We chatted with Steven C. Kemp, the set designer for our first opera of the season, Mozart’s comedy The Abduction from the Seraglio. This new-to-Kansas City production comes to the Kauffman Center September 21-29 and was first seen at New Orleans Opera in April 2019.
For this production, the setting is a nightclub in the golden age of Hollywood, or “Tinseltown,” as it was often called; the Pasha is the nightclub owner who holds Konstanze, Belmonte, Blonde and Pedrillo captive at the club. Steven Kemp designed the scenery, and LOKC’s production/technical team will make it work in the Kauffman Center.
LOKC: Do you hand-draw your initial ideas or do you start designing on computer?
SKemp: After the research phase, I first create rough hand sketches on paper or on my iPad, to work out a concept. Then I go straight into 3D and create a model to test the ideas. After that, I fully develop the design, creating the elements in full detail in 3D using AutoCAD. The final step is to add texture and light. This workflow links all the elements, so that I can produce all views for each company’s scene shop to adapt to their individual theaters.
Below, the interior of the nightclub as Kemp’s original 3D rendering, and a photo of an Act I scene in the opera.
LOKC: How did you communicate with your collaborators while working on this set design? In-person meetings? Skype/Facetime? E-mails? All of the above?
SKemp: It’s always wonderful working with frequent collaborators where you have a great “shorthand” and understand each other’s processes. We’re usually spread out all over the country, so we definitely rely on technology like FaceTime, phone calls, e-mails and texts to digitally place us in the same room.
Creating accurate renderings from any seat in the house, and animations, where we visualize and test scene transitions that can easily be shared on e-mail, allows us all to stay on the same page and prepares us for when we are all in the theatre together for tech. For the New Orleans production, I created animations of the transitions since they are all a vista*, so we could see how the spinning components would interact with the flying elements, and to work out the details of the shifts.
Below, the exterior of the nightclub as Kemp’s original 3D rendering, and a photo of a scene in the opera.
LOKC: The set design was finished for New Orleans Opera, which presented the show in April 2019 – are you making any adjustments to it for Lyric Opera’s performances at the Kauffman Center?
SKemp: Getting to present the show again creates a terrific opportunity to learn from the original production, and make tweaks and enhancements. We are not making any large structural changes, but we are finessing props and embellishing set details. We are also personalizing some of the elements within the club to Kansas City’s specific cast!
* A vista is a scene change that is not hidden from the audience. This technique is increasingly popular due to modern advances in scenic automation, where entire set changes can be accomplished in seconds.
Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio is September 21, 25, 27 and 29 at the Kauffman Center. Tickets start at $29, available at this link.