by Rita Charleston
Madcap mayhem and hilarity set the tone for Lantern Theatre Company’s last production of the season. “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, continues through June 28. One of Conan Doyle’s most beloved Sherlock Holmes mysteries, “The Hound” gets a zany makeover when performed by a trio of endearing clowns and klutzes at the theater at 10th and Ludlow Streets in center city. And helping you suspend your disbelief is set designer Meghan Jones.
A resident of Plymouth Meeting, Jones says she always seemed to enjoy figuring out how scenery worked, and working backstage during various productions instead of being on stage as an actress made her realize what she wanted to do as a career. “I think it started in high school, and when I went to Stockton College in New Jersey, I immediately began doing stage-managing and thinking about doing that full-time.” She graduated in 2002 with a bachelor of arts degree in theater design and production, and she went on to Temple University for her MFA in set design, graduating in 2006.
Today, at age 35, Jones finds herself working on many productions as the set designer for Lantern (and other local theaters), and as such has many responsibilities. “To begin with, I am responsible for creating the environment, the locale in which the action takes place, and supporting how the scenery shifts on and off the stage. For example, this play takes place in London, so we start out with Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street in his office. So while designing the set, I have to keep in mind how the actors will be moving through it and how the action shifts.”
To further that endeavor, Jones discusses the best way of getting everything to work. She often builds miniature sets which she constructs as a way to help everyone envision her ideas. “Sometimes I build 3-D models on some shows, but they all help the director, lighting designer and actors visualize things better.
“For this particular show we have our own theater space, but we also have three actors putting on their version of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ so the set had to be built within our existing space to create their theater — sort of like a set within a set.”
According to Jones, who also serves full-time as production manager at the Lantern, the set may also need to be designed so that backstage areas used by the actors and stage crew are kept out of sight from the audience. In addition, “as the set designer, I normally read the script several times so I get the spirit of the play, and then to list the specific requirements for scenery, furnishings and props.”
Next, Jones sits down with the director to pitch her ideas. And once approved, everyone involved in putting the set together meets to discuss the best way of building it. “For me, the hardest part of all is never getting the feeling of completion. I’m always in various stages of working on a project, constantly thinking about how I could have done something differently, constantly thinking what I could have done to better serve the play.”
Jones has also taught her skills to others — as an adjunct professor in set design at Arcadia University and during an assistantship at Temple University. “And what I always tell my students is to be a good listener. You may be going through the script alone in the beginning, but you must listen to what the playwright is telling you and how the characters would be telling their story. And always listen to the director when he tells you how he wants the characters to move through the story. As I’ve gotten older, I realize it all comes down to listening and then supporting all the collaborators who will go into making the play a success.”
Tickets for this production are $22-$39 and are available online at lanterntheater.org or by calling the box office at 215-829-0395.