Once in a Lifetime

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Publication: American Theatre
Date published: February 1, 2012

Once in a Lifetime


Mark Rucker, DIRECTION: This is a play I have loved since I was a teenager. I found my way to it via Moss Hart's autobiography, Act One. I fell in love with Once in a Lifetime because I have a passion for early Hollywood films. The play is very much a style piece. There were five different sets. To mask the set changes, we used clips from those early films, which acted as a kind of movie-theatre-style entertainment that bridged the scenes of the play. The other way we used video was as a rear-scene element. For example, in the train scene where they're going to Hollywood (opposite page), there was a looped video through the back window of the train so you could see the desert moving along. It's a nod to old Hollywood films where that kind ofthing happens all the time.

Alex Jaeger, COSTUME DESIGN: Mark wanted to do the play with very few actors. The original cast had about 30-something people, but we had a cast of 15, so all of the actors were playing multiple parts. The idea was quick-change, quick-change - and everything was designed to accommodate that. Because we were doing a send-up of the '20s, I wanted to take it further - the play was written in the '50s so it was already a nostalgic look back. We made the colors a little brighter, the hair bigger and the make-up pretty extreme. It had that artificiality of early Hollywood. The scene pictured above is at the end of Act 1, and it's the first time we see Hollywood. The two characters in the foreground are famous silent movie stars. Their dresses are all glass beads and embroidery. The dresses are really, really heavy. The fur is real as well. The pink one was a dyed fox-fur and the white was rabbit fur.

Alexander V. Nichols, VIDEO DESIGN: Right now is a perfect time to do this show, because projections are a revolution happening in theatre - and this piece is dealing with a revolution in film with the addition of sound. During the scene changes, which were two to three minutes long, we used media from old Hollywood films, such as clips from The Jazz Singer. The play also had traveling sequences. One important one was the train leaving from New York to Los Angeles (above). It's written into the script that you have a light flashing to signify motion. But we wanted to get a feel of the desolate scene they were traveling through. So I took a plane to Reno. There I rented a car, attached a camera to it and drove for a while. Then I processed the footage to give it a more filmic quality. It's a challenge to make modern video footage look like older footage - it's not easy to pull off, and I'm never sure that I've gotten it completely right.

Once in a Lifetime by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman played at American Conservatory Theater Sept. 22-0ct. 16, 2011. The production was directed by Mark Rucker, with scenic design by Daniel Ostling, costume design by Alex Jaeger, video design by Alexander V. Nichols, dramaturgy by Michael Palier, lighting design by James F. Ingalls and sound design by Cliff Caruthers, Left: Marisa Duchowny and Jessica Kitchens are flanked by their help (from left) John Wernke, Margo Hall, Patrick Lane, Julia Coffey and René Augesen. Above: Coffey, Lane and Wernke.

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