The Road to Jerusalem – Designing Rooster’s Forest

“The forest is a haven for some of our characters, but for the general public it’s a wasteland, a dumping ground.”

Set designer Nick Blais is speaking about the backdrop for Jerusalem. The play takes place in a wooded area in the British countryside, where Johnny “Rooster” Byron squats in an old, dilapidated trailer.

Set designer Nick Blais with the trailer

Set designer Nick Blais with the trailer

Blais and director Mitchell Cushman, who work closely together at Outside the March, have spent the better part of two years talking about the design for Jerusalem. And they both agreed that the trailer is centre of the play, almost iconic in what it represents to the townspeople and what it says about Rooster.

While they originally thought about doing the production outdoors, under a bridge or in parks around Toronto, they weren’t able to find a quiet place where audiences would be able to feel the idyllic isolation of Rooster’s forest. So, they decided to bring the production indoors, to the new Streetcar Crownest, and create the forest themselves. Blais and Cushman knew, though, that they needed the trailer to be the real deal.

“So much of this play relies on naturalism of this forest and that the audience believes we’re there,” says Blais. “To go with anything too theatrical or too dramatized for a really important set piece like this would be doing some level of injustice.”

As absurd as it sounds, the team decided to find a way to get a real trailer onto the stage. Both co-producing companies joined forces in the hunt. Several months and dozens of trailer inspection later, the Company Theatre’s communications manager tracked down the perfect thing. It was Blais and Cushman’s dream tank: an already beaten-up Airstream Trailer with aluminum siding and a hatch in the ceiling.

“It looks like something you could take into battle,” says Cushman.

The trailer is seventeen feet long by seven and a half feet wide—much too big to fit through the doors at Crow’s. But, as luck would have it, the brother of the Airstream owner offered to cut it into pieces so it could fit through the doors and be reassembled on stage.

Nick Blais's working sketches of the forest

Nick Blais’s working sketches of the forest

When audiences arrive at Streetcar Crowsnest, they’ll enter the space through a small, rarely-used side hallway, which will immediately transport them into the outskirts of Rooster’s wood. Following a trail of kegs and beer bottles and other junk, they’ll reach the heart of the forest—the haven that exists for the misfits of Flintock—right in the middle of a party.

“I’m calling it a bacchanalian forest rave,” says Cushman. “It’s the party the precedes the rest of the events in the play. Audiences can have a drink out of Johnny’s personal stash. And then the rest of the play is kind of the hangover from that initial bash.”

At the centre of the space will be Rooster’s trailer, reassembled and running like a real trailer would. With its booming presence, and the sounds and lights emanating from it, audiences will know that they’ve entered Rooster’s magical world, and that they’re about to be immersed in something special.

Party with the misfits of Flintock before kicking back to watch our production of Jerusalembeginning February 13, 2018, at the Streetcar Crowsnest.