Oh My Sweet Land scenic designer, Mariana Sanchez, faces an exciting challenge: creating a design concept for the diverse range of kitchen spaces throughout NYC in which this production will be performed. This week, we chatted with her about this process.
What is your typical design process like and how will it change with this unique production?
The design process for a play that is going to be performed in a normal theater usually starts with the first read of the play, then a discussion with the director where we mainly talk about the content and feeling of the play, then there is research and further conversation with the director. I want to understand what the director’s vision is, the ideas, the images that come to the director’s mind. After this, there is a lot of time thinking, thinking, thinking. Also talking about the project out loud seems to be helpful. Sometimes putting messy ideas into words is helpful and, in this process, I start answering some things, some images come to my mind. Even if it’s only an idea I am not sure about, I still try to put it into either a model or sketches. A model makes me feel safer, and I trust it more because it is closer to reality. And from there on, it’s just a back and forth between model making, drawing, research, and more conversations with the director and the creative team.
In this unique project, the approach and process is different, we can’t escape inside the black void of the theater, here we have to adapt our story to the context, and this unique context is so strong that becomes almost another character of the play. Then this process feels more like a curatorial process and about finding the ideas to bring the “theatrical” into a real space.
You previously worked as an architect in Mexico City. How has this background influenced your theatre design work?
In architecture I learned to think more about the big stroke and the quality of the empty space. It took me some time to transform my preconceived notions of materiality in architecture to a more metaphorical language and to accept that, sometimes, in a play, what the space needs is not beauty but to tell the story.
As the play is performed in various kitchen spaces and homes throughout NYC, how do you plan on creating a cohesive design while taking into account the uniqueness of each home?
On the one hand, we want to embrace this uniqueness that gives us the opportunity to have a different story for each performance as it’s played in a different space. Each kitchen will tell a different story about the characters. On the other hand, we want to tell a specific story and create a space that enhances the subtle context that is written into the play. To create this, we will choose some elements that will help us bring the attention to the action, and in the process we will also strip down the kitchens to the bare essentials when necessary and where possible. And we will have some other surprises that I don’t want to reveal.
What challenges do you foresee with performing in the private and intimate spaces of homes?
I think the big challenge is that it can feel like it’s difficult to control the environment, like it’s out of our hands. So in a way we just have to embrace the space and bring our tool kit to each home. But this uncertainty is also risky and exciting. In theater we are often trying to represent or replicate reality. How much more real can it get than this?
Oh My Sweet Land is a play about connecting to culture through food. Is there a recipe you rely on to bring you closer to home?
So many! I miss so much Mexican food that every time that I eat something that resembles it, it brings me closer to home. I haven’t found my favorite dish in a restaurant here so we need to cook it at home: pork stew in green tomatillo sauce cooked with epazote herb and nopales (cactus) is what makes me feel most close to home. That’s my mom’s dish.