Last night I caught the opening of the Rude Mechs’ Field Guide, a bizarre, devised, loose adaptation of Doestoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Perhaps most notable about the production design is that fact that scenic design–consisting of abstract set block pieces–was made primarily of cardboard. The guy who designed it is named Eric Dyer, who I’ve known for some years, and I chatted with him briefly about it afterward.
Cardboard isn’t new to Dyer, exactly. Radiohole, the 15-odd-year-old company Dyer co-founded in New York used cardboard in different ways in the last two shows, Myth or Meth and Tarzana, so I was curious about the choice to employ it here in Austin with a different company. As Eric explained over drinks at the festival hub, the choice was mainly his. Eric doesn’t see himself as a designer, really; while design is important to Radiohole’s work, he and the company collectively write, perform, and design their shows. It’s rare, then, that he works in a specifically design role, and when he does, he likes to use the chance to explore his own fascination with materials–to see how far he can push them, and what new things he can do with them. The Rude Mechs were receptive to what he wanted to pull off, so they went along.
Specifically, all the set pieces except one are made entirely of cardboard. Which may not sound like much, but when you see the show it’ll surprise you: People climb on top of, move around in, sit on, stand on, dance on, and knock over these pieces. And all but one are made entirely of cardboard. (The one that uses a wooden frame is the one on casters, for the eagle-eyed.) Apparently the fact that cardboard can support that much weight is well known to some people–plenty of people we were talking with knew it–but it was certainly new to me, and made the entire experience a little richer.
Coincidentally, Eric Dyer did an interview with the Rude Mechs a couple years ago for BOMB magazine, which you can read here. I did an interview with Eric a few years ago, which can be read on Culturebot, and for a great and thorough introduction to Radiohole’s work, I’m publishing a long essay on them in the forthcoming sixth issue of Chance (print only), a serial art book on theater and performance design.