20 Principles for APL Design (2017)



Visual design is a critical factor in the composition of every Akropolis Performance Lab piece. We are very deliberate in the selection of each element brought in to enhance both the work of the actors and the experience of the spectators, with particular attention not only to cohesion within the production itself, but consistency to the aesthetic principles we’ve developed over nearly 20 years and which form a foundational, minimalist through-line for our entire body of work.

The Glas Nocturne at CATAC Balch Street Theatre Akron OH (Photo: Annie Paladino, 2015)

For the last 10 years or so – in addition to directing – I have acted as scenographer for our productions, in collaboration with our Artistic Associates; determining the scenic, lighting, and costume designs. This throws off some people, who question why no designers are credited, and who wonder if that means we just pull these things together with less emphasis than we place on the acting and dramaturgy. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Every detail of an APL production is a carefully considered aspect of the dramaturgy, approached with equal importance.

This year, we are bringing in designers once again for 730 Steps, prompting me to put into writing those guiding aesthetic principles, so they can be shared and understood by our new partners. And while they are specifically geared toward design in this form, these are the same fundamental principles which guide all aspects of our creative work.

Ecce Faustus at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Ballard WA (Photo: Mark Zufelt 2016)

20 Principles for APL Design

  1. Use as little as possible, but of the best quality possible
    •  based on money, availability, & time
  2. The space is always what it is. The design happens within and in relationship to the-space-itself
  3. Exploit the difficulties and flaws, don’t try to hide them
  4. Don’t provide the spectator with answers. Give them just enough to recognize the questions and draw their own conclusions
  5. Use Real Objects, unless unobtainable
    • Fabricated Objects should be made with the highest degree of craftsmanship and “real world” permanence
    • Theatrical Facsimiles are not acceptable
  6. Everything on stage should be practical. Question anything that is purely decorative
    • Everything should be able to serve multiple functions
      • As it is
      • As it could be
      • As it has never been before
  7. No electronic or recorded sound effects. All sound created by the performers
  8. No Technical Special Effects (fog, strobe, video projection, etc). Whenever possible “stage magic” should be created by the actor or the architecture

    The Glas Nocturne at APL Downstairs Studio, Lake Forest Park WA (Photo: Joe Patrick Kane 2015)

  9. Shadow is at least as valuable as Light
  10. Before using gobos or other effects, determine whether the same result can be produced by an actor or the architecture interacting with the light
    • If not, What is the intent?
    • is it indispensable?
  11. Use unusual angles
  12. Use color sparingly, to maximum effect
  13. Use everything sparingly, to maximum effect
  14. Costumes should never dictate what an actor cannot do
  15. Actor insight is crucial regarding costumes
  16. Light, set, and costumes should stimulate the spectator to develop an understanding of people, place, and atmosphere
  17. Light, set, and costumes should stimulate the actors toward always greater awareness and precision
  18. Light, set, and costumes should provoke the actor, not solve their problems for them
  19. No principle is inviolate
  20. Once conceived, question everything

Seneca’s Oedipus at WSFGC Garden House, Seattle WA (Photo Julia Salamonik 2006)


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APL’s Uncle Vanya Earns 2 Gypsy Rose Lee Award Nominations

Marina (Zhenya Lavy) and Astrov (Carter Rodriquez) | Photo: Annie Paladino

Marina (Zhenya Lavy) and Astrov (Carter Rodriquez) | Photo: Annie Paladino

The Seattle Theatre Writers critics circle slow-released its nominations this week for the 2014 Gypsy Rose Lee Awards.

Akropolis Performance Lab is very proud to announce that two members of the Uncle Vanya ensemble garnered nominations:

  • Zhenya Lavy, for best local composer (in a category that pit her against theatres of all sizes and budgets) for her deeply evocative musical composition.
  • Carter Rodriquez, for best supporting actor (small theatre category) for his remarkable work as Dr. Astrov.

See the complete slate of the 2014 Gypsy Rose Lee Award Nominations.

Gregory Awards – Submit Your People’s Choice Nomination!

Marina (Zhenya Lavy) and Astrov (Carter Rodriquez) | Photo: Annie Paladino

Marina (Zhenya Lavy) and Astrov (Carter Rodriquez) | Photo: Annie Paladino

People’s Choice nominations are still being accepted for this year’s Gregory Awards — through September 4 — and we ask you to consider Uncle Vanya for Best Production when you vote.

Our work doesn’t fit neatly into Tony-style award categories. In fact, almost everything we do falls outside convention. Consider music alone: while APL’s productions are all deeply musical — with sophistication and complexity outpacing most musical theatre — it would and should never be classified in the same category as musicals.

We need your support to be recognized, and anyone can submit a nomination. VOTE HERE! The not-to-be-missed Gregory Awards ceremony is October 20.

Uncle Vanya may not have nabbed reviewer nominations, but we did receive some Gregory Nominator love and appreciation for the work we do. Here are some highlights:

About the production:

I thought staging this production in an old Victorian House was brilliant. I was skeptical about the intimate setting but for a Chekhov play it worked very well.


