Randy Rasmussen’s Set Design Legacy

 

Randy Rasmussen designed his first Plan-B set for MACBETH in 1991, the second-ever Plan-B production. He worked on and off with Plan-B over the next nine years and has designed nearly every set since 2000.

Although he’s departing Salt Lake City on Sunday for an exciting new opportunity at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, you’ll still see his signature style in the first two shows of the 2015/16 season: THE KRUETZER SONATA and BOOKSMART.

Above is an image of every Plan-B set Randy has designed. Below are some thoughts about him and his work.

Break a leg!

What I have loved during the 15 years since I joined Plan-B is finding that moment when our brains find a way to be in sync, when I start to see what you see; when you start to see what I see; and we can really build a show together. I have so many joyous memories: the first time I met you at your rental house on 1300 South to talk about MOLLY SWEENEY–you were building a fat suit; you arranging corn kernels on the floor of SHE WAS MY BROTHER; the first time the door slid open in AMERIKA; the jolt of energy the haphazard stacks of books brought to PILOT PROGRAM; the creepy minimalism of NOTHING PERSONAL; the trap door that scared the hell out of Cheryl every time she threw it open in ANIMAL FARM; watching you watch HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH each time we did it; and the simple elegance of the grave and the curved backdrop of FACING EAST.

You understand minimalism in a way no one else does.

I just want to say thank you for everything. I am in awe of your talent. I am sad to see you go but also incredibly excited for you. Plan-B wouldn’t have succeeded as it has without you. Honestly. And god you make me laugh – big belly laughs – which I don’t get much in my life. I will miss that.

Much love to you Randy – you have made my life richer. I am a better person and artist for knowing you.

Jerry Rapier, Artistic Director

Director, MOLLY SWEENEY, THE LARAMIE PROJECT, MY LEFT BREAST, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, ANIMAL FARM, PATIENT A, AMERIKA, FACING EAST, EXPOSED, GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!, THE TRICKY PART, BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, WALLACE, AMERIGO, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, BORDERLANDS, LADY MACBETH, THE THIRD CROSSING, ERIC(A), NOTHING PERSONAL, MAMA, PILOT PROGRAM

The first word that came to my mind when asked to write something about the extraordinary set designer, Randy Rasmussen, might seem strange. Perhaps words like – visionary, artistry, intelligence, wonderfully effective and moving – all of which describe Randy and his work would have been appropriate, but the first word in my mind was trust. I had acted in a number of plays at Plan B – all on Randy’s sets and I was always so excited to see what he was going to come up with. Each time his set designs were . . . well, not to overstated it, but – perfect. So when I was asked to direct A/VERSION OF EVENTS for Plan-B I trusted Randy completely. I knew he would come up with something stunning, and of course, he did. In a collaborative art form such as theatre, you rely heavily on the element of trust. You do your very best to work with people you can rely on to add something great to the project and Randy Rasmussen did that – every time. Thank you Randy for your amazing work. You will be greatly missed.

Christy Summerhays

Director, A/VERSION OF EVENTS; Actor, AMERIKA, MESA VERDE, 3

It’s difficult for me to point to any one design of Randy’s; all his work complemented my own so beautifully. But if I had to pick one, it would be his design for NOTHING PERSONAL. Randy was so unafraid of simplicity. And he was the ultimate artistic collaborator. The NOTHING PERSONAL design was stark, simple, and frankly pretty terrifying, which suited the play perfectly. Nothing extraneous, every choice perfectly creating the world of the play. He will be missed.

Eric Samuelsen

Playwright, MIAMSA, AMERIGO, BORDERLANDS, NOTHING PERSONAL, CLEARING BOMBS, 3

For many many reasons, SUFFRAGE will always hold a special place in my heart. One of them was the feeling I had when I first saw the landscape Randy created. It was so ethereal, vast, and…timeless. He built a horizon that gave the story and its characters depth and texture. It was absolutely lovely.

