Putting the audience in "Parade"

by Alicia Anstead

The musical is a stalwart of college dramatic arts programs, especially at Harvard where academic tracks have elevated the American art form's value for both its music and themes. Parade, which runs through Sunday, April 17 at New College Theatre, is no exception. Alfred Uhry's story dramatizes the 1913 trial of a Jewish factory manager accused and convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee in the South. The 1999 musical was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won two: best book and best score (by Jason Robert Brown). The show's current Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club production is directed by Joshua McTaggart and has 18 cast members. Harvard Arts Beat blog caught up with set designer and history of art and architecture concentrator Madie Hays '13 to chat about the role of the set and the designer -- and to find out how her work was influenced by Broadway "genuis" Derek McLane '80, who visited campus last fall through the Office for the Arts Learning from Performers Program. Hays is also the set designer for the upcoming OFA production of The Story, running April 28-May 1 during ARTS FIRST weekend.

What did you want to accomplish with your set design for Parade?

Parade is a show with a ton of location changes, and the most challenging thing about designing this show was trying to create a space in which each one of these spaces could be addressed, and that was what I most wanted to accomplish. I worked very closely with Josh, our director, to figure out what the best way to accommodate all of the different scenes. I'd like to think we did a pretty good job.

How did your time with Derek McLane influence your design decisions?

My time with Derek was one of the most inspirational experiences of my entire life. He is such an amazing designer, and I really look up to him. While we were in New York City, more than one person in the world of Broadway referred to him as a genius, and I would absolutely agree, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to learn from him. Although the design for Parade was, for the most part, finalized by the time we visited him, he definitely encouraged me not to be afraid to make choices in my design that I was excited about and not necessarily always stay in the proverbial "box." His influence is much more prevalent in my design for The Story, which is next in the New College Theatre.

What role does the set designer have in influencing the overall impact of the audience experience?

I believe the set designer's most important role in the overall production is to put the audience inside the world of the show, whether that world is real or imagined. I often try to work very closely with the directors to make sure that the set completely corresponds with what the director is trying to express in the show. We literally set the stage for the story that the audience experiences.

[Caption: Madie Hay's set for "Parade" is multi-level and multi-scened. ]

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