for three weekends and tickets are available through the Tallgrass Theatre Company website. Also, there is a special preview performance for the LGBTQ+ community on January 18, with 100 free tickets available for that evening.

Tallgrass Theatre Company Stop Kiss Erica Spiller Ty Klobassa Dream Project