designed: 2015 by ramzi makram-ebeid
500s is one of the rawest, bravest and thought-provoking plays I have seen in Egypt. Just as I like to push my clients’ envelopes and make them see design in a new way, the uber-talented and courageous drama team do the same for theater in this play.
Based on several sexual harassment incidents in Cairo from the early 90’s until today, 500s has no boundaries, and exposes issues and stories that we sadly rarely hear in Egyptian theater or media. The play was delivered in a transparent way, both in the writing and performance. For example, rather then have a backstage area, the set up brilliantly shows the actors go from character to actor and back again in plain view of the audience.
Approached by the play’s very talented director to design the set, she wanted something that the cast could easily move around and interact with.
As a minimal furniture and interior designer, I began thinking along simple lines and using light objects for the actors to play around with. I wanted a set that was as quiet as possible. Between all the action and the script, the set needed to be visually quiet.
For the chairs, which are used often in the performance, I chose something straight edged and modern. We created panels using a similar structure as the chairs, which were light and easy to move. The linear vertical look is meant to take the audience out of the horizontal action, as well as create space for each scene to be displayed. Classroom scenes, for instance, used the plain blackboards panels, and the bathroom scenes, use the reflective surface panels. By keeping all the panels the same size, we brought continuity and were able to direct the audience to specific spaces within our set.
Since we used blackboard paint for the classroom scenes, I decided to paint everything else in the same finish to increase continuity, as well as potential writing surfaces for the actors.