Bloody Bloody Scenic Designer Donyale Werle Turns Taxidermy Into a Tony Nomination

News   Bloody Bloody Scenic Designer Donyale Werle Turns Taxidermy Into a Tony Nomination Last October Donyale Werle made her full-fledged Broadway debut as the scenic designer of the emo-rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. After designing the production downtown at the Public Theater and in Los Angeles at the Center Theatre Group, Werle set out to transform the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and picked up a Best Scenic Design of a Musical Tony Award nomination along the way.

Donyale Werle
Donyale Werle Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Werle served as associate scenic designer on the Tony-nominated Broadway productions of In the Heights and High Fidelity, and took her work to a new level when she covered the interior of the Jacobs Theatre in damask and fur for the Broadway run of Bloody Bloody. Despite a truncated Broadway term, the Tony committee remembered her work.

"Alex Timbers had a really spectacular vision," Werle said of fellow Tony nominee Timbers, who directed and penned the book for Bloody Bloody. "We knew we wanted it to feel like a downtown club, like a frat house, a basement, and a bordello, but also have historical reference. It's very Washingtonian in its flavor. We really had to capture the history but sort of jacked-up."

That jacked-up history enveloped Broadway audiences last fall, who sat within a tent of intertwining Christmas lights, chandeliers, beer cans, oil paintings and taxidermy. According to Werle, "For a rock 'n' roll show, it's the atmosphere that creates that fun and really gets you going in that world. So it was important to create that kind of 360 degree experience all around. The show is about populism, so it was also important to make sure everyone had the feeling that, though they may not have had exactly the same vantage point, they were all in the same environment."

Werle described Timbers and composer Michael Friedman as theatrical Dadaists in their approach and style. "So, we looked at a lot of Dada and neo-Dada artists like [Marcel] Duchamp, [Robert] Rauschenberg, and new guys like Maurizio Cattelan, who does a lot of work with animals," she explained.

Cattelan's work led the crew to use a stuffed horse, which hung over the heads of audience members seated in the orchestra. "People really attach a lot of ideas and a lot of their soul into horses. It speaks about manifest destiny and freedom. So we used the image of the horse, but hung it upside down, sort of tweaked it, to evoke certain feelings about this country and manifest destiny." The horse comes from a previous production at the Public, Werle reveals. "We ransacked the Public for this production. That particular horse was from the Sam Shepard piece Beating a Dead Horse, but we cut it in half and re-fashioned it."

Part of Werle's work was to also capture not only the spirit of Bloody Bloody's production history, but also it's kaleidoscopic view of American history. "It's a revisionist story," she noted. "So that aesthetic led us to using a lot of found objects. We gathered everything you can possibly think of, from dumpsters and even other shows and started creating art pieces."

Among her most outrageous art pieces for the production: "We collected 500 cat food cans and made a chandelier out of cat food cans and porn!"

 

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