Three women, three centuries, three continents, one room

This blog post is by Emily Schweich, a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major.

The Waiting Room

The Waiting Room photo by Dylan Singleton

Forgiveness from Heaven, an 18th-century Chinese woman, suffers after years of foot binding. Victoria, from 19th-century England, has hysteria. Contemporary Jersey girl Wanda has trouble with her silicone breasts. They all come together in a modern doctor’s waiting room.

Lisa Loomer’s 1994 play The Waiting Room takes place in “the past, and the present, and often both at once. New York City, England and China.” This transcendence of time and space creates a formidable challenge for set designers – how can they create a believable, authentic and versatile design?

Cohen said he hoped the set would highlight the play’s juxtaposition of the clinical and the beautiful.

Third-year MFA design candidate Andrew Cohen took on the challenge as the scenic designer for the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) production this February. Most of the play takes place in the modern hospital, but several scenes are transported to other times and settings – from a Victorian-style bedroom to a golf course to a modern-day bar.

“I looked at a lot of modern waiting rooms . . . and I was trying to find something that was interesting that could be multiple things, something that kind of felt timeless but still modern,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he hoped the set would highlight the play’s juxtaposition of the clinical and the beautiful. He found his inspiration in modern glasswork and obscured materials, turning these styles into three sets of opaque doors onstage that are lit throughout the show.

“I always wanted the idea of an operation room door present,” Cohen said. “I think it kind of speaks to this piece as this impending thing that these women go through.”

One of the turning points in the design process, he said, was when he found an image of sleek hanging lamps that resembled hospital examination lights.

“It was a way to get modern, clinical and something beautiful all at once,” Cohen said.

The most rewarding part of this challenge? Cohen enjoyed collaborating and exchanging ideas with the design team – lighting designer Jane Chan, sound designer Eric Shimelonis, costume designer Maho Nishida and director, Mary Coy, who stepped in a month before The Waiting Room opened.

“There were some really great moments in tech where the lines of whose job was whose was a little blurred,” Cohen said. “We were all just trying to make this thing the best it could be, and that was really great, it was unlike something I’ve done in a long time.”

The Waiting Room is the second production Cohen has designed for the Kogod Theatre. Encouraged by his professors to “risk big or miss big,” he decided to change the configuration of the theatre’s seating bank from its usual proscenium style for his final two shows.

“This time, I did the ‘L’ for Waiting Room . . . . It kind of feels room-like in a sense,” Cohen said. “I think that was one of the things I was really interested in doing – having a unique look from each seat, a way that it wasn’t just a front, presentational way, it was kind of an involved production.”

Cohen plans to change the theatre’s configuration again for his MFA thesis project this May. At Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, the audience will sit in a “U” around the stage.

Looking forward to his upcoming graduation, Cohen said that the university helped him grow as an artist.

“For me, where I left from undergrad and where I am now, it’s like a completely different person,” he said. “Not only skill-based wise, but design-wise, communication-wise. I could take the level of professionalism that I learned here and apply it further on.”