Jenifer Nii

Playwright, WALLACE, THE SCARLET LETTER, SUFFRAGE

Wow. I can’t believe Randy is leaving. I love doing shows with Plan-B partly because I know I’ll never have to worry about the set. I’ve kind of taken that for granted. For my play MAMA I specifically left it up to interpretation, I remember not worrying at all about how it was going to look and what it was going to be. When I saw what he had done, I simply said, “Awesome, this looks great!” and went on my merry way. What a testament to this man. I hope to someday be looked at the same way in my craft, when people just know and assume I’ll do a great job. And the designs differ so amazingly: just this past season, from the over-top-top CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS to the starkness of MAMA to the car in A/VERSION OF EVENTS to the living room in PILOT PROGRAM.  Everything Randy designed was professional and beautiful. He will be sorely missed and impossible to replace.

Carleton Bluford

Playwright, MAMA; Actor, WALLACE, THE THIRD CROSSING, A/VERSION OF EVENTS

I love Randy’s work: the Zuni pueblo he built for SHE WAS MY BROTHER was accurate, evocative, and provided an excellent playing space. And then there was the oversized Christmas box for CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS: funny, smart and a great metaphor for both the season and the play. I love his work, always, as a writer as an audience member. He’s a damn genius!

Julie Jensen

Playwright, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS

Not long after I started preparation to direct THE END OF THE HORIZON, I got a call from Randy. “I’ve got an idea you might hate or love,” he said. “Let me run it by you.”

He proceeded to tell me about a bunch of metal scaffolding he had seen that he thought might work for the set. Metal scaffolding? I couldn’t imagine how it could work for a play set in the clay and sagebrush red-rock country of Southern Utah. Then I met with Randy!

He showed me sketches of his ideas. Explained how light would bounce off the metal like sun off the red rock. Described the various acting levels we could get. It was brilliant.

Randy’s artistry opened possibilities for the play that I hadn’t even imagined. His vision jump-started the entire production and both literally and figuratively took us to amazing heights. His departure will leave a huge hole in the Utah theatre community. We will miss him sorely!

Kay Shean

Director, THE END OF THE HORIZON

I remember getting to a tech rehearsal early and trouncing around on Randy’s epic postmodern tree that filled the stage in ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA. That play was a personal one for me but it wasn’t until I saw the world that set created that it felt real. That’s the magic of theatre in a nutshell: the theoretical made tangible so that a story can come alive for an audience. Randy’s set did that for my play and I’ll always be grateful for that.

Matthew Greene

Playwright, ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA

I have two, WAIT, NO THREE, okay FOUR—it’s too hard to choose—but I’ll stick to these four favorites of Randy’s sets:

First is the set for THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. This “invented” radio station not only brought the audience into the intimacy of an early-to-mid-20th-century broadcast studio, it was just fetching to look at! I loved that set.

But by far my favorite Randy Rasmussen set to act on was AMERIKA. With my apology to everyone else involved with AMERIKA, I think that set was the best part of that production. It was better than the script. Better than all three of us actors (actually the set was the fourth actor). It was other-worldly, the biggest-little-playing-space, it seemed like the show would never work on anything else (even though it eventually did work in Toronto on just the ground cloth)—which, again, was Randy’s idea, I think! Oh man, the AMERIKA set was so much “fun” to plan on.

My favorite Randy set to look at as a member of the cast was probably THE LARAMIE PROJECT. It was just beautifully painted, raw panels arranged to give us multiple entrance/exit points. So beautiful that when Charles Lynn’s character says that line near the end of the play about the way Laramie twinkles on the horizon, how could you just not sob?

My favorite Randy set to look at from the audience is probably ADAM & STEVE AT THE EMPTY SEA. That tree. ‘nuff said!

Randy’s best example of using set design as art unto itself is DI ESPERIENZA. That set looked hella (can I use that word?) rad (can I use that one?). The play about the doubts of a genius was staged on the shoulders of one too!

OMG I just remembered ANIMAL FARM! No, maybe that was the coolest set to act on.

Okay, this is too hard. There is no replacing you Mr. Rasmussen. I’m not sure how Plan-B is Plan-B with you in Santa Fe. We are seriously going to miss you. No one knows how to envision intimate mimimalist sets like you, you handsome bastard. I can’t believe you’re leaving us!

Kirt Bateman

Director, TRAGEDY: a tragedy; Actor, THE LARAMIE PROJECT, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, ANIMAL FARM, EXPOSED, DI ESPERIENZA, AMERIGO, BORDERLANDS, LADY MACBETH, NOTHING PERSONAL, CLEARING BOMBS, CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS

The warmth and safety of the kiva in MESA VERDE tops the list. And I loved the food storage set for 3. We will miss you.

