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Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet
by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Nevada Conservatory Theatre- Black Box Theatre; February 2020

Direction: Kevin R. Free
Lighting Design: Catherine M. Pratt
Scenic Design: Whitney Lehn Meltz
Costume Design: Gabrielle Lewis
Sound Design: M. Sohaa Smith & Santiago J. Sanchez

Photography: Richard Brusky & Kirt Siders

Awards: 3rd Place, Southeastern Theatre Conference Design Competition 2021

"This unconventional coming-of-age play tells the story of Marcus, an African-American teen who searches for answers to family mysteries." Director Kevin R. Free wanted to focus on the secrets each character has. Each character’s secret juxtaposes their sweetness that is portrayed through character development and dialogue. These secrets form a hurricane around Marcus. The community swirls around Marcus while he is in the eye of the hurricane, searching for answers to his identity and secrets. While the community tries to protect their secrets, they expect Marcus to share his truth. Through discovery and growth, Marcus comes to learn that secrets hide in unspeakable beauty that makes us our own unique person. 

My lighting focused on the soft and sweet side of the characters to contrast scenic and costumes. This allowed for both sides of the characters to be seen. Research of artwork featuring pinks, teals, blues, and purples that blended and faded into each other captured the essence of the design. The color palette could easily shift to create beauty around the characters and set. The soft textures and edges of light beams allowed the design to blend and fade around the action, directing the audience’s focus to the action. 


Throughout the script, Marcus has inner monologues where he works through his dreams and secrets. Saturated tones of blues, purples, and reds were chosen to separate these moments from the rest of the production. During certain monologues, we see Marcus’ dreams come to life, giving a sense of heightened reality supported through these more saturated tones. As these monologues progressed, emphasis was put on the hidden beauty around the secrets. Through collaboration with Melz, inspiration for the hidden beauty stemmed from the Japanese art form kintsugi. This art is created when gold is added to cracks in pottery, showing how brokenness can create its own form of beauty. After several discussions, it became clear that the lighting would need to support these cracks and brokenness due to budget and labor constraints. Gobos in the shapes of various cracks were chosen and added to the platforms during the monologues. Placement and color were carefully chosen to both compliment the scenic design and lighting design in the monologue moments. 


The beauty that secrets are hidden in extends outside of the acting areas. With the pool of water and rain curtain, lighting worked to extend the beauty to these areas as well. Lights were added to the rain curtain, allowing for beauty to extend vertically in the space. 


Working with sound, lightning flashes were added to thunder. These flashes grew in intensity and size as the thunder increased in volume and intensity to visually show the storm approaching. In the end when the hurricane hits and tears apart Marcus’ world auditorily, these lightning flashes grew and tore apart the beauty surrounding Marcus before plummeting into darkness. 

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