What happens, happens here. 

This is what I am trying to say every time that I design a set or create an environment for a performance. 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. I do not think this approach is the only way to understand theatrical design, but it captures how I respond to the world around me and what I have to give back to my collaborators, audiences, the work itself and my students. It is the primal gesture of all that I do. I have stolen this idea as a theatrical construct from an essay by the historian Peter Womack.

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. They are how I approach design and the world around me.


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.

Parco Sempione, Milan, Italy, 2018

Piazza della Repubblica, Florence, Italy, 2020

Pedestrian tunnel, Athens, Greece, 2019

All photos by Erik Flatmo

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