Ballsy choice to set the show environmentally, in a location that has a limited potential audience. Excellent use of architecture.


For the space, the lights were great. They were low when necessary, warm when they needed to be, and stark enough to make me feel like I was in a dark Russian countryside.


The music was exceptional. They set the scenes up nicely, and the fact that almost all singing was done unaccompanied should be applauded. The actors did a fantastic job and Zhenya Lavy did some beautiful work.”

Not surprisingly, the Vanya music received special attention:

Zhenya Lavy should be recognized for her outstanding direction of the music in Uncle Vanya. The music–sung all in Russian, mostly a capella, in rich 3 & 4 part harmonies, was exquisite and brought so much depth and texture to the production as a whole. Brilliant work!


The music was exceptional. They set the scenes up nicely, and the fact that almost all singing was done unaccompanied should be applauded. The actors did a fantastic job and Zhenya Lavy did some beautiful work.


Superb use of music and song as environment.

This love went to Carter Rodriquez for his brilliant turn in the role of Astrov:

Complex, authentic portrayal of a character that could easily be two-dimensional.


He seemed to understand the dark humor of Chekov.

And, finally, Zhenya Lavy received this acknowledgment for her on-stage marathons as the largely dialogue-free but always-present Marina:

Lovely, natural approach, made all the more compelling by realistic reactions during long periods where she had no dialogue.

Submit your People’s Choice Nomination today — VOTE HERE!

Seattle Star Offers Astute Critical Response to Vanya

Samantha Routh & Scott Maddock | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

Zhenya Lavy, Samantha Routh & Scott Maddock | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

It’s no secret that Omar Willey, publisher of The Seattle Star, takes an intellectual approach to his reviews of theatre — to all of his writing — bringing the work into focus that is simultaneously clarifying and expansive,  equally accessible to the “who, what, should I go” crowd and satisfying to the academically minded. Considering his own personal experiences making theatre and also working with theatre illuminaries around the world — including Jerzy Grotowski — Willey truly is one of the most  ideal local audience members for Akropolis work. (Until his death last May, Herb Blau was another “ideal” person in APL audiences.) For us, “ideal audience members” are people who truly understand where we are coming from artistically — and whether or not they like a particular piece we have created is irrelevant to their capacity to witness it fully and  speak about it at every level: text and intertextuality, metaphor, symbol, music, history, aesthetic, physicality, performance…. Their critical apparatus is exceptional. They witness a piece with a perspective that is open and educated well beyond the confines of average American pre-conceptions about what theatre “ought” to be or what is most commonly viewed on stages in Seattle or New York. We usually receive feedback from such people over drinks sometime after a production has closed.

And so, it is especially humbling when someone from among our ideal audience also writes about our work. Willey saw our previous productions of Jeanne the Maid: A Trial and Execution of Jeanne D’Arc and Seneca’s Oedipus but was out of the country for Dream of a Ridiculous Man. This is the first time he has written about us. It’s well-wrought criticism, and we hope our friends will read the entire thing. Here is an extended sample:

Proof of [Chekhov’s] durability is that now, a century after his death, next to Shakespeare’s the most popular plays on the British stage are those of Anton Chekhov.


That popularity however has been truly unfortunate for the American stage. Most translations of Chekhov’s plays have been British rather than American. […]


American theater in its dogged attempt to be British has absorbed all these problems anytime it treats Chekhov, but worse, has absorbed the problem of having no real analogue for either British or Russian society. Instead, it is largely powerless to absorb either. The almost completely clueless adaptations of Chekhov on American stages have been the worst kind of Deadly Theater, socially uprooted, unidiomatic, aimless, remote. The American answer to this problem usually has been to adapt Chekhov, which is to say ignore about half of what makes Chekhov Chekhov. […]


If one believes Rainer Schulte, a successful translation requires the translator to capture three things: the specifics of the life and culture of the country in which the author wrote; historical features of the period in which it was written; and the original author’s sensibility. Not only has Zhenya Lavy’s translation excised the Anglicisms that have clung to English versions of Chekhov like lampreys on a shark’s body, it also has restored to the play certain things that other translators have eliminated simply because they figured the audience was either too stupid to notice or simply didn’t care about (such as Syuzhet, dostoyniy kisti Ayvazovskovo–a reference to Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky). Yet the text speeds along. By adhering to the distinctly shorthand manner of the original language, in which subjects and objects are often implied rather than stated, the English version explains less and expresses more. […]


In short, this is a much different Chekhov from what one is used to seeing on the Seattle stage. It is simultaneously Russian and American, historical and present, funny and melancholy, grotesque and elegant. It is many other contradictory things–just as it should be. Above all, it is alive. […] I hope future productions in town take the hint.


Check out The Seattle Star if you’re hungry for cultural and political journalism done better. You’ll be pleased you did.

