‘Broomstick’ set design by Andrew Hammer (photo by Ed Krieger)
Jenny O’Hara’s mesmerizing solo performance in our acclaimed LA Premiere of Broomstick has been rightly hailed by critics as a “tour-de-force”. The same can certainly be said of the extraordinary set design by Andrew Hammer. Andrew has created an absolutely enchanting witch’s cottage that is magically rich, detailed and charming and somehow manages to be both spooky and inviting at the same time. Audiences have been marveling and buzzing about the marvelous set after each performance. We thought you’d like to meet the guy who created the set — and all the buzz.
Andrew received his training at Pacific Conservatory Theatre and has designed sets throughout Southern California. In addition to set design, he is currently a paint and color specialist at Walt Disney Imagineering.
What drew you to accepting to design Broomstick?
First and foremost, the setting of the script was really exciting to me. A Disney-esque witch’s cottage in the woods? What could be more interesting to design? The recommendation of the Fountain from designer Brad Kaye was also a huge coup.
When you first read the script, what did you think?
My first reaction was “Oy Vey! It’s in verse?” But like so many works, it is an entirely different beast when it is read out loud by an actor. And with Jenny performing it? Well, she transforms it
What is your normal process in designing a set? Was Broomstick typical of your process or different?
Well, there really isn’t a “normal” process. What was specifically atypical about the Broomstick process was that [director] Stephen Sachs had a very clear idea of what he wanted and also an amazing sketch to communicate it. I’ve never received so much from a director before. A designer’s ultimate goal is to give the director what he wants, so it was like receiving Cliff’s Notes and made my job so much easier. Of course, I’m an artist and have a (GIANT) ego, so I did have some changes to make it my own. So much of the time, directors don’t know what they want. They can tell you what they don’t want, but that’s usually after you’ve drawn it.
What were the challenges of designing the set?
Unlike larger theaters that we learn about and cultivate our craft in at school, 99-seat houses in LA are always … well … unique, small and never ideal spaces, almost never designed as theaters. I initially envision the set way too large, and then it is a process of scaling it down to something that can fit within the space, and serve all the needs of the show. I wanted the set to be able to “transform” when she is in the thick of her stories, but budget and time and other factors designated that most of that needed to happen through lighting.
What influences did you want to bring into your design? What elements were important to you?
Stephen was also specific that he wanted a Disney look, which is a look I know well. I wanted to make the Witch’s cottage quaint, and beautiful, in a spooky way. I wanted to physically manifest her lack of sanity presenting her cottage as messy, and look like a period episode of Hoarders.
One of the fantastic elements of the set is all the marvelous and detailed set dressing. Where did all that terrific stuff come from?
I happen to be a Halloween aficionado, and I’ve been creating fake candles since I was eighteen so all of the candles and lanterns come from my own collection. I have [props/set dressing designer] Misty Carlisle to thank for letting me take over the set dressing, because I just went crazy with it. The endless amount of stuff onstage is a combination of the Fountain’s stock, borrowed items, and endless shopping at thrift stores. I like to get my hands dirty and don’t have the luxury of a greens man, so I took to nature to find branches, weeds and those pesky leaves that always get caught on Jenny’s dress.
How was your collaboration with the director and other designers?
Stephen is very clear at communicating what he wants, yet open to ideas. He’s very passionate and would very frequently perform moments of the show and describe what he wanted to happen. His excitement was infectious and made it very easy to get into. [Lighting designer] Jennifer Edwards and I have worked together so much, she is like a sister to me. I’m very spoiled that she’s realized that as long as I get what I want, I’m happy, and everyone else is going to be better off. She still manages to give the director everything he needs, make the show look stunning, and with only 24 channels? It’s baffling.
Your set for Broomstick is earning rave reviews from critics and generating a lot of excited response from audiences who see it. Does that give you pleasure? How does it feel to have a set design that evokes such enthusiasm?
Its very exciting, and it feels very good to get that praise. The finished set created a lot of very hard work for a lot of people, not just myself. There are moments when I feel people, and myself wondering… “Why are you creating this much work?” It’s wonderful to have that sigh of relief and realize that all the hard work has not gone unnoticed.
What is your current job at Disney Imagineering? What do you do? Do you enjoy it?
I’m a paint and color specialist with Imagineering and, yes, I am loving it. It was a dream since I was a child to work there and, by now, it’s a really pleasant surprise to have it happen. Because of my background in design, I’ve already been given buying and set dressing opportunities.
What projects do you have coming up in the future?
Design projects as fun as Broomstick are rare, so right now I’m concentrating on being at Disney full time. I’m involved with a number of super secret projects right now, including Disneyland Shanghai, and have already been asked to go to Shanghai, which would be very exciting!
Broomstick ends Dec 14 (323) 663-1525 MORE INFO/Tickets