Scenic designer Robbie Jones is rocking his actors' onstage worlds.
Jones designed the sets for the University of Nebraska at Omaha's production of “Female Transport,” a play about British female prisoners being transported by ship to a penal colony in Australia in 1806.
The entire play, which opens Friday, takes place on the ship. Jones designed the sets to rock side to side, resembling the motion the women would feel on a ship rocked by the ocean.
“Robbie is such a builder, a miracle maker,” director Doug Paterson said last week. “We're using tech week to get the actors and technicians adjusted to the motion.”
Paterson said the rocking is done by hand backstage. The process is so quiet that the show's sound designer is adding recorded boat creaking.
Paterson finds themes of class and gender privilege in the script. He said it's no accident that the captain's area of the ship, located above the prisoners' setpieces, does not rock.
“He's above it all,” Paterson said. “Down below is where things are dicey.”
While there is initial hostility between the women, Paterson said, they come to understand there's much more in common among them than with those in power.
“It's a brutal play, very profane language,” he said.
“Female Transport,” by Steve Gooch, premiered in 1973. Paterson chose it as the first show he directed at UNO in April 1981. He said it's been a joy to return to the script, set in a time when feudal aristocracy was collapsing and wealthy capitalists began to control the economy.
At the same time, the industrial revolution sent many people to the cities. Women sometimes turned to con games, prostitution or theft to survive.
“Property became sacred,” he said. “Back then they hanged a lot of people for theft.”
Or sent them to Australia.
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