A Year With Frog and Toad gets a Makeover
A Year With Frog and Toad set and costume designer Jackie Chau loves to play with scale. When audiences enter the theatre to watch A Year With Frog and Toad, they will be greeted by giant flowers and large pencil crayons. Chau wants everyone to feel like when they were a child and everything seemed larger than it actually was.
“I’m trying to pull the audience out of their own space so they walk in they are shrunk in size because of the oversized aspect of the set,” says the designer.
A Year With Frog and Toad is a show about best friends whose friendship endures throughout the seasons. After waking from hibernation in spring, they plant gardens, rake leaves, go sledding and learn life lessons along the way.
Together, director Pablo Felices-Luna and designer Chau have taken a show that leaned toward vaudeville and given it a more contemporary setting and look. They decided on an alley stage, with audiences on both sides, which presents unique challenges as the actors and set pieces are seen from all angles.
Some of the delightfully inventive costume sketches from A Year With Frog and Toad
“The style is rustic hipster with a dash of whimsy,” says the designer with an infectious laugh. “I don’t want their costumes to look like costumes. They could be someone walking down the street with a very unique style.”
Chau says the best example of the street fashion in the show is what the snail wears (pictured in the large image at top, centre). ”He is in a see-through raincoat that is transparent with a slimy texture. The spiral shape is a backpack. They’re deconstructed elements inspired by the real animal.”
“The squirrels are lacrosse players in sportswear. Someone could actually wear it. These are all trends that exist. I’m pulling it from reality to make an imaginary world.”
Chau says this is not the first time she has reimagined a classic story in a new way. “I’m interested in looking at things from the perspective of a person who might not be from this country or for whom English isn’t their first language,” she says. “Because every culture has their own vocabulary of storytelling. Or colour and texture that people can relate to visually without words. Traditionally, we see the story through a very Western lens, the characters are in tweed suits and vests and newsboy caps, but that doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody.”
Chau says she is also inspired by watching her two daughters at play. “They have made me more open about how to do things. My daughter only needs ears to be a cat. How would they interpret Frog and Toad? What’s the one thing you need? They would find creative ways to tell the story.”
The designer met Pablo when he was working for Carousel Theatre in Ontario. Their first project was Peg and the Yeti, which was presented at MTYP a few seasons ago. “It was meant to happen,” she says, having become close to Pablo and his family ever since. “Pablo and Carrie are warm and they see me as a whole person and as a whole artist. They respect that I’m a creative person and a mother. It makes everything easier.”
Chau is immensely grateful to be a mom who gets to do what she loves. She also has one major goal while designing A Year With Frog and Toad. “I want kids to be inspired to build something when they leave the theatre. I want them to get out there and into nature.”