Teresa Sanderson

Actor, ANIMAL FARM, EXPOSED, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE, DI ESPERIENZA, 3

The first time I worked with Plan-B was on THE END OF THE HORIZON. The play involved a number of locales and Randy’s multi-level, abstract construction of a set accommodated them all. Two visual moments in particular I recall: David Fetzer, playing Everett Ruess and talking about how he liked to take chances climbing the canyons of the Colorado Plateau – while he’s hanging from one of the upright elements and swinging out over the edge of Randy’s set. And the amazing petroglyph panel on the back wall.

Debora Threedy

Playwright, THE END OF THE HORIZON, WALLACE, THE THIRD CROSSING

When I first saw Randy’s set for PILOT PROGRAM, it was a moment of validation. I thought, “He gets the play. He just gets it.” Randy’s set was simple yet functional, invoking a feeling of home and comfort that perched carefully on the brink of darkness. He had created a home wherein truths could be told, which is necessary for a play like this one to work. Intimacy yet openness. It’s a careful balance. Randy’s designs are beautiful devices of communication, relaying and supporting important bits of the play at hand. While I look forward to PILOT PROGRAM’S next production, I don’t know that I’ll be able to let go of the distinctive look lent it by Randy’s design.

Melissa Leilani Larson

Playwright, PILOT PROGRAM

My first show at Plan-B was AMERIKA and it was my first time on a Randy Rasmussen set.  t was one thing to read about playing in a box, it was another thing entirely to actually step into an elevated set that was…Literally. A. Box. Performing on that set perfectly played into the claustrophobic nature of the script. I had never seen anything like it and haven’t since. A talented, talented, and maybe a tad twisted  man. Will  miss you, Mr. Rasmussen.

Teri Cowan

Actor, AMERIKA, THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, EXPOSED, BORDERLANDS

Even in a staged reading of MESA VERDE, Randy wanted atmosphere. He dragged in a red-rock boulder and hung a wooden ladder from the ceiling. It felt like a production. Then, when we fully staged the play, he surprised me by totally re-envisioning! He went to the play’s interior and pulled together imagery—descending into darkness, the circles we walk in life—and built a representation of a kiva that was more immediate and haunting than a literal suggestion of a kiva.

A good set designer gives you a pretty backdrop for the action. A great set designer evokes the spirit of the words—and does it subtly.

In the early drafts of BLOCK 8, I had an incredibly specific series of silhouettes in my head that would, I hoped, be a part of the set. Jerry steered me away from set-designing on the page so explicitly and to let Randy come up with something on his own. What emerged was a simple background of shoji screens shaped like barracks. Randy had taken an object with a connotation of intimacy and made it into a library, a garden—an internment camp. He could have easily done barbed wire and evacuation posters, but he chose instead an object of intimacy. It was brilliant, really. Looking at the archival pictures now, I appreciate again how deeply he thinks.

My latest gratitude for Randy is, of course, for my latest play, A/VERSION OF EVENTS. It’s a road-trip story, set almost entirely in a car. I felt the set couldn’t simply be two chairs: there was too much driving and too much realism for the actors to pantomime for seventy-five minutes. But other than requesting a steering wheel, I had no help to give. As usual, he came back with something completely minimal, but this time it was a sculpture in its own right. Everyone commented on the set. With modeled PVC and paint, he made the half-finished frame of a car. And it acted exactly like a frame, creating the sort of up-closeness and claustrophobia I wanted. The characters, in Randy’s frame, seemed both near and far.

Santa Fe is a perfect city for Randy, I think. When I heard he was moving there, I thought, “Of course.” I’m confident that he’ll be a beacon there like he is here. I’m sure, like me, the other Plan-B writers went “Oh man!” right after they thought “Of course.” It’s not just the sets for me that I loved. There’s a parade of stand-outs in my mind: the sets for ADAM & STEVE & THE EMPTY SEA, THE SCARLET LETTER, THE END OF THE HORIZON, and more.

Simply put, the man’s an artist.

Matthew Ivan Bennett

Playwright, BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE, MESA VERDE, A/VERSION OF EVENTS

Everything you’ve created at Plan-B has been astonishing. My favorite spaces have always been ones you created, whether I’ve been on the stage or sitting in the audience. Your creations have combined efficiency and elegant simplicity while giving actors and audiences all the space we could ask for to fill in the gaps and imagine what’s just around that corner. Your art has lifted us and given us a sacred space. I can never thank you enough for that.

