In our initial design meeting, director Copeland Woodruff laid out one fundamental ground rule for the elements of the Let’s Make a Sandwich space: “If it’s there, I’m going to mess with it.” And that served as key inspiration during the design process. We were aiming to create a world where things were not as they seemed, much like the undertones of the Let’s Make a Sandwich video. This video, as well as two others: Labor and Childbirth and The Dangerous Stranger served as inspiration for the sets for the two operas. While the content of the video appears informative and rational, the subtext conveys discordant undertones. In the Let’s Make a Sandwich video, the narrator’s tone and the overly enthusiastic manner in which Sally and Mother tended to their sandwiches inferred that all was not well in the maternal bonding over cooked meals. In The Dangerous Stranger, the narrator seen mingling with young children seems sinister and the dictatorial male voice narrating an event that only a woman can know in Labor and Childbirth seems wrong.
In this opera, the conceptual nature of the work, paired with its specificity is liberating, albeit a challenge, especially when designing a new piece that has no previous production history to compare to, only a dated 1950’s informative video. Working on these two new pieces was a whirlwind of ideas and images. Copeland and I discussed the Twilight Zone-esque feel of Ouroboros, where the Director, Mother, and Sally all lived in a world where time was a repetitive continuum, where the generational roles occurred in sequence and were manipulated by a power beyond their means to break free, where natural and homicidal atrocities could take place with no force present to deliver retribution. We discussed how this tied into the more whimsical yet equally unsettling action of Rarebit, where an aged and delusional Sally Gasco seemed to be holding onto her sandwich as though it was a replacement for the child that had been ripped from her in Ouroboros.
From our discussion, we created an enigmatic world in which objects that are staples of the American kitchen are more than what they seem. Refrigerators, housing their usual occupants at one moment, turn into portals to a different dimension; plastic bags become amniotic sacs and kitchen islands and cashier counters hold dark secrets.
I’m certainly no foodie; however, this was sandwich not to be denied. I look forward to seeing this production come together and how two distinct stagings of two very different operas can elucidate the work to audiences.