Right Here in (Fred M. Duer’s) River City!

Fred M. Duer

Scenic designer for The Music Man

On Tuesday, Fred M. Duer, the head of scenic design at the Department of Theatre and Drama and the scenic designer for the Indiana Festival Theatre, shared his Music Man designs with the cast of the show. “This is a large cast on a big stage,” Fred began, “and The Music Man needs to flow easily from one scene to another. So how are we going to bring on all these different locations—a train, the street at the center of town, porches, a footbridge, and the interiors of a library, the gym, and the Paroo household without slowing the show down for a dozen scene changes?

“The answer is that we’ll fly in a lot of the scenery”—that is, the scenery will be “stored” above the actors in the flies and raised and lowered into view at the appropriate time—”and a lot of the detailed furniture will be moveable and on wheels. And,” he said, looking at the cast, “you’ll be dancing the pieces on and off. It ought to be a smooth and fast-moving show.”

The style in Fred’s designs were, in part, based on a note to producers from author-composer Meredith Willson. “Dear Director,” wrote Willson. “The Music Man was intended to be a valentine and not a caricature….” Fred was reminded of the old-fashioned valentine cards from the early years of the 20th century, cards that were bordered with exquisite lace and filigree, not unlike the architecture to be found in Victorian houses. The resulting designs are both delicate and substantial. There’s an openness to the scenic pieces, but they are massive in scope, and they suggest that Victorian sense of large, yet intricate architecture. That they’ll be flown in and out of the Ruth N. Halls Theatre—our proscenium stage—only adds to their dual qualities of lightness and substance.

Here are examples of the designs, following the sequence of the scenes. First up, drawings in gray wash for the major scenes, followed by colored renderings, and ending up with painter’s elevations—detailed colored drawings used as a guide by scenic artists to match the set colors to the colors specified by the designer. You may click on any image to see a larger picture with more detail:

1.) Grey wash drawings

1set for the train

Opening the show, traveling salesmen ride the Rock Island train to River City, Iowa.

scenic design for River City's Main Street

Main Steet, where Harold Hill convinces the populace they need a boys' band by singing "Ya Got Trouble"

Paroo home interior

Mrs. Paroo, Marian, and Winthrop's home. Marian gives piano lessons here, and it's here that "Piano Lesson" and "Goodnight My Someone" are sung.

The Madison Gymnasium at River City High School

The Gym, where the town gathers to meet, speak, and rehearse for the 4th of July Sociable. And Harold sings "Seventy-Six Trombones" to get the townspeople excited about a new band.

Interior of the library

Marian is the town librarian, and it is here, not surprisingly, Harold sings "Marian the Librarian."

Front porches

There are several scenes that occur on the front porches of Mayor Shinn and Mrs. Paroo. It is, after all, summer in Iowa, and a lot of socializing takes place outside, where it is cooler. Marian sings "My White Knight" on the porch after Harold attempts to court her there.

The Footbridge

The Footbridge is the place in town where young lovers meet, usually at night, to spark and woo. It is here that Marian and Harold sing "Till There Was You."

2) Color renderings

By drawing on a black background the designer takes great control over how the colors on the set are represented. These drawings inform not only the director, but the lighting and costume designers. The renderings communicate the color choices the scenic designer is considering, and they begin a conversation and collaboration.

Main Street in color

Main Street

Mrs. Paroo's interior - color

Mrs. Paroo's interior

The Gymnasium - color

The Gymnasium

The Footbridge - color

The Footbridge

3) Painter’s elevations

The different signs that are hung on Main Street businesses

The signs that populate Main Street

The River City portal - and other elements

The lower left shows the background of the Train (mislabeled "RAIN"). Above the Train is the detail for the Footbridge, and above all of the elements is the over-arching "Portal," suggesive of an old-fashioned train station, announcing the town of River City.

The Paroo Home

The interior colors of the Paroo home, along with the exterior porches for the Paroos and the Shinns.

The Gymnasium

The background for the Gym with its high windows and exercise bars.

The painter's elevation of the Library set

The painter's elevation of the Library

Thanks to Sara Taylor for scanning the images and working them into shape!

Next week: more on building scenery and costumes, as well as some discussion about Robert Preston and his connection to the IU Theatre program.

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About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peak behind the curtain at the Indiana University Theatre Department productions and student work.
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One Response to Right Here in (Fred M. Duer’s) River City!

  1. Jeff Moore (MFA '96) says:

    Excellent to see the designs coming to life and the thoughts behind them! Keep it up!

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