There have been so many, but FACING EAST is the one that remains, everlasting, in my soul. We did it so many times! I can still feel the groundcloth, that used, abused piece of fabric we all spent so much time on. A hole in the ground. A backdrop, so beautifully painted. Simple. Perfect.

SHE WAS MY BROTHER was unforgettable as well. I felt just like I was in the Pueblo we’d visited in Zuni before starting rehearsal. I remember seeing it for the first time and hardly being able to contain my excitement to climb up on it and play.

Some of my richest memories are set in spaces you imagined, Randy. You have my deepest gratitude for what you’ve given to me and to this community and I’m eternally grateful to have had so much time in the process with you. Good luck and many broken legs as you embark on your next adventure!

Jay Perry

Actor, TRAGEDY: a tragedy, FACING EAST, THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, LADY MACBETH, CLEARING BOMBS

When I first read ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA it became apparent that to me that one of the main things that could make or break this production was the set. The play called for a large, expansive, comforting, covering tree to fill the space. The tree had to have weight and dominate the stage. The kind of tree that could stand the test of time and act as a constant while we watched these two boys lives change. It is not a small task to make this come to life in the theater and as a director I was very nervous that we were not going to be able to fully find it. My first meeting with Randy put all of my fears to rest. He clearly understood the needs of the play and went far beyond what I could have imagined. And it was beautiful.

Jason Bowcutt

Director, ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA; Actor, THE END OF THE HORIZON

Favorite Randy set?! That’s like picking a favorite child…seriously.

I guess I’m going to have to talk about the MIASMA set because it was my first Randy experience.

First of all, having the set complete and ready to romp on from the first day of rehearsal was entirely unexpected. That set existing as a literal playground was a revelation. Having a swing, places to climb, places to balance, places to hide, places that were a little bit dangerous–made the whole experience so much more visceral. It was easier for me to play Clare at different ages and in different circumstances because the set completely supported everything I needed to believe about the world I was inhabiting. His sets, in my experience, have always been that perfect combination of artful and practical that makes them a place where a play can take shape and then live and breathe.

April Fossen

Actor, MIASMA, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, MESA VERDE, LADY MACBETH, SUFFRAGE, NOTHING PERSONAL, PILOT PROGRAM

It’s pretty impossible to choose the favorite set of Randy’s I’ve acted on. Each is so unique, so vital to the experience of the play. I remember first seeing the mushroom cloud of EXPOSED, lurking in the labrythine shadows of THE SCARLET LETTER, living in the Husten home in PILOT PROGRAM, and many others.

There was something really special about AMERIGO, though. In many ways, it was an exercise in abstract minimalism —four transparent chairs, a floor covering, and a backdrop. The greatest set designers create not a backdrop for the action, but an engine for acting, a series of pathways that suggest movement and flows of energy. The map on the floor did that so clearly in AMERIGO, brilliantly turning an abstract intellectual debate into a series of strikes, feints and maneuvers on the map of worlds both Old and New. It all very very real and grounded as I stalked the lines of the map, and it will always be a memorable experience.

Mark Fossen

Actor, THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, EXPOSED, AMERIGO, THE SCARLET LETTER, CLEARING BOMBS, PILOT PROGRAM

I loved all his designs but my most favorite was actually not a play I was in. I loved the design of PILOT PROGRAM. It was rich and warm and comfortable. and made me want to curl up with one of the books and read all day long.

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin

Actor, THE THIRD CROSSING, NOTHING PERSONAL, MAMA

When I think of collaborations with Randy the one that immediately popps into my head is THE THIRD CROSSING. Both scenically and costume wise, the visual picture was so simple. The pallette was stark and the the suggestions of locations and costume pieces were minimal. The stories were told unencubered by techical elements, and yet the experience for the audience was rich. I have always appreciated Randy’s ability to let a single visual feature hold the stage.

