The hit musical Pippin revolves around a group of eccentric artists who come together to put on a wildly imaginative performance that culminates in an unforgettable finale. Inspired by the 2013 Broadway revival of Pippin, the musical is typically set in a circus and all the actors are its performers. However, in the UF School of Theatre + Dance’s production, director Andrew Cao made the courageous decision to reimagine the musical, setting it in the world of the annual festival Burning Man.
Director Andrew Cao and designers Allison White (MFA Costume Design ‘20) and Peta McKenna (MFA Set Design ‘20) discuss their design process and how they went about creating a reimagined world for the hit musical Pippin.
Why Burning Man style/concept?
Andrew: It seemed to me that the idea of Burning Man is something that could potentially work with the story of Pippin. So, I said let's rock and roll and try this! I thought the type of props, set, and magic that this Burning Man culture afforded to us would be fantastical and still satisfy the magic element of the show.
Have you come across any challenges in directing Pippin this way in the realm of this concept? Any rewards?
Andrew: In the artistic world, anytime you stray from the preexisting expectation of what a piece is, there is a lot of pressure to maintain the integrity of the show and what made it so magical in the first place. The main challenge was getting everyone on board with this concept. Nobody was resistant, but it did take a little extra effort to get excited to create in the same world that I was imagining inside my brain.
In terms of rewards, doing Pippin this way has allowed us the freedom to navigate the storytelling in whatever way we see fit. In that same vein, it has allowed us to tailor all the artistic choices to the strengths of our cast and crew.
What was your design process like for Pippin?
Allison: Essentially, the designers followed Andrew’s lead and leaped into the world of Burning Man. For me, it was key to start with determining who the ensemble members are. We knew they should be intimidating but also approachable because the character Pippin needs to be willing to go with them on their journey. It was important to build their community and establish who they are to then be able to decide who is Pippin is and how he fits in with them.
How closely did you work with other designers to ensure your designs matched up and followed the same idea ad theme and concept?
Peta: The concept of Burning Man is such a fixed strong thing that we didn’t really have room to go in all different directions. Because there was such a strong foundation of design, we were all in the same mind frame to go along with this slight Burning Man/Mad Max joyful, crazy, festival experience.
What is your favorite part of designing a show?
Allison: It’s nice to see something you have spent the last eight months of your life take shape. These costumes have lived in my head for so long, so it’s nice to finally see them come to life on stage. I also enjoy seeing the reactions of people who are being exposed to my work for the first time. In this case, especially, the audience comes to Pippin expecting a circus. So, it’s fascinating to see how they react when it’s an entirely different concept.
Peta: The fact you get to create a world from a few ideas and words on a piece of paper. You somehow must visualize the script creatively and figure out a way to make it fit in a box, or in our case the Constans stage.
Andrew: I don’t believe anyone has done Pippin like this before, so it really makes this production feel like our own. It is individual to us. I think that makes it incredibly special for everybody involved. Everyone understands that everything they bring to the stage plays an integral role in the creation of something unique.
Leave all your preconceived notions at the door, journey into the desert, and join “the tribe” in a magical and beautifully executed version of Pippin.