Set & Light Design, Multimedia, Chris Sanders, MA '00

Chess began as a concept album in 1983, a collaboration between Tim Rice and the male half of ABBA. Set in the mid-80s, the plot revolves around personal, political and romantic rivalries between Russian and American chess champions.

Their matches serve as metaphors, each illustrating a particular dichotomy black vs. white, East vs. West, order vs. chaos. Scenes and locations cut from one to the next with cinematic frequency. Combined with a minimal budget, this gave rise to an abstract, sculptural set. It had to provide separate spaces onstage, so one scene could be pre-set in darkness while another was active. Sightlines suggested a raked series of levels, and an early-80s score demanded a period rock concert aesthetic.

The final design consisted of a series of floating square black and white platforms. In plan, they appear as a corner of a chessboard twisting, swelling and contorting out of its grid in all three dimensions. In elevation, the platforms cantilever over each other at 18-inch intervals. A 22-foot square aluminum truss dropped most of Chess' lighting into full view of the audience, suspended from the grid by four chain hoists installed for the production.

text and photos by Chris Sanders, MA '00, Lighting and Set Designer