West Side Story

Middle Tennessee State University
Department of Theatre and Dance
Tucker Theatre
April 2016

Direction by Kristi Shamburger
Choreography by Marsha Barsky, Kristi Shamburger
Costume Design by Tommy Macon
Lighting Design by Darren E. Levin
Scenic Design by Justin Reed
Sound Design by Andy Berg
Stage Management by Sadie-Katie Hampton

West Side Story draws its inspiration from New York City in the 1950’s and the social and economic challenges that were present in the San Juan Hill (now Lincoln Center) neighborhood. Tony (a Caucasian) and Maria (a Puerto Rican) as they meet, fall in love, and fall subject to racial and gang tensions in New York City in the late 1950’s.  Tensions run high between the two ethnicities, and Tony and Maria fall victim to senseless violence and turf wars between the Jets (Caucasian gang) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican gang).

Extant photography became central to the design concept for West Side Story.  The San Juan Hill neighborhood was a lower income neighborhood of three to five story brick front buildings with lower socio-economic occupants.  Many of these buildings were destroyed shortly after the writing of the show to make way for Lincoln Center.  Showing appropriate angles of light for that height of building became of the utmost importance to create historical context for the show.  This was done by the use of steep high sides creating sharp shadows across the stage.  Additionally, a system of soft focused down template was utilized to create isolation onstage and create a slight illusion of broken concrete and broken light from overhead sources passing through the city scape.

On site research provided significant additional inspiration for the show.  A trip to New York City provided a great opportunity to explore the source neighborhood and examine the qualities of light and architecture.  The medium and saturate ambers, blues, reds and lavenders were drawn directly from photographic research in the city and the few extant buildings from the period remaining in the Lincoln Center area.

Color, combined with angle of light, played a huge role in telling the story of the show.  A key structural element in the book of West Side Story is the sharp cultural division between the Sharks and the Jets.  In collaboration with the scenic designer and costume designer, a conscious choice was made to create a world stage right for the Sharks, and a world stage left for the Jets.  This was further reinforced though light.  All warm coloration for the show emanated from the Shark side of the stage while the cooler tones shown from the Jet side of the stage.  The strong down template system with an unsaturated lavender served as the neutral color which occupied the neutral spaces where the Jets and Sharks coexist.