The artistic challenge of creating a multipurpose theatre set

Ryan Cormack is building a flexible set for the upcoming production of FourPlay



Set designer Ryan Cormack has undertaken an ambitious project to develop a multi-purpose set for the upcoming production of FourPlay at Studio 58. 

FourPlay, which features four one-act plays written and performed by current and former Langara College students, will be premiered at the college March 27 to April 7. Studio 58 always works on a limited budget, and there is also a tight deadline by which the set must be built.  

New plays are premiered for different FourPlay productions at Studio 58 every few years. This provides the student playwrights, who sometimes go on tour afterwards, with an opportunity to have their plays performed, as it can be challenging to have one’s theatrical works put on in such a competitive industry.  

Set designer creates vision by uncovering unifiable facets between contrasting elements

Cormack said the challenge of designing the FourPlay set involved finding the “through line between the different shows.” For example, the plot of one play takes place in a Vancouver basement apartment, while another takes place in a courtroom at the bottom of the ocean. After communicating with his colleagues, Cormack created his vision for the set.  

“We kind of came up with this idea for a very large 20- by 10-foot wall that has a whole bunch of different panels that can move and can open,” Cormack said.  

Production manager Ruth Bruhn said the set will be installed two weeks before the production opens. According to Bruhn, the set must be versatile because the production team will only have 15 minutes to switch between shows. 

“There’ll be two shows on one night and two shows on the other night,” Bruhn said.  

 Sewit Eden Haile, who wrote one play and is acting in another play within FourPlay, praised Cormack’s effort to make a set that is efficient, sustainable and eco-friendly. 

“I think this is genuinely one of the most brilliant sets I’ve ever seen,” Haile said.  

Student playwright sends a powerful message

Haile acknowledged that, as a playwright and an actor, she does not face the budget issues Cormack is dealing with. However, writing her one-act play, Pretty Girls, presented several complications for her.  

“Staying on track and making sure the play has the message that I want it to have was really difficult,” Haile said.  

Haile undertook some risk with Pretty Girls, which revolves around girls with eating disorders. Furthermore, she wanted to write material that would “honour the acting students,” while giving them something to “sink their teeth into.” 


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