SUNDANCE -- Never mind that a set designer for Sundance Theatre has to compete with a gorgeous natural backdrop of huge pines and star-studded skies already.
And don't mention that whatever is created must be able to withstand a sudden summer downpour, frigid evening temperatures and visits from numerous small forest creatures.Set designer Richard Dennis thinks working with challenges is a high -- a jump-start to the creative process.
"The challenges lead us to creative solutions. It's very exciting," Dennis said. "It is a great opportunity and a wonderful experience."
Dennis sat down with director Damien Gray in New York City several months ago and began to plot the design for the 1999 Sundance summer season.
What they've come up with is a vivid cobalt blue surround set that serves very much like a blueprint backdrop for each of the three classic musicals that will be performed.
For the contemporary tale of "Cinderella," the set will include two Steinway grand pianos set into glass boxes next to panels at the back of the set.
The twin pianos present some special challenges of their own. For instance, they must be tuned each morning to compensate for the drop in temperature in the canyon at night, and their Plexiglas houses are customized to protect them from the heat and the changeable weather.
For "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" with Maureen McGovern, the pianos will be gone and the stage will become a more dramatically charged "clear" space with simple but elegant pieces and costuming all in blue.
For "Oliver!" with rock stylist Roger Daltrey, the set will again be subtly altered to allow for an imaginative witty interpretation largely using actors, pencil, paper and a table.
"We designed it to be workable for all three of the plays this summer, sort of like a large blueprint for each. We think it's very novel and fresh."
Dennis designed the set for "Gypsy" last summer, and thus he came into this summer's project aware of Sundance's environmental challenges.
"Because the surroundings are so beautiful, you don't want to be competing. My objective is to have created a very large simple shape that rests comfortably in the setting. Of course, we have contrast in color, but the large shape helps blend it in."
Dennis' work is already well known on and off Broadway and in Europe.
He finds working at Sundance uniquely satisfying.
"The whole attitude at Sundance encourages creativity. We have a decent and appropriate budget. You have good people. Yes, I'm quite excited."
"Cinderella" opens at Sundance Wednesday, June 30, and plays nightly through July 13 with no performance on July 3.