Set Design in An American Soldier


In an opera that moves so fluidly, back and forth from present to memory, from time and place to time and place, establishing a grounding context is essential. An American Soldier is a kind of “memory play." Our founding idea is that the courtroom, where we begin and end the opera, is always onstage. Even when we have “moved” somewhere else, we are living in a memory — and like memories, the embodiment or realization of these different times and places can be emotional, fragmentary, and blurry.

While our courtroom is always onstage – with the judge and witness boxes always static and present – we have sought to create a courtroom that leans into the military architecture of the different military environments and bases that we experience. The wood paneling of the courtroom can become the plywood walls of an Army outpost deep in Afghanistan. The low-grade taupe carpet co-mingles with gravel and sand, creating a blended exterior/interior environment. A corrugated steel façade wraps the space, creating a massive, impermeable container, but also a dynamic lighting and projection surface.

From there, smaller elements are introduced to the space – an American flag, military crates, a fire escape staircase, florescent lights, etc. – to support the action and lean into Danny’s memory and the emotions of his experiences.

The turntable exists to fluidly bring key moments, perspectives, and people in and out of focus. Action is supported by using what would already be in the courtroom at the beginning of the opera. The turntable can remind us that despite the different perspectives that are offered within the trial, this story is rooted in Danny’s perspective and memory.