Josh Barilla (he/him) is a set and production designer based in Brooklyn. He is most interested in telling contemporary stories that ask big questions and give the audience space to make their own conclusions. His fascination with nature, how it infiltrates urban spaces, and how the city landscape interferes with the human experience of nature, is frequently present in his work. In his designs, he often plays with familiar architecture on stage in a way the audience may not have been confronted with in a theatrical context. Having the audience experience extend beyond the proscenium, creating a fully immersive experience, is something Josh is always looking to explore in set design. He believes that theater spaces should be accessible for all that want to experience it and is committed to fighting for equitability for those creating it.
Designing Sweeney Todd came out of my curiosity in examining the dynamics between people in power and those who are vulnerable. These powers trickle down into everyday life in various forms. From governments taking advantage of underprivileged communities, to corporations misleading consumers and undervaluing their employees.
With thesis in mind, I walked into a McDonald’s last year listening to “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” in my headphones. I bought a happy meal and started to imagine what kind of production could come out of these two ingredients. The stem of a corporate fast food giant mixed with the music of Sondheim and the story of a wronged barber who bakes his victims into meat pies. This story has been told and retold again. At this point, the fable of Sweeney Todd has become one of mythology and I was interested in seeing what other contexts can be applied to this base tale.
In this production, I’ll be exploring the disillusion that is present in consumer behavior. Everything is not as it seems. As consumers we tend not to think about where things come from. The devices we buy are perfectly disguised in attractively designed packaging. The food we eat is far removed from the process in which we see it made. Additionally, this production highlights how corporate greed and power easily seduce one into abusing such power against their ethics, sometimes even without their knowing it.
We start the play in present day London examining the multilevel facade of a corporate structure. Outside this structure we watch as businesspeople swing in and out of the revolving door, mixing with others on the street. This serves as the container for the story to unfold.
As we work through the tale of Sweeney Todd we see the space break down from its formal structure to an abstract expression of Mrs. Lovett’s struggling small business. By the end, the pie shop has rapidly evolved into a fast food giant and meat pie factory, a far cry from its humble beginnings.
Judge Turpin is the CEO figure of power in this world sitting at the top of the corporate structure. As we journey through the piece we see Todd and Lovett turn from disenfranchised vulnerable commoners to using the very tactics of the corporate powers, like Turpin, that they’ve been targeting.
BAM Howard Gillman Opera House
“Hunger” is a play written by Maria Irene Fornes that tells the story of a homeless woman named Carmen who wanders the streets of New York City in search of food and shelter. The play explores themes of poverty, survival, and the human condition as Carmen encounters various characters who either help or hinder her quest for sustenance. Through her experiences, Carmen ultimately discovers the power of human connection and the importance of empathy and compassion in a world that often neglects its most vulnerable citizens.
Coming straight out of the hardship of the pandemic I was thinking a lot about the difficulties of receiving support from antiquated system of government we are dependent on. Dealing with these systems can feel like an endless cycle of phone calls and hoops to jump through in order to receive basic necessities.
This design creates a container of government in which these characters cannot escape. They must wait and ponder their existence as they await they’re compensation; a stream of pennies to satisfy their hunger.
Maria Irene Fornes
New York Theater Workshop
Hir is an exploration of family disfunction, identity, reparation; expressed through the medium of a living room play.
The audience enters the space and are met with two postcards of Stockton California. The billboard scale displays the ideal of this town as a product to sell. The images cut away to reveal the reality behind it; the Conners family home.
The house is a symbol of past trauma and a container for memories. The patriarch of the household, Arnold, built this starter home cheaply by hand. As Arnold lost grip of his job, family trust, and mental capacity, the home was turned over to his wife Paige.
Paige is slowly transforming her house of haunted memories into a biodegradable garbage pit filled with reminisce of radical consumerism. She doesn’t cook, only takeout, she doesn’t clean, and only leaves the home to go to her committee meetings and cultural outings. We see her coffee addiction has taken hold of the kitchen space with the only dishes being coffee cups and the only stoked consumable being nespresso pods.
The walls and floors are heavily decorated with home delivery cardboard boxes and food takeout containers. The home is turning into a cardboard box itself as Paige transforms every old component of the home into cardboard, disgusting the past memories associated with them.
We see her decor curation scattered throughout the house where she adorns walls with her absurd translation of luxury goods. These items help Paige claim the space as her own, opposed to when Arnold reigned the household. As she drains the families limited resources on her selfish acts of reinvention she drives her family deeper and deeper into obscurity.