When I started thinking about how to compose the Secret Garden
stage, my reference points were three locations: India, Yorkshire, and childhood. I happen to have personal experience of all three, which helped me visualize how they might weave together in Mary's life: moments of petulance, real loss, sadness, curiosity, energy, and a powerful, ultimately healing relationship with the natural world.
The story and the language in which it's told are quite extreme. Mary is sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire after the death of both her parents in a cholera epidemic in India, but the fact that they didn’t love her adds another layer of poignancy. When Mary calls young Martha "daughter of pigs" on her first morning at Misselthwaite, it's shocking language from a child. Secrets play an important part. What more beautiful secret can you have than a secret garden? But there is also a negative secret: the open secret of Mr. Craven's inability to accept his wife's death and love his son Colin humanely.
A video set is a perfect way to tell this story, which has many, and quick scene changes. Using five major and several smaller projection screens at various angles and combinations, the content can shift quickly or gradually from indoors to outdoors, from one season to another. The garden visuals can change in the course of a scene by subtle alterations in color and movement.
The Secret Garden contains footage I shot in Madrid, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Paris, Berkeley, and Oakland. The gardens of Yorkshire and Norfolk are gems of love and profusion, with occasional follies, that keep surprising and delighting. The geometry of the gardens in the Alhambra in Madrid provided the basis for more structured views of the formal Misselthwaite garden.
I wanted the set to acknowledge and stimulate the visual imagination and sophistication of adults as well as children. A video set is also an actor in the production, because it moves. Rooms can become living things. After the prologue we return to the same locations several times. To hint at the shifting psychological moods of the characters in the story and the changing of the seasons I decided to add a subtle layer of movement to the wallpaper in the children's rooms with video footage of the outdoors.
I work on all parts of a video piece simultaneously, just like in painting (my first medium). I shoot lots and lots of video in many locations, but I find that unaltered video, though it records the real world, doesn't begin to catch its intensity. So the fruits of shoots in different locations are plunged into the digital pot, sautéed, boiled and stirred till they paint a new world, simultaneously real and surreal. Each step points to the next.
I think of the video camera as a paintbrush—each video clip is labeled (like a paint tube) so I can retrieve it to use as a component to create the final video. I mostly use two programs: Photoshop, for visualizing storyboards (as in these images), "mixing" stills, creating masks (which allow certain elements to be removed and replaced with other content—for example, a painting!), and a program called After Effects, which is almost a digital moving painting medium. In fact, it's the digital pot!
The other thing video does is establish a visual rhythm that can either echo that of the music or provide a counterpoint, contributing in unexpected ways to the work as a whole. All the elements of the production finally weave together to create the magic of performance.
All storyboard images by Naomie Kremer.
Note: The costumes shown in the storyboards above are created and drawn by Kristi Johnson, the Costume Designer for The Secret Garden.