Cousin Bette: Scenic Design Process with Tom Buderwitz

Cousin Bette is moving into tech! At the first rehearsal Scenic Designer Tom Buderwitz shared with the cast his design and some of the research he compiled  for Cousin Bette. Check out the images below for some of the highlights. Tom was kind enough to answer a few questions about his process and the design experience so far.

Antaeus Company is staging the world premiere of Cousin Bette. What are the benefits and challenges of working on a play that has never been staged before?

I love working on world premiere plays because I get to create a world that has never been created before. With a new play, there are no existing preconceived notions of what the design has been or should be. The challenge in designing a world premiere is that there are often many modifications to the script along the way and the design must maintain the ability to adapt and flow with the process.

Scenic Model for Cousin Bette, by Tom Buderwitz

What overall is your favorite part of the design process? It is always the collaboration with all of the other artists: the Director, Actors, other Designers and in this case the Playwright too. The give and take of ideas and the discussion and discovery within the text always generates wonderful new approaches to servicing the play.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when coming up with this design?

The biggest challenges with the Cousin Bette design were use of space and use of budget. The Deaf West Theater is a very small space and this play requires a large number of actors onstage plus multiple pieces of furniture that suggest numerous locations. The use of the physical “real estate” is always at a premium. In 99 seat Theater, budget is almost always a challenge. I always try to make sure that any monies spent really show onstage. The budget must be carefully allotted for things that are vital to the play.

Balzac was often called the Father of Realism. Did you often refer back to Balzac’s book when researching design inspiration & details for Cousin Bette?

Initially, I began with Jeffrey’s script and the researching of Paris in the early-mid 1800’s. Once the design process was under way, I did look to the Balzac novel for some extra information and textual reinforcement.

When researching Cousin Bette what was the most interesting piece of inspiration you discovered?

The most interesting piece of inspiration I discovered was pretty much everything to do with Paris. I love Paris! The pouring through photographic research for this production brought back wonderful memories of traveling there last year. It is the most evocative city I have ever been to. Paris is so rich in history, culture, style and “joie de vivre”.

Scenic Designer, Tom Buderwitz's Design for Cousin Bette

Which elements of the design are you most excited to see come to life? The interaction between the Actors and the physical world is always exciting to see come together. The design must fully support the action and the Actors need to feel totally in unison with their environment. Scenic Design is never fully complete until inhabited by the characters within the story.  

What has the experience been like so far working with the Antaeus Company? How has it differed from other theatres you have worked with? This is my second production with Antaeus. Pera Palas, which was co-produced with the Theater @ Boston Court in 2005, was my first. I love the true “ensemble” nature of this company. The Antaeus Company has one of the finest collections of acting talent in this country. It is a company of artists, who are all truly committed to the art and craft of the Theater. The Antaeus experience is different from the experience at other Theaters in that everyone here has a very deep level of personal investment. It is a company where all are dedicated to honoring the dramatic process and there is the highest level of mutual creative respect among its members.

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Tom Buderwitz at Cousin Bette Design Presentation

Tom Buderwitz (Scenic Design) previously designed Pera Palas for Antaeus and the Theatre @ Boston Court. Tom has designed for: South Coast Repertory, Geffen Playhouse, Intiman Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Denver Center Theater Company, Reprise Theater Company, Laguna Playhouse, A Noise Within, Arizona Theater Company, San Diego Repertory, Portland Repertory, I.C.T. and P.C.P.A. Theaterfest among many others. Tom has been honored with 3 L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Awards (12 nominations) and 3 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards. For Television, Tom has designed series and specials for every major broadcast and cable network and has received 3 Emmy Award nominations and an Art Director’s Guild Award nomination. www.tombuderwitz.com

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