Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog



Set Designer Judy Gailen returns to Merrimack Rep as a designer for a third time with The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. As we are going into technical rehearsals on the show this week, now is the perfect time for Judy to share her thoughts on the design, and give you a sneak peak at the set.

Is there a specific theme or motif that you’ve tried to express in the set design for Blonde?

Set model for The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. Design by Judy Gailen.

What we started out looking for was a very flexible, space that would take projections, be able to be lit from behind to accommodate certain lighting techniques, and work for certain costume changes. (I don’t want to give too much away here!).  At first, I wasn’t looking at a theme or motif as much as a space that would fulfill our needs. There are a lot of technical requirements because of the nature of the character changes. I started playing around with just the idea of screens, which evolved into the Shoji screen idea from the detail suggested by the final scene of the play, as well as a comment from the director about the final scene feeling like a Zen garden in its simplicity. 

In Blonde, actress Karen MacDonald plays all 7 roles, so she has to change costumes to switch between characters. How will the set help address the any issues this may present? 

The set is all about the changes! We are using the movement of the screens and the projections to travel from one character to another. So, besides giving Karen places to change her costumes (each one is a different process), we are taking the audience on a journey from one character’s world to the next.

Set model for The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. Design by Judy Gailen.

From a technical perspective, what was your biggest challenge in designing the set of Blonde, and how did you resolve this issue? Did the stage present any unique issues?

The stage is very small, oddly shaped, and doesn’t have much wing space. That was the biggest issue. I think the screens in that space work very well to create spaces that feel different from one another in how they close down or open up to fit each character.

You have designed at Merrimack Rep before, for our productions of The Drawer Boy, and Something in the Air. Could you compare what you are trying to achieve with the Blonde set to those other experiences?


Not really! What has been so enjoyable about the three shows is that they were all so different. In each case, though, I wanted to create the right world for the plays to exist. Both of those earlier designs were beautifully realized on the MRT stage, so I was very happy to be getting the chance to create another world for this play!

For you, what is the single most important element to consider when designing a set?


To serve the text, or the music/libretto, or the dance, depending on what the show is! In the best of all possible worlds, the entire creative team has that same vision, which is to create a believable world for the actors in the work to inhabit. By believable, I don’t necessarily mean realistic…it can be thoroughly wacky…but it needs to be the right place for the unique characters in the piece!

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