Scaling the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

April 8, 2010

By David P. Gordon, Scenic Designer for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Having designed 23 previous productions at the Arden (some of them quite complex) I thought creating the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie would be a simple and fun project. Fun it has been, but simple? Not in the least!

Though this is my first design for Arden Children’s Theatre, I have taken my five year old son, Avery, to a number of past productions, and what has always impressed me is that the Arden treats its kid’s shows with no less care, support and attention to detail than it lavishes on its main stage productions. This is particularly important in the case of Mouse because Director Whit MacLaughlin made it clear from the very first design meeting that he wanted to emphasize the inherent theatrical qualities of the play, rather than trying to imitate the simple storybook world of the Laura Numeroff/ Felicia Bond book  on which it is based.

In Whit’s conception, the fun of the story comes from the chaos created by the introduction of the hyperactive mouse into the ordered world of the young boy who must suddenly accept the responsibility of caring for him as a parent would care for a young, energetic child, all the while trying to contain the mess created by the mouse before mom gets home. For Whit, the play bears many similarities to Sam Shepard’s True West (a decidedly adult play which some older readers of this blog might be familiar with) that, like Mouse, takes place in a kitchen which is largely destroyed by two feuding characters over the course of the action.

The idea, then, for our production was to create a realistic and recognizable suburban kitchen, presented as seen from the perspective of the child (and rodent) characters. In order to do that, we’ve enlarged all of the elements (counters, appliances, doors, furniture) about 140%, so the adult actor playing the boy will appear to be the size of a nine year old in relation to the set. In addition, we wanted to give the audience the sense of looking up at the kitchen from below, like the mouse, so all the scenery is built in forced perspective, diminishing in size as it reaches the ceiling.

All of this, of course, makes the set a very complicated structure to build (and to design) with no right angles or simple dimensions of any kind, and every element, down to the last cabinet knob, having to be manufactured from scratch. Fortunately for me, the set is being built by Technical Director Glenn Perlman, a man who has consistently met every construction challenge I’ve ever thrown at him on previous Arden productions with artistry and aplomb, so I’m confident that all the craziness will look just right.  We hope you enjoy it!

Glenn Perlman at work on the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Technical Director Glenn Perlman at work on the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

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