From Page to Stage: The Ugly Duckling Scenic Design

The Ugly Duckling Original Artwork by Celeste Morris

Original painting for The Ugly Duckling poster by Celeste Morris.

Celeste Morris is a professor of theatre at the University of North Georgia and the scenic designer for The Ugly Duckling. She has been drawing since she was a little girl and discovered theatre when she was in high school. She started her journey as an actor, but when she learned that she could have a professional career as an artist and a set designer, she knew that was the job for her. Celeste has taught art and theatre to students from kindergarten through college and has loved it every step of the way.

The Ugly Duckling Sketch Model

Sketch model of The Ugly Duckling set.

This year, she painted a picture of Duckling and his froggy friend for the show’s poster. When Ms. Hammond saw the poster art, she asked Ms. Morris to create a watercolor look for the set to match. Since this is a new play, Ms. Morris, Ms. Hammond and Alison Hooks (the show’s technical director) spent a lot of time talking about the story and the world of the play. During their discussions, the team decided to make the set pieces giant so that the actors, who would be playing animals, would look small.

The Ugly Duckling Set Build

Scenic designer Celeste Morris and GTA student Surena Arnall sculpt one of the set pieces.

One beautiful day last May, the team had their first design meeting at the Gainesville Botanical Gardens. They looked at the plants and creatures around the pond and used what they saw as inspiration for the set pieces. Ms. Hammond wanted the set to have movable parts, like a puzzle, to create the different scenes in the play. Ms. Morris sketched some pictures and built a small sketch model of her ideas. The model was made of plain white paper, had pieces that could move around, and even included tiny actors! In another design meeting, Ms. Hammond, Ms. Hooks, and Ms. Morris played with the model and discussed challenges that might come up in directing the play.

The Ugly Duckling Set Build 2

GTA student Surena Arnall cuts painted wood that will act as background scenery.

Armed with her notes, Ms. Morris went back to her studio and began working on drawings of all of the set pieces along with paintings of the different scenes. She then built a larger model (1/2” scale) and painted it to look like the real thing. She then shared her model and drawings with Ms. Hooks, and they were ready to build the set.

All summer long, a crew of students along with Ms. Hooks, Ms. Morris, and GTA Technical Director David Becker built and painted the set. Going by the model and drawings, they created four set pieces that connect and can be moved around the stage to form different scenes. These were covered with muslin and styrofoam and sculpted to look like rocks, then painted. Large curtains were cut and painted to resemble plants and to establish the sense of an oversized pond. All of their hard work produced the fantastic set you will see at the show!

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