What happens, happens here. 

This is what I say to myself every time that I design a set or create an environment for a performance. I am creating a space where something happens. Theater is not a picture, but an event. When I think of scenery, I am thinking not only of scenery in a traditional context, but any stage, city, room, street, courtyard, field, clearing, place or space for a live human-generated event, play, concert, interaction, gesture, movement or story. And beyond the theater, I see that this understanding of the world extends to life. Our lives are not single static images but moving events that we hold in place at cherished moments. Just like theater.

There are two other statements on theater that have inspired me and that I carry forward in all of my work. The first is from playwright Suzan-Lori Parks:

The more I think about plays, I think plays are about space. Plays are about space to me. Plays are about space, and, say, fiction is about place.

The second, by playwright Lorraine Hansberry, was shared with me by director Harry Elam while we were working on Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun at Stanford University in 2018:

I believe that one of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create something universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific. 

Taken as a whole, these three ideas - what happens happens here, plays are about space, universality is achieved through specificity - form the backbone of my work and who I am as an artist.

Parco Sempione, Milan, Italy, 2018

Piazza della Repubblica, Florence, Italy, 2020

Pedestrian tunnel, Athens, Greece, 2019


Womack, Peter. “The Comical Scene: Perspective and Civility on the Renaissance Stage.” Representations, vol. 101, no. 1, 2008, pp. 32–56. 

Jiggetts, Shelby, and Suzan-Lori Parks. “Interview with Suzan-Lori Parks.” Callaloo, vol. 19, no. 2, 1996, pp. 309–317.

Lorraine Hansberry radio interview with Studs Terkel, broadcast on WFMT Radio, Chicago, Illinois, May 12, 1959, “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry.” American Theater, Nov., 1984.

All photos by Erik Flatmo

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