Design in Texas: Ryan McGettigan - Arts + Culture Texas
Julie Herman recent interviewed me for the inaugural article in a new series in Arts + Culture Texas about Texas-based theatrical designers in which she calls me "a nice boy from New Hampshire"
Set designer Ryan McGettigan’s bold designs have graced the stages of many of the theater companies in Houston. Often seen at Main Street Theater, Stages Repertory Theatre, Classical Theatre Company, and TUTS Underground, each set is as different from the others as pudding and cake, but all include visual details vital to the production’s success.
Set design is much more than a backdrop for the actors’ lines. Good sets give you clues about the action even before the play begins. Think about the wild neon design for Marie Antoinette at Stages, the fluffy clouds behind the giant statue in LMNOP at TUTS Underground, and the box-within-a-set that provided focus for important narrative for Bound at HGOco. Each of those elements on its own would be wild and improbable, but within the productions, those sets melded with the rest of the designs of sound, light and costume to provide a nuanced framework for the actors’ performances.
When asked how he approaches his design work, McGettigan finds each show demands its own process for initial inspiration. “After reading certain scripts, I become obsessed with researching texture or architectural details, others become entirely about color or shape and the emotions they create. Some scripts are even less about a specific starting or ending look, but more about an activated change that must take place to convey a turning point or revelation.”
Play Place - Arts + Culture Texas
Dusti Rhodes interviewed me (as well as Houston scenic designers Kevin Rigdon and Jodi Bobrovsky) for a recent article in Arts + Culture Texas
Designer Ryan McGettigan leans toward the abstract as well. (Houstonians likely remember his remarkable use of trapdoors for the Classical Theatre Company’s production of Ubu Roi.) McGettigan is the resident scenic designer for Cape Red Theatre in Massachusetts, and has designed sets for theaters all over the United States, including local companies such as Houston Grand Opera, Stages, Main Street Theater and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
His recent design for Stages’ production of The Language Archive featured a file cabinet that seemed to grow up and out of the floor. But the surrealism didn’t end there. “Then it turns into a bakery,” he says and explains how as the scent of bread is sprayed into the audience, the file cabinet drawer fronts flip open and turn into bakery shelves.
“And there’s like three million loaves of bread. That, I love: Like, here’s what you’re looking at the entire time, which is weird in itself. You’re drawn to it because you don’t know everything about it and that’s what’s exciting – That’s what’s exciting about most things: If you know everything about it, why bother? Then, after staring at it for the past hour-and-a-half, it changes in this big way,” explains McGettigan.
When working for Cape Red in 2010, McGettigan designed the set for Eurydice, a play chronicling a mythological Greek woman’s unfortunate journey into the Underworld. For that play, McGettigan strung tiles together to create a structure similar to a beaded curtain, but to the audience, it looked like a solid wall. Once again, McGettigan defied and surprised.
“As [she] descended into the Underworld, it was her slowly going across this curtain and the entire world starts shaking like a dream sequence in a movie where everything becomes wavy,” McGettigan explains.
Moliere's The Misanthrope showcased in The Painter's Journal
Ryan was thrilled and humbled when Anthony Phelps, editor of The Painter's Journal, approached him, along with scenic artist Trish Green, with the hope of showcasing his design for Moliere's The Misanthrope in an issue of the quarterly magazine.
The concept of the production, directed by Steven Yakutis, relied heavily on reflected and distorted images and the design utilized several different styles of metallic material to achieve a realistic gold and silver leaf look of Neoclassical France, but a fraction of the cost.
After researching these materials and experiencing their results on The Misanthrope, they've become invaluable tools in Ryan's scenic artist handbag.