Phillip R. Lowe

Costume Designer, ANIMAL FARM, BLOCK 8, WALLACE, AMERIGO, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, BORDERLANDS, LADY MACBETH, THE THIRD CROSSING, THE SCARLET LETTER, ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, SUFFRAGE, NOTHING PERSONAL, CLEARING BOMBS, 3, CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS, MAMA, A/VERSION OF EVENTS, PILOT PROGRAM

Randy, like few theatre professionals, can make more magic out of less money and materials than any normal person should be able to. Thank you for sharing your intelligence and creativity on LADY MACBETH and AMERIKA especially. Good luck and a good life in Santa Fe!

Aden Ross

Playwright, AMERIKA, LADY MACBETH

My favorite Plan-B set so far has been Randy’s design for BLOCK 8. Randy provided an elegant architectural form that accepted light beautifully, but was not overly present on stage. This allowed me to highlight and subdue the structure easily based on the shifting needs of the text.

Jesse Portillo

Lighting Designer, EXPOSED, BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE, AMERIGO, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, MESA VERDE, BORDERLANDS, LADY MACBETH, THE SCARLET LETTER, THE THIRD CROSSING, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, SUFFRAGE, NOTHING PERSONAL, CLEARING BOMBS, 3, CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS, MAMA, A/VERSION OF EVENTS, PILOT PROGRAM

The thing I always liked about Randy is he only ever wants to put what is needed on stage to help tell the story and nothing else.

When we did A PLACE IN THE SKY, we knew we wanted to see pictures of the women pilots as part of the set. Randy painted these amazing oversized pictures of black-and-white photos, but he consciously avoided detail. You could see the outline of an airplane or a group of pilots, but nothing specific. It was a brilliant choice because the play about a relatively unknown piece of American history. The subject itself was a little fuzzy and Randy concretized that in his renderings. And of course the hand-painted pictures were the only thing on the set. Randy could have found period Juke boxes, and army cots, and other bits and pieces from the 1940s, but he knew that the hint of old photos was enough to establish time and place while simultaneously creating an environment where actors could cut loose and really tell their stories. Love that guy and am very sad to see him go, but thrilled at his career move.

We’ve been friends since our salad days at SUSC in Cedar City where we shared the stage in NiICHOLAS NICELY, he directed me as Bob Dylan in a one-act play, and I would model nude for him during the art classes he was taking (true story).

Tobin Atkinson

Playwright & Director, A PLACE IN THE SKY, THE ALIENATION EFFEKT; Actor, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE

Randy Rasmussen is so good using minimal sets to transport you to where you need to be for that play. MESA VERDE is probably my favorite of his, although it’s really hard to narrow it down. It was so simple and so easy, but I never questioned where we were. With the big red sun and kiva feel of the stage itself, it was just magical and peaceful and everything it needed to be.

Jennifer Freed

Stage manager of all but two shows Randy has designed since 2000

SUFFRAGE is my favorite Randy Rasmussen set for several reasons. It shows how good Randy is at taking something quite simple, and creating something extremely interesting and beautiful. I’m specifically referring to the background piece, which was actually  scrunched up metal mesh – the material used to make screen windows.

I loved how transformative it was. Sometimes it looked like mountains, sometimes like smoke and sometimes like clouds. I especially loved when it looked like smoke as it supported the militaristic feel I was going for as a director. And it really truly appeared to just be floating there behind the actors.  So lovely.

Many people have said to me, “What is Plan-B going to do without Randy?” Well, Randy won’t be totally gone from Plan-B. He will still be involved from time to time. He can’t be replaced, though. No one replaces Randy Rasmussen.

The bigger question for me is, “What am I going to do without Randy?” and “What are Randy’s SLC friends going to do without Randy?” We will all really REALLY miss living near him. I’ve lived with or near Randy pretty much since 1987, first in Cedar City where we met while attending SUSC, then here in SLC where we were roommates for a brief time and then always good friends. I’ve always thought of Randy as the nucleus of my wonderful group of college friends and he will always be that no matter where he is. He said “no crying” at his going away party and he doesn’t like to get particularly sentimental so I haven’t said this stuff directly to him. He gave me all his beads. No crying, now. He can’t be replaced. No one replaces Randy Rasmussen.

Cheryl Cuff, ManagingDirector

Director, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE, MESA VERDE, THE SCARLET LETTER, SUFFRAGE, CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS

Are you (or a do you know) a playwright under 35?
City Weekly's Best of Utah ARTs Awards (formerly Arty Awards, formerly Slammy Awards)

Pin It on Pinterest