From backgrounds to lighting and everything in between, set designer Cheryl de Wardener has been working since mid-December to bring the set of “Mary Poppins” to life.
“I design all of the scenery, that includes the light fixtures, the furniture, and I approve the props,” said de Wardener.
With each play and musical that she has designed since she began working for the University of Rhode Island in 1993, de Wardener goes through a multi-stepped process to ensure that each detail is accurate to the time frame of the piece and applicable to the scenes.
The process includes reading through the script multiple times paying attention to details mentioned and actions that need a certain set up provided by the set.
“The first time you read it through for emotional response… The second time you read it through you’re looking for more concrete evidence within the set… Then when you read it through a third time, you look for doors, windows… what other concrete things allow for the action that is dictated in the script,” de Wardener said.
De Wardener works alone when designing the set. She keeps in close contact to the director to take into account features needed in order for the actors to be able to work with the set. With this, de Wardener begins research to make sure the set is accurate to the time in which the musical takes place, she then sketches brief set ideas based on the research. After the ideas are considered and changed, de Wardener draws the set to scale and it is built in the shop in the Fine Arts Center. Once everything is built, students often help out with painting the set.
“Some [students] are required to, some of them just come and volunteer,” de Wardener. “We have Theater 100 students come in, that’s the non-Theater majors, do lab hours for us, because they are all required to do three hours of lab.”
For “Mary Poppins,” the set includes pieces such as a scrim. The scrim is a backdrop made of loosely woven fabric that is opaque when light is shone through it from the front, but translucent when light is shone through it from the back.
“Between the scrim and we have another drop… those two drops took us three weeks,” de Wardener said.
The set also includes pieces such as walls for the parlor, kitchen, and nursery settings, a fireplace, chimney, rooftops, trees and many more.
“This is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done,” de Wardener said. “At the end regardless of what we end up with, everyone will feel like we have all invested everything we can. And it’s great when a group of people all come together to create something, I think that’s what I like best about the theater.”
Mary Poppins opens April 20 at the Fine Art Center. Tickets can be bought now at the box office in the Fine Arts Center and online at https://web.uri.edu/theatre/current-season/.
Photo of the Mary Poppins set being painted via the URI Theatre Facebook page.