Telling the Story Through Set Design: A Look into Tuck Everlasting at Hale Centre Theatre
Hale Centre Theatre is Utah's leading professional family theatre. Their mission is to provide high-quality, family-friendly entertainment, and the theater has done so for nearly forty years. Having recently opened a new, world-class Mountain America Performing Arts Centre in Sandy, Utah, Hale Centre Theatre has invigorated Tuck Everlasting with spectacular set designs, charming period costuming, and strong performances on HCT’s new Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box stage.
During the opening of the play in early April, Kacey Udy, who serves as HCT’s production designer and resident scenic designer, discussed how he reimagined the stage production of the charming children’s tale after its run on Broadway.
KACEY UDY: When I learned that Hale Centre Theatre would be producing Tuck Everlasting, I was ecstatic that the theater would be the first to premiere the timeless show in the West. I had followed this show heavily during its initial run on Broadway and had plans to see it on a trip to New York, but the show had sadly closed just days before.
However, I had followed the progress of the production enough to know that Tuck Everlasting was a special show that deserved to see the light of day. I knew it would be a perfect fit for Hale Centre Theatre’s family-friendly audience and that it would resonate with the thousands of students invited to see the production through Hale’s Student Matinee Program. It may be a lesser-known production now, but the book and story have been read by generations of students in schools. I remember reading the book in middle school and how the question it asks about living forever has stuck with me ever since. I believe this story speaks to every generation and feel it will connect strongly with audiences everywhere.
Creating imaginative sets with subtle meanings behind them is what I enjoy most about being a scenic designer, and producing sets for Tuck Everlasting has re-emphasized that for me. I love that each production is different and unique, regardless of how many times it has been produced. While the book and music are the same as they were on Broadway, I’ve used my own interpretation for Tuck Everlasting by creating a different onstage world for the characters to live in. I love that in theatre, everyone gets the opportunity to tell their own version of a story.
The Broadway production featured beautiful design work by one of my heroes, Walt Spangler, who I think perfectly told the Broadway version in a magical way. To honor Spangler, I pay tribute to his original design during moments of the show, but have reinvented most of the set pieces for a unique and personal feel. I welcomed Tuck Everlasting as a production that was new to many, because it gave me the opportunity to be one of the first to visually establish the setting for the show.
To gain inspiration for the set, I reread the original book by Natalie Babbitt and used the fantastic descriptions that she creates as the base for my design. I wanted to capture the magic and nostalgia that I personally have for the story in an extremely visual way. I wanted to mimic the beauty and simplicity of the story through the set and took an artistic approach to the design.
The base for the design is a large lattice structure that creates three large, curved portals over the stage. Standing at twenty-four-feet tall, the wooden structure weighs in at over 8,000 pounds. It was important to create the idea that sometimes, a single person can feel small within the largeness of the world. The rest of the set is constructed almost completely out of ladders and wooden crates. The theme of the show questions immortality and the constant circle of life. The wood portals create the immensity of the circle, and the ladders remind us that everything has a progressive beginning and end. The hundreds of wooden crates are a visual representation of how we collect our memories and stories throughout our lives.
I say this with a laugh, because I don’t expect these metaphors to be something that the audience thinks about too deeply. However, I do feel the overall visual will be something remarkably beautiful and I hope that is what the audience sees and feels. This production will be something that our patrons have visually never seen on our stages before and it’s very exciting. Together with the lighting designer and props designer, we’ve had the overall goal to create the most beautiful picture possible for every scene, and that has made this a memorable project.
The conflict in the story is over the question, “If given the chance, would you choose to live forever?” I think this is an easy answer at first, but when presented with the reality of living a life without end, the question becomes debatable. This theme allows for heavy discussion among our theatre patrons of all ages. The themes of dealing with love, life, and loss are something we all deal with daily. Tuck Everlasting is a show that entertains yet stays with you and becomes a source of post-show discussion. The story reminds you to take a moment to treasure the relationships around you and reflect on the great aspects of every stage of life.