With Halloween around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sink into the macabre imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. As we prepare to open our new production of The Tell-Tale Heart, we sat down with Erik Teague (Costume Design), Brian Allard (Lighting Design), and Daniel Pinha (Scenic Design) to get their input on the process of bringing the surreal, twisted world of Synetic’s Tell-Tale to life.
You’ve worked with Synetic plenty of times before…what keeps you coming back?
Erik: Paata and I are kindred spirits in so many ways. We both are drawn toward extremity in storytelling, which lends itself to the dramatic images that we create together. The mutual trust in each other’s process is a rare and beautiful thing for a designer to experience. I am happy to call him my Georgian brother. As challenging and crazy as things can often be, I love working with Synetic.
Brian: A few things keep me excited. First and foremost, the teams I get to work with. From the creative team, to the technicians, to the production and company staff, everyone is supportive and collaborative. And it shows in the completed work – the productions here are always amazing. I love the unique challenges presented by the nature of Synetic’s mission and style of productions.
Daniel: The profound passion that Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, the founders, infuse into their creative work, and their commitment to creating a space that encourages the fullest exploration of the human body, never ceases to amaze me as a set designer. What else can I ask for when I’m creating a space that is sure to be fully utilized rather than merely serving as decoration?
What’s different about this show, for you?
Erik: Edgar Allan Poe is one of my all time favorite authors and it’s a joy to bring his work to life. But more importantly, being a part of Paata’s return to the stage is an honor. It feels more precious than previous shows here.
Brian: For this show specifically, I really enjoy Poe’s short fiction works, so this was a fun opportunity to be a part of this bit of storytelling.
Daniel: Every story and creative work has the power to elicit something fresh from within me and provide me a unique perspective. This particular show unveils the coexistence of profound, contrasting human emotions, emphasizing that acknowledging these emotions can be enriching but, if we fail to strike a balance, potentially tragic.
Are there any things that you came up with at the start of the process that got left behind? Why?
Brian: There are always thoughts, ideas, and experiments that come up that don’t make it to the final production unchanged… so many ideas from everyone on the team get pulled in, tested, absorbed, modified, and more to make sure we’re telling the strongest story we can…I always love getting to the first run and seeing the first few cues that got programmed and seeing how the show evolved, then going through and editing to create a cohesive visual throughline.
Erik: Originally, there were more specifically 19th century references in the design, harkening to the source material. However, through the process, we found it was more powerful to bleed that out and create an intentionally unspecified time. It feels like more of a void space…‘Trusting the process’ is the name of the game.
Daniel: In life and in the realm of creative work, there are always aspects we should be willing to let go of. Some ideas may seem perfect in our minds, but when brought into the physical world, they can take on a different form entirely. When I initially embarked on designing the set, I envisioned a lot more movable set pieces, all meant to symbolize the accumulation of the Old Man character’s life experiences…The essence of the concept remains intact, and the reality we’ve achieved is a much-improved version for both the narrative and the overall production.
What stuck around? Why?
Erik: I have always thought of the two main characters as something out of a Samuel Beckett play. Both are decaying creatures in different ways. The Old Man is quite literally in the twilight of his life, his mind is fractured into a distortion of its former self. Edgar, the young man, his decay is moral, his degradation is internal. His madness is not hindered by want of vigor and youth, much to the old man’s misfortune. Because of this, the shades of early decomposition has been the inspiration for the color palette from the very beginning.
Brian: Should we have spoiler alerts? I think the [SPOILER REDACTED] was a big one, and an excellent example of all of the disciplines moving in the same direction – choreography, directorial, scenic, electrics, sound, costumes, and particularly props. While the specific execution for this moment may have changed, the vision of the moment did not, and it makes for a stunning scene on stage.
Daniel: The core concept is solid, it captures the accumulation we all amass throughout our lives, encompassing both material possessions and life experiences, as well as the maturity that only time can provide. I believe that this accumulation, along with the metaphorical dust on old objects, serves as a poignant reflection of the elderly, aging man who occupies this space.
What do you hope people experience watching The Tell-Tale Heart?
Erik: I hope that people experience the psychological tension and horror of this thriller classic. The performances by this cast exemplify the athleticism and art that our audiences have come to love and expect from this company. This show is Synetic horror at its best: plenty of macabre theater magic and a dash of black comedy.
Brian: I want them to feel the insanity and paranoia of our main characters, and to walk away having seen something that is simultaneously visually stunning, incredibly memorable, and makes them think.
Daniel: A great show that has the power to exhilarate and, at the same time, encourage deep reflection on universal themes.
Is there anything you’d hope they take away from it?
Erik: If you start seeing Vultures on your couch, you might need to consider a good therapist.
Brian: I want to come away knowing I’ve done my best to help tell the story.
Daniel: I hope the audience will take a moment to reflect on the meaning of their own lives and our shared human finitude. How can we truly appreciate life while our faculties remain intact? The show explores the relationship between an elderly man and his caregiver, delving into the challenges of aging that affect all those involved. My aspiration is that words like acceptance, empathy, and understanding resonate with them as they exit the theater.
The Tell-Tale Heart opens September 29th and runs until November 5th at Synetic Theater! Get your tickets today.