INSIDE SEA MARKS: Building a Two-Person World INSIDE SEA MARKS: Building a Two-Person World
Designer Gary Mosby takes us behind the scenes of the set design for KCAT's SEA MARKS INSIDE SEA MARKS: Building a Two-Person World

In this 3-part series, PerformInk takes you inside KCAT’s production of SEA MARKS through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.


By Gary Mosby

I am selective about freelance projects I accept, since I am fortunate enough to have a full-time job teaching theatre technology at Kansas City Kansas Community College.  I prefer projects that fulfill me artistically and/or the ability to work with artists I enjoy collaborating with.

Collaboration is usually my favorite part of the process.  Reading the play, analyzing the needs, allowing the story, the characters and relationships to inform me of what their environment might be like, how it feels and looks.

In teaching, the main priority is a good solid educational situation for each student involved and the end production becomes, somewhat, secondary to that priority. In professional theater the priority is always the production, so the decision-making process and selection of elements incorporated are often very different.

I have designed for KCAT several times and have great respect for the work they produce. I inquired about the production team and immediately wanted to accept the project. The entire team were artists I really respect and enjoy working with. When I received the offer to design Sea Marks for Kansas City Actors Theatre I was very interested, but wasn’t familiar with the piece.

I was very interested to read the play, not only because of the potential participation in the project, but also I always found the dialect, sensibilities and storylines of Irish plays appealing. Once I read the play I was even more committed.

As I read the play, I like to “take inventory”; identify all the necessary locations, needs within those locations and get a sense of how “tangible” or formidable they are. I then, when time allows, like to let the piece “work on me”, incubate, bounce around in my head and allow my daily life and interactions help inform, shape and develop ideas into a shape and picture before I really get serious with pencil and paper; in my case computer.

I had a good meeting with Jan Rogge, the director, to hear her thoughts about the play, the things that were most meaningful about the piece, and thoughts of how she would like to play them.  She also mentioned some particular shortcomings of the theater that she would like me to consider in my design. The specific shortcoming of the City Stage is an access-way on the stage-right side that often can get loud. Jan suggested that a scenic wall on that side might help to dampen the ambient sound.

After planning, I moved through my design trying to establish a good flow with the appropriate amenities, textures and colors to establish the two worlds; Timothea’s urban conservative flat versus Colm’s rough, basic living cabin.

The majority of the play takes place in the flat of Timothea, the city-dweller of the relationship. Though only the first scene and the last scenes are set in Colm’s fisherman’s cabin on the small fictitious island in western Ireland, this location feels as though it should continue to have a “presence” as a representation of the only home Colm has known and the consistent pull from that meaningful location.

In Timothea’s apartment, I wanted to show a degree of sophistication, as well as bit of an established lifestyle. She has accomplished a lot as a young woman in the 50’s both for the UK and America, though still not earning a lot. I conversely wanted Colm’s cabin to be rough in texture and primitive in style.

The script refers to a music room that has been converted to a flat, so it would also lend itself to a degree of refinement, however, I chose to minimize this element because it could also use a lot of resources and really doesn’t have anything to do with the characters or I the storytelling.

I originally had a rolling wagon delivering small set pieces to tell the story. However, during a production meeting the whole design team discussed the dynamic of having things roll on and off for this simple story and it was unanimously agreed, myself included, that the content of the scenes, a physical separation, isolated lighting, as best as the proximity will allow, well-selected sound choices and meaningful set pieces were all the story needed to be told.

The way I saw the play, after contemplating for some time, was to have a constant view of the ocean be seen around and above the set. But once I started actually designing and working with tangible elements like walls, furniture doors and the flow of movement, and placing all of this in the City Stage space, it became obvious that holding on to the “background sea” idea would demand an incredible amount of the scenic resources, as well as the fact that the theatre is simply not tall enough to effectively accomplish that image.

Scenic resources, or the budget, is one of the more important things that needs to be in my overall thought process as I work. I have a load of questions to keep in mind: What all is part of the budget? Does it include materials and labor? Are set dressings (furniture, pictures rugs etc.) part of this budget or are they separately funded? What time and space is available to build and paint the set? Does the set have to be transported and what elements should be done before the load-in and what should be done on assembly? What is the space the set is going into? What resources does that space have? (For example: Additional masking drapes or only what drapes it takes to dress the stage.) What is the loading situation? Is there a loading dock? How far is the space from the dock? Are there any steps ramps etc. that need to be negotiated to get to the stage?

If all of these things are thought about while the design is being done, a lot of problems can be avoided. However, at the same time these elements shouldn’t dictate the design but certainly inform where to use the resources.

After considering and plotting out the design, the next step is drafting these elements in a scale ground plan as well as building a 3D white model. The white model is one of the best tools. The designer and the rest of team must really understand the sculptural aspect of the set and how it will fit and play in the given space. It should be a scale representation the presents all the dimensional elements, though those elements might be displayed in a 2-dimensional form.

Once the white model was complete, I showed it to Jan to make sure she liked it and was getting what she needed from it. I then drafted the set so the shop or builder/s know exactly what to build.

“Sea Marks” has been a smooth and very enjoyable process from start to finish. I enjoyed working with everyone involved, the artistic staff, Kyle Dyck, the technical director who also built the set, the business staff that I hadn’t worked with before and of course the cast and crew.

The set is only one element that hopefully fits well together with the lighting and costumes visually and the overall production is heavily influenced by the element of sound. I couldn’t be happier to accompany the other designers on the production that all support the director and the actors to tell this story so well.

Kansas City Actors Theatre will present Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks” from January 10th to the 28th at the H&R Block City Stage in Union Station. Tickets and information are available at kcactors.org.


Gary Mosby is a full-time faculty member at Kansas City Kansas Community College, heading the Theatre Technology area of the department. Gary teaches Stage Management, Scene Painting, two levels of Stagecraft and two levels of Stage Lighting. Gary has been working professionally designing scenery and serving as technical director for many theatres throughout the Kansas City Area. His most recent work with KCAT was Scenic Designer and Technical Director for Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Gary has worked extensively with the Unicorn Theatre as well as having a long association with KC Rep. You can see more of Gary’s work at gmosby.com.

PerformInk Kansas City

PerformInk Kansas City is the KC area's leading source for performing arts and entertainment news.

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