Features NYC Features Published 30 June 2011

A Shotgun Streetcar

Scenic designer Collette Pollard brings claustrophobia to a classic.

Richard Patterson

"Collette Pollard, Streetcar"

This non-traditional, visceral approach to the piece was self-evident from the start, according to Pollard. “We met in the theatre space we were designing in,” she said. “It was pretty immediate that we weren’t going to be doing a Streetcar that was in a proscenium where you’re looking at all of New Orleans, that we were going to be trying to figure out how to experience the action of the play, so that already set us on track.”

“There’s very little in the house; there are some decorative brackets, there are some decorative pieces on the screen door, there’s the shotgun style, but it’s so simplistic that [sound designer] really has filled the space with what it means to feel like you’re in New Orleans, from not only all the music that is played, but even the rain – it really fills the space. It’s interesting to watch it in rehearsal without that, because it’s amazing how much that textures the space.”

Pollard met director David Cromer, for whom she exudes a deep respect, while designing a production of The Glass Menagerie together at Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Of the collaboration, Pollard has only positive things to say. “It was a fantastic collaboration. It was very creative. We were dealing again with an audience experience and a space that was a huge proscenium – so how to break the proscenium space. We had a lot of exciting ideas about different moments in the play. We did some really beautiful things with being able to use all the surfaces of the house to create an emotional landscape for the blue roses. It was very collaborative and very rewarding. I think that’s probably what led us to do Streetcar together was having just worked on Glass Menagerie.”

Before The Glass Menagerie, Pollard had focused mainly on new plays. She describes the experience of tackling a classic as an exciting one. “It’s all written, for example, and it has a history and it’s been designed,” leaving her to focus on the intricacies of the storytelling rather than the process of aiding in the play’s development.

In Chicago, Pollard calls the House Theatre her artistic home. She describes the company as “a place where not only am I the set designer, but I’m also in constant artistic conversations about what are the stories we want to tell, how to tell them, how we want the audience to experience the story, which is a big conversation that keeps me interested.”

Her sense of narrative drive underlies her love of designing. “I grew up in a house where stories were told,” she told me, “and I guess I would always ask for them to be told again, so storytelling was always interesting to me. I don’t know that I knew then that it meant telling stories in terms of theatre, but I grew up around the theatre.”

“My mom was a dancer in her youth and then a choreographer, so I sat in a lot of theatres when I was a young person. It really was when I couldn’t get an art class at an all-science school, and I saw some folks painting in the cafetorium, which is where the theatre was. I asked if I could help and they said sure, and that’s where I started painting scenery, and then at a pretty young age designed scenery in high school.”

From then on, she attended college at DePaul University in Chicago and went on to earn her MFA at Northwestern at the behest of one of her mentors and teachers, Todd Rosenthal, set designer for August: Osage County.

Streetcar marks Pollard’s Williamstown debut, but she’s clearly already got plenty of respect for the latest of her theatrical hosts. “They’ve managed to load in a set, prop it, tech it, preview it, and open it in a week, which is an incredible experience, and the artists that are here and the staff that’s here are really incredible, and they take you through the Williamstown process. It’s been really wonderful.”

Production photos by T. Charles Erickson. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams┬áplays Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos Stage in Williamstown, MA through Sunday, July 3, 2011. Additional production and ticketing information can be found here.

Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at musicOMH.com from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.


Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.