fbpx

Meet The Artist: KING CHARLES III Scenic Designer G. W. Mercier

Meet The Artist: KING CHARLES III Scenic Designer G. W. Mercier

AUTHOR: Erin Treat, Online Engagement Coordinator

G. W. Mercier is the scenic designer for ATC’s 50th Anniversary Season-opener, King Charles III. His past work includes Head of Passes (Public Theater), for which he received Lucile Lortel and Drama Desk Award nominations; and Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass, for which he received a Tony Award nomination and two Drama Desk Award nominations; among other projects. He has a long working relationship with the show’s director, Matt August, and he is bringing his considerable talent to ATC’s stages for the first time.

ATC:
Do you remember what first inspired you to become a designer for the theatre? What was that moment?

Mr. Mercier:
I was an English major at UC Berkeley and wandered into an office in a part of the campus that I had never seen. The walls were covered with sketches and photos of set designs. A man sat at a drawing table and seemed delighted that I took an interest. I looked at every image and was there for a few hours. After I finished absorbing the work, I asked, “Did you do all this?” He nodded. I then questioned incredulously, “And they pay you for this?” With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Not enough!”

The man was Henry May, who was a professor of scenic design. Walking through that door changed my life. Degrees in Art, Psychology, and English all merged into a cohesive whole. I never knew theatre design was a profession and had never seen a professional show. Henry encouraged me to take classes with him. I realized he was the happiest person I had ever met, which impressed me more than anything. After a few years of intense focus, he told me that I needed to go to the Yale School of Drama to continue study with Ming Cho Lee. I spent three years in New Haven and achieved an MFA, and from there started working in New York.

ATC:
In addition to scenic design, you also design costumes and puppets. How are the disciplines similar (or different) in terms of your process?

Mr. Mercier:
There is no difference for me. I take a scenographic approach (more typically found in Europe), in which there is no barrier between disciplines. I see the world as a whole and am capable of realizing sets, costumes, or puppets.

ATC:
Do you have a favorite design discipline?

Mr.Mercier:
I like doing them equally. Although puppets never talk back, I miss their opinion.

ATC:
In the past, you’ve worked with some directors [like Julie Taymor] who have very distinctive visual styles. How do you incorporate your own vision as a designer when you work with auteur directors?

Mr. Mercier:
A good collaboration between designers and directors erases walls. Some directors are very visual and others are not. It is always about unifying a vision, and with the best collaborators, it does not matter who brings what to the table. With unhealthy collaborations, one is forced to become a puppet to the other. Collaborations take work to be sure this never happens. We own all ideas together.

ATC:
How did you get involved with this project?

Mr. Mercier:
Matt August [the director] called and asked me to read the script. He and I like working together and have a strong history of successful shows.

ATC:
Can you talk a bit about your design concept for this show?

Mr. Mercier:
Our visual focus is the struggle between the monarchy and democracy. In the simplest form, a flag and a crown. The shifting landscape and shadows reflects the internal unbalance of the characters when caught between two powerful forces.

ATC:
Are there specific elements in the scenic design that you hope the audience notices?

Mr. Mercier:
No. The goal is to provoke connection between the action and and audience so the viewer is a part of the action, as opposed to removed observer. I am happiest when the audience connects with action, then becomes thoroughly engaged with the journey to the point of not focusing on the set or costumes or puppets.

ATC:
Do you have a favorite moment in the show (that doesn’t give anything away)?

Mr. Mercier:
My hope is the whole experience will be seamless. If we do our job, there will be no way to have a favorite moment. [As of September 1,] the set is loading into the theatre; Matt is working through the show with the actors; on Saturday, the designers will see a run-through in the rehearsal room for the first time. Then we all work in the theatre together through technical rehearsals, leading to an experience with the audience to judge whether we reach our combined goal. I can’t wait.

Leave a Comment

*