From plaster to performance: Set designer of ‘Dessa Rose’ on shaping imagination into reality

Bringing a historical tale to life is never an easy feat, but Bailiwick Chicago’s newest endeavor, “Dessa Rose,” accomplishes it triumphantly and gracefully. The production tells the tale of a beautiful friendship between two women troubled by wartime and personal turmoil.

The DePaulia had the opportunity to speak with set-designer Megan Truscott in order to learn about the show from a whole new perspective.

The DePaulia: Can you tell me a little bit about the show in general and what your role has been, as scenic designer, in bringing it to life?

Megan Truscott: The show, “Dessa Rose,” is a story about two women, one black, a runaway slave, and one white who is a plantation owner whose husband has left her. They are trying to figure out their lives in the 1840s or 1850s and just the journey that women have had to take in owning their own selves. White women in that time were often seen as their husband’s property, and of course, slavery is slavery. It’s basically a story about how their journeys and their ideas about each other shift and change as their journey progresses. My role in it as scenic designer is basically to design the set, to tell the story and aid the story through the actual locations. It’s a show that moves quite quickly from place to place. That is very evocative of the time, you know, of the pre-Civil War South that does not remain in one place.

DP: Are there any main misconceptions that people have about what scenic designers do?

MT: I think most of the time they just don’t know what designers do. I often get asked if I am responsible for building and painting as well as designing. Sometimes this is true, but for other, larger, shows you just hand in the design and they have people that do it for you, which is wonderful.

DP: What has been your very favorite thing about being a part of this performance?

MT: I love Bailiwick Chicago, which is the company that is producing the show, and I love getting to work with them and be around them; they are a really positive group. Honestly, that is the best part, the people and hanging out with the cast during tech week and the director Lillian Brown is brilliant. It’s been really great to get to work with them and getting to meet new people in the company and sort of continue that relationship.

DP: Did you always know that you wanted to pursue scenic design, or have you been a part of other areas of the world of theater, as well?

MT: I did know – when I was in seventh grade I think, which is kind of strange. I really liked theater, and some of my siblings decided that they wanted to try acting, so they kind of brought me into the world of theater, but I’m an awful actress. So I tried but realized that I was very good visually in arts and that there was kind of an intersection between visual arts and theater in terms of design. So it’s a lot of fun getting to kind of control the entire look of the world.

DP: If you could tell your audience one thing before they see this show, what would it be?

MT: I would say to enjoy it and to go into it with an open mind and a real sense of adventure and discovery because it is such a great show. It tells a story from the perspective of two women which is not the most common thing in theater so go into it with an open mind and be ready to be taken on a journey.

“Dessa Rose” will be at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater until April 5.