Setting the Stage for THE PARCHMAN HOUR: Meet Dave Griffie

The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders tells the story of the brave pioneers who fought discrimination and paved the way for the future. Between the intense dialogue between actors, live music that makes you wanna move your feet, and dramatic lighting to match the action-packed scenes, this play is sure to leave an impression on everyone who watches. Amongst our creative team is one individual whose vision and intricate design brought Parchman Penitentiary right to the stage. Meet The Parchman Hour's set designer, Dave Griffie.

Photo Courtesy of Dave Griffie

Photo Courtesy of Dave Griffie

Dave Griffie is an Associate Professor at Fayetteville State University where he serves as Head of Design and Production. His designs are have been produced at UNCG Summer Rep, Fayetteville Summer Opera, and Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra just to name a few. He has also served as Lighting Coordinator for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Griffie holds a BS in Theatre from Lees McCrae College and an MFA in Scenography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

Get to know Dave Griffie in his interview with us!

What kind of training or education prepared you for Set Design?
I would be remiss if I didn't say graduate school, but the training I received during my undergraduate years was invaluable. I was afforded many opportunities to build, paint, create, etc. The faculty encouraged me to take art classes and I did. From an artistic aspect, those courses really helped to prepare me for graduate school and beyond.

How true is the final set to the ideas you get during or right after the play reading?
It really depends on the play being done and if I've had a meeting with the director. Stylistically, it's usually figured out pretty early. Placement of things can change, but the general concept usually remains constant. During the design process for The Parchman Hour we changed placement of staircases, but it didn't alter the stylistic approach to the play. 

Sketch of set design for  The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders , written by  Mike Wiley . Photo Courtesy of Dave Griffie

Sketch of set design for The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders, written by Mike Wiley.
Photo Courtesy of Dave Griffie

How do you come up with these ideas? Any weird rituals during your brainstorming process?
One thing that I do with my research is turn the photos sideways and upside down. You'd be surprised at the amount of ideas that have come from this. For me, its an "outside of the box" mentality. Design is not just taking an image that you find online and just putting it on stage. It needs to be inherently yours. Sometimes I will come up with designs in my sleep if I've been engrossed in the research, etc. It will actually wake me up in the middle of night. I have to get up immediately and write my thoughts down. If I don't, I'll have forgotten the thoughts by the morning. 

The Parchman Hour is based on real-life accounts of the 1961 Freedom Riders. What does the research process look like for you when working on plays adapted from real events? 
I absolutely start with historical research. It's important to get a sense of the characters and overall landscape of the period. It really depends on if you're trying to recreate an environment realistically. I will still have an inspirational stack of research that allows me to move past realism if needed. For this show, we were not interested in putting a realistic jail on stage. The design suggest that it's a jail, but allows for it to become other things. In regards to The Parchman Hour, we discussed the thought of German concentration camps and the oppressive nature they possessed. I think that Parchman Penitentiary was much like that for the Freedom Riders. I found this one image of a guy sitting on a bed. It had chains and cantilevers. That image really kickstarted the design.   

Actors on Set for  The Parchman Hour,  written by Mike Wiley. Photo Credit Samuel W. Flint

Actors on Set for The Parchman Hour, written by Mike Wiley.
Photo Credit Samuel W. Flint

Were there any challenges presented when designing the set for this show?
Designing for a new space is always challenging. You don't have a reference point. I really wanted to create an environment where the actors were not in front of the set, but acting in the set. Also, creating an environment that has weight and potential danger attached to it - all the things that The Parchman Hour possesses. 

The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders begins with three discounted performances, October 25-27, and officially opens October 28. The production will include a series of post-show talk-backs, group discussions, and panels, and concludes November 12. Tickets range $20 - $55, with special discounts available for military, students, and groups.