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‘Thunderdome’ provides inspiration for set of Charlottetown Festival’s 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

Set designer Cory Sincennes gives readers a sneak peek of the set for “Jesus Christ Superstar” that theatregoers will see at tonight’s opening at the Homburg Theatre of Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.
Set designer Cory Sincennes gives readers a sneak peek of the set for “Jesus Christ Superstar” that theatregoers will see at tonight’s opening at the Homburg Theatre of Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. - Sally Cole

When Cory Sincennes was asked to design the set and costumes for “Jesus Christ Superstar”, he was faced with a huge challenge.

He wanted to create an onstage visual at this year’s Charlottetown Festival that was different, not a repeat of anything that had been done before.

The award-winning designer also wanted to create a set that people could relate to.

But before he could design anything, he had to do his homework. He started by reading the script and doing some research.

“I approached it like any play and looked at what the requirements were, what the story was and who these characters were, as well as the world that they need to inhabit.

Costume designer Cory Sincennes says the wig room of the Confederation Centre of the Arts is his favourite place. It’s where the wigs are stored and maintained for Charlottetown Festival’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical”. Honey Landry is the wig mistress at the centre.
Costume designer Cory Sincennes says the wig room of the Confederation Centre of the Arts is his favourite place. It’s where the wigs are stored and maintained for Charlottetown Festival’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical”. Honey Landry is the wig mistress at the centre.

The musical is based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus' life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. The iconic 1970s rock score contains such well-known numbers as “Superstar,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Gethsemane”.“It’s a well-known story, it’s from the Bible, so there’s biblical imagery. Beyond that, what is the world that they live in,” says the designer of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that opens tonight at the Homburg Theatre of Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.

Need to know:

  • What: “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
  • When and where: Homburg Theatre of Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown until Sept. 22.
  • Tickets: Available from the Confederation Centre Box Office, by calling 902-566-1267, 1-800-565-0278 or going to www.confederationcentre.com.

In the end, it took a conversation with artistic director Adam Brazier to provide Sincennes with the design inspiration he was looking for.

 “Adam had a wonderful idea. He wanted the set to be like the Thunderdome,” says Sincennes, referring to the steel-cage jousting in the Australian post-apocalyptic film “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985), directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie, starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner.

“It was something he was really interested in exploring in the show. So, it was our jumping off point,” says Sincennes.

The set consists of a three-enclosure— floor to ceiling — and is on two levels.

“We’ve created a biblical version of a cage. It’s not shiny metal, it’s made of broken down wood and rusty (metal).”

Sincennes also uses a Shakespearean set layout to solve all the physical action required for the show. Directly behind the set are 25-foot tall Roman columns and other biblical elements.

This is a sketch for the costume worn by Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It was designed by Cory Sincennes.
This is a sketch for the costume worn by Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It was designed by Cory Sincennes.

Like the set, much thought went into designing the costumes for the 25-member cast.“There aren’t any trees. It’s all sort of abstract. But there are little moments that (herald in) the traditional period so it’s recognizable to people who have seen passion plays before.”

Again, Sincennes wanted to create something different, yet familiar.

“So, it’s definitely beigey. Then my palette goes into black, red and orange ­— colours you would find in a desert.”

Cory Sincennes fast facts:

  • Sincennes is the costume/set designer for “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Charlottetown Festival. He currently resides in Charlottetown.
  • Originally from Ottawa, his set, costume and lighting designs have been seen throughout Canada as well as in Germany, Austria, England, Belgium and Russia.
  • Beginning his education in Ottawa, he earned a degree in architectural studies from Carleton University before studying design at Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto.
  • In 2010, he received his MFA in theatre design from the University of Alberta with his thesis production of “The Good Woman of Setzuan”.
  • Outside theatre, he continues to enjoy work as a freelance stylist, visual merchandiser and window and event designer for various companies and events.
  • Source: corysincennes.squarespace.com/

In keeping with Brazier’s post-apocalyptic biblical concept, another layer of creativity has been woven into the design.

“The costumes will be heavily broken down, appear dirty and very worn.”

 That’s because the characters are people who have lived, worked and travelled trying to find their place.

“So, it’s not a sparkly ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. There’s a lot of grime and breakdown so these characters feel like real people.”

Then, as if he were making a historical painting, he has played with status and saturation of colour.  

“Leads or people who need to be more present in the scene are definitely more saturated whereas the ensemble and crowd around them fade out in colour. Then, we switch that throughout the show to help the audience’s eye find out who the focus is.”

In the musical, Jesus wears white. Judas wears a mustard yellow and Mary Magdalen wears “more saturated desert tones.”

“I can’t give it all away, but her costume definitely has a pop.”

Twitter.com/SallyForth57

This is computerized set design for “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The person on stage is a stock image used by designer Cory Sincennes for the rendering.
This is computerized set design for “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The person on stage is a stock image used by designer Cory Sincennes for the rendering.

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