The Gene Pool: Designing the Set

The Gene Pool Set, Annex Theatre, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Photo by Michael Brunk /
The Gene Pool Set, Click To Enlarge
One of the biggest challenges facing “The Gene Pool” was the set. It had to provide the comfort of a home, allow for the outdoor/motorcycle sequences, and be easy to build as we don’t have a shop to build in advance. Above all, I wanted it to be theatrical.

I turned to Gavin Derek, a mutual friend of Christi’s and mine. We met back in DC, in the days of Consenting Adults (their theatre company) and my introduction to fringe theatre. The space they used was relatively similar to Annex Theatre, and they always did the best with the space. Gavin is also the only person I know who had seen the original run of the play.

We met for lunch, and his concept was exactly what I was looking for: simple, clean, easy to build, and theatrical. He scribbled it on a piece of paper: sunken living room, simple set pieces, all black, a scrim to cover the higher platforms that were to become the motorcycle.

Now was my turn to translate our conversation into something I could plan with. I had heard of Google SketchUp at my day job, and figured that would be the easiest way to figure it out. I did a couple of the tutorials, downloaded the program, and in a few hours I had a 3D model of the set. That allowed me to send an inventory to the theatre, who in turn told me what they actually had.

Set Design SketchUp Render

Having the 3D rendering proved very helpful during rehearsals, knowing quite accurately where things would be allowed for clear blocking with little guessing. A couple of things also became apparent. The set could not be as symbolic as we had originally planned. We needed a couch, we needed more furniture, and we would run into line-of-sight issues with the motorcycle platforms. Back to SketchUp for revisions.

With the new graphic in hand, I recruited my friend Perry Fulfs to help with building the set. We figured out what was needed hardware-wise, and got the set built pretty quickly. The flats were painted a rose color, which made the set look nice and warm. Everyone liked the original color, and I was quite reluctant to paint it black. Fully trusting Gavin’s design, I painted the walls and was astonished at the difference it made. The set pieces that need to pop do, and the outdoor/motorcycle sequences work extremely well.

Set Design SketchUp Render
This was my first time being this involved in the design and construction of a set, and I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it. Between Gavin’s vision, using technology to visualize it, and Perry’s lead building, it was quite fun.

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