'The Whole Set Was the Metaphor for the Body'

Trained as an artist, with extensive experience in European avant-garde theater, Marsha Ginsberg, 35, describes her work as "a cross between architecture and art installations, not traditional theater design."

Her interest in plastic materials and their interaction with light was the basis for her set for San Diego Repertory Theater's recent production of Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid," which combined a fiberglass room with three workable sinks with damask baroque wallpaper for historical reference. "The whole set was the metaphor for the body, with the fiberglass room as the membrane."

A New Yorker whose quiet manner belies her bold work, Ginsberg came to Los Angeles four years ago on a National Endowment for the Arts grant to work with designer Robert Israel. "After the grant ran out, he asked me to stay, so I did." Her many projects with Israel included the Catran opera "Florencia en el Amazonas," for this season's L.A. Opera.

Ginsberg doesn't really label herself as a theater person, particularly in Los Angeles, saying "I'm still quasi-involved in the art world and also in architecture."

She likes alternating set design with large-scale installations. Last summer she completed Phase 1 on "The Register," a collaborative installation with sound and lights in rooms of an abandoned Victorian hotel in upstate New York. "The rooms are frozen in time," she says, "including a 'Burnt Room' where there had been a fire."

The designer says that Los Angeles has influenced her work in unexpected ways. "It's not so much the culture as the natural light, and the kind of mundane materials like mini-malls and landscaping