Read the entire article here:
“Burying the British: Uncle Vanya,” by Omar Willey, The Seattle Star, March 26, 2014

The Stranger Gives Vanya a Positive Review

As Sonya (Margaretta Campagna) confronts feelings of inadequacy in her desired courtship of Astrov, Elena (Samantha Routh) moves in to offer friendship and assistance. | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

As Sonya (Margaretta Campagna) confronts feelings of inadequacy in her desired courtship of Astrov, Elena (Samantha Routh) moves in to offer friendship and assistance. | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley caught our Sunday, March 22, matinee. With typical trademark sardonic tone — even in moments of complement — his review is primarily straight reportage and doesn’t attempt to address symbolic or metaphorical layers of the production. But he seemed especially appreciative of the music:

The music, directed by Zhenya Lavy (who also translated this world-premiere version of the script), is one of the best things about the show—15 musical numbers, most of them gauzily melancholy but crisply performed.

He also remarked upon the effect of the setting’s immediacy and intimacy, with the actors so close he was, apparently, “tempted to reach out and offer a comforting pat on the back.” One audience member swears she saw him wipe a tear from his eye in Act IV, but nobody in the company can corroborate.

Read the entire review here:
“Cheer Down With Chekhov: A [sic] Intimate and Music-Heavy Uncle Vanya,” by Brendan Kiley, The Stranger, March 26, 2014

Seattle Weekly Reviews Uncle Vanya

Another great review! Seattle Weekly‘s Mark Baumgarten was particularly taken by the physicality of Joseph’s Vanya, which he thought was balanced well by Carter’s more nonchalant Astrov.

The first thing you notice about Akropolis Performance Lab’s Uncle Vanya is the sheer physicality of its Vanya, played by Joseph Lavy.


Read the entire review here:
“Opening Nights: Uncle Vanya,” by Mark Baumgarten, Seattle Weekly, March 25, 2014.


BANG! Joseph Lavy as Vanya | Uncle Vanya 2014 | Photo: Annie Paladino

BANG! Joseph Lavy as Vanya | Uncle Vanya 2014 | Photo: Annie Paladino

SeattleActor.com Reviews Uncle Vanya

As Marina, Zhenya Lavy is ever present on stage... generally in the background. With Joseph Lavy (Vanya) and Margaretta Campagna (Sonya) | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

As Marina, Zhenya Lavy is ever present on stage… generally in the background. She’s really spinning yarn and really knitting socks! With Joseph Lavy (Vanya) and Margaretta Campagna (Sonya) | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino


Although Jerry Kraft gives a lot of respect to APL overall, he didn’t think our Uncle Vanya worked and would have preferred for us to have approached the text with more traditional Realism. On the bright side:


The staging is extremely simple and highly theatrical, the focus and intention of the performers obvious and the ambition admirable.


For the acting, Carter Rodriquez gets good mention for a realistic portrayal of Astrov, and “Zhenya Lavy as the old nurse, Marina, was successful at occupying a substantial presence in the background of this production, but she was not a leading character.”


Full review is here: “Uncle Vanya” by Jerry Kraft, SeattleActor.com, March 24, 2014

1st Vanya Review Filled With Superlatives!

Marina (Zhenya Lavy) and Telegin (Sean Patrick Taylor) tearing it up with a rousing “Когда мы были на войне.” | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

Marina (Zhenya Lavy) and Telegin (Sean Patrick Taylor) tearing it up with a rousing “Когда мы были на войне” is just one of the reasons Uncle Vanya is the first production in APL’s history to be interrupted midstream by audience applause. | Uncle Vanya (2014) | Photo: Annie Paladino

Congratulations, to the entire company of Uncle Vanya!

We had a highly successful opening weekend, with both our evening shows sold out during pre-sales and enthusiastic audience response.

The first review is a great one. Read it here:

“Uncle Vanya – Brilliant new translation by Zhenya Lavy” by Marie Bonfils, Drama in the Hood, March 23, 2014

Among the highlights:

Akropolis Performance Lab deserves the highest theatre award known to mankind for their production of Uncle Vanya….


…this version of Uncle Vanya was not another fossil in a museum, but a vibrant play propelled by psychic movement.


It was a stroke of genius to stage Uncle Vanya in The Garden House-The Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs.


The Music was to die for!


Doubling as the director, Joseph Lavy delivered a stunningly brilliant performance as Vanya, which was humorous, sad, and deeply moving.


Margaretta Campagna as Sonya, was superb…. She has a commanding voice and presence on stage which made her plight as a plain girl of marriageable age all that more tragic.


All in all this is the best production of Chekhov I have ever seen.

Lab5 Fitness Promotes Margaretta and Uncle Vanya

Lab5 Community Corner featuring Margaretta Campagna and APL's Uncle Vanya

Lab5 Community Corner featuring Margaretta Campagna and APL’s Uncle Vanya

It’s not every day a fitness center promotes theatre, which is why we were utterly delighted to learn that Lab5 has featured news of APL’s Uncle Vanya in the Community Corner section of its February newsletter.

Margaretta tells us Lab5 is the best premiere fitness studio in Seattle, and we believe her! Check Lab5 out — and check this out: