Cloudgate Theatre

Chicago, IL, USA

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Bringing a Lake to Life

What does a lake wear? Strange Heart Beating costume designer Anna Wooden was faced with an unusual task. The play takes place in a small town and is narrated by the town’s lake. The lake (played by Stephanie Shum) serves as the guide through the story, bearing witness, keeping vigil, unearthing clues for the sheriff as she investigates, and holding the audience accountable.

Rending of the Lake by Anna Wooden

As she embarked on her design process, Wooden (recently nominated for a Jeff Award for her work on Lifeline Theatre’s The Man Who Was Thursday) imagined many versions of the lake, from a young girl in a simple smock to a pioneer from an earlier era. But she landed on something more timeless. She says, “The challenge of creating a poetic lake that can walk around the stage and be a source of magic was the foundation of the design. So I began to think about what makes a lake different than other bodies of water, and I realized that a lake is a secretive place. It has no tide or current to bring things to the surface. A lake is still, and like a time capsule, it jealously holds all of its relics and history in its depths.” Lake will wear all these relics—everything that’s ever settled in her waters, from driftwood to children’s toys. The weight of what has happened on her shores will manifest in her enormous, heavy dress. She never leaves the stage. What she carries is always present for the audience.

Costume designer and Cloudgate Artistic Associate Anna Wooden holds Angela McIlvain's model of the Strange Heart Beating set at first rehearsal.

Creating a living, breathing lake is a team effort, and Wooden’s design lives within scenic designer Angela McIlvain’s fluid set. McIlvain has devised a liminal world in which the sheriff’s office and the dock at the edge of the lake are overlaid. And the scenery isn’t immune to the secrets that the lake contains. Rounded out by lighting designer Kaili Story and sound designer Averi Paulson, magic emerges from every aspect of the world of Strange Heart Beating.