Curious about what it was like designing the lighting, set, and costumes for our season closer, You Can’t Take It With You? Learn about what inspired the designers and what they considered when creating this madcap and classic production!
LINDA BUCHANAN | SCENIC DESIGNER
The characters in You Can’t Take It With You are the most eccentric and quirky bunch of bohemians you could ever imagine. At the same time, they are quintessential American characters: they are willing to try anything, and they believe deeply in personal freedom and their own ability to reinvent themselves. These people are true amateurs in the original meaning of the word: people who do things out of love and enjoyment. The design needs to create room for ballet dancing, playwriting, fireworks making, pamphlet printing, and all the other current and past interests of the inhabitants, contrasted against a conventional period home that they have adapted to accommodate their unusual relationships and their many pursuits. In this production, we also wanted to imbue the house with the warmth and nurture of Mr. Vanderhof’s deceased wife, the matriarch of the family. We tried to imagine how she would have decorated and what warm and comfortable touches she would have wanted to provide for her family. The design of a show can also really work to support the physical actions of a play. Certain events in this script call for specific architectural relationships for best comedic payoff. For example, and without giving anything away, a prominent front door, and a long cross from the kitchen door to the front door, are both very useful!
TRACY DORMAN | COSTUME DESIGNER
The play is set in Manhattan in 1936 at the height of the Depression. We chose to keep it in the time period because, although the themes and relationships are universal, much of the language and situations in the play are rooted in its time. This play is filled with characters with a capital C, and we’ve tried to find ways to express their eccentricities without stereotyping them. I’ve approached the designs of the costumes with a “heightened whimsy,” using color, pattern, and silhouette to create a sense of the playfulness of this world the family has created in their home. So while the costumes evoke the period in their detail and silhouette, I’ve taken liberties so that they exist in their own world of the play—they are by no means naturalistic. There are so many characters to keep track of that one of the main goals is to create a strong visual identity for each one, which is actually quite easy as they are written so well: the playwrights give us so much info about who each character is.
MICHAEL LINCOLN | LIGHTING DESIGNER
My very first design for IRT was The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1984, so encountering this play by the same playwrights 35 years later gives me an instant sense of nostalgia for the play and for my long association with IRT. You Can’t Take It With You is a play about family, home, and acceptance. While there has never been a time in our lives when such values were more sorely needed, the play itself (as is true of many antiques from the 1930s) may seem a bit dated and worn at first glance. In this production, we have tried to remain true to its original spirit while looking at it with fresh eyes. Like the 1927 Indiana Theatre, home to the IRT since 1980 and a family home to so many of us theatre artists, the play has been lovingly polished and cared for to restore its original gleam, so that we all can appreciate its core value: acceptance.
Don't miss your chance to see these wonderful design elements in person! You Can't Take It With You runs through May 19, and tickets are selling fast!
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
BY JANET ALLEN, EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Many of us recognize the title of this American icon, which won a Pulitzer Prize and has been one of the most produced plays in the American canon since it was originally written, but most of us don’t know much else. Maybe we played a role in You Can’t Take It With You in high school, or saw a production, or saw the Frank Capra movie, loosely based on the play. What’s interesting to contemplate is that master playwrights Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote this comedy in 1936, at the point in the Great Depression when many people thought it would never end.
The crash of the stock market in 1929 led to an extended period of economic depression—the longest in American history—creating a decade of devastating economic challenges for most Americans. Sky-rocketing unemployment, plunging crop prices, a deflationary spiral, and a severe drought in the West and Midwest led to starvation, homelessness, and general privation in the American population. In the midst of this, Kaufman and Hart wrote a play that asserted that money isn’t everything: after all, “you can’t take it with you.”
There is significant surprise in reminding ourselves of this economic and social context around the play. The content of the play suggests deep questioning of the belief that capitalism alone can make America great. It poses, instead, that a singular focus on the economic gain side of the American dream causes many to lose sight of the importance of quality of life, of the “pursuit of happiness” part of the Declaration of Independence.
What makes us happy? Americans seem to be more baffled by that question than many other cultures around the world. The play outlines a number of means of achieving happiness, and all of them suggest that the 9-to-5 office setting may not be the best place to look for it. At a time when there was still considerable focus on making ends meet in American society, You Can’t Take It With You reminded us that the pursuit of capital at the expense of doing things that make the soul and heart sing is not a viable means to creating a contented American populace.
Encountering this play, with these values, at this point in the 21st century, presents some pretty revealing parallels. Climbing out of the recession of 2008-2012 has left many individuals and institutions, and perhaps even our political discourse, over-focused on the bottom line. The reminder to achieve balance, to look around at what makes the world an exciting and vibrant place in its complexity, to find activities that expand our vision and get us interactive and curious about our world—these are among the messages that this play delivers. The picture of unbridled capitalistic pursuit characterized by Mr. Kirby in the play is not terribly flattering: his attachment to Wall Street has literally poisoned every aspect of his life.
Another significant piece of the emotional underpinnings of this most gorgeous of all American comedies is the idea of tolerance—another tenet of human experience that is under fire in our current social moment, and another reason this 83-year-old play packs a punch for us in 2019. The play invites us to consider cultural and ethnic differences, and how they make our world a more interesting place. The Sycamores, in their largesse, invite many a wayfarer into their home, some for dinner, some for years. This dedication to collecting diverse humans into their household clearly makes this family not only fascinating but empathic, modeling an American way of life that gets at some of our best values: inclusivity, acceptance of the stranger at our door (regardless of their color or creed), and a willingness to share our table.
The Sycamores are quintessential Americans: living their freedom through their various passions, helping those in need, observing family traditions, and questioning social class distinctions. After all, as Grandpa says, “A cat can look at a king.” In the Sycamore house, happiness reigns, acceptance thrives, and there is always food (however eccentric) that can be stretched to feed another. May we all strive to be a little bit more like the loving and accepting Sycamores!
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