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Theater Spotlight: White Hot Set

The set of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Old Times, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.

If you’ve seen Shakespeare Theatre Company’s excellent production of Old Times, chances are your first impression was of a monochromatic letterbox, as the minimalist all-white set seemed to float against the black proscenium (and if you haven’t seen Old Times, you need to get hopping over to the Lansburgh this week, as closing is July 3. It’s a thought-provoking performance of Pinter’s play, as Don noted in his review). Almost every surface is white, with glass and chrome punctuations.

Not surprisingly, it was the cleanest backstage I’ve ever seen.

An all-white set presents many challenges, from design to execution to maintenance. I spoke with designer Walt Spangler and the STC run crew about their experiences with Old Times, and even learned the secret ingredients to keeping whites bright and cigarette ash in its proper place. And when a set’s this minimal, it’s not a simple process – sometimes a designer has to go through fifty different ashtrays to find the perfect one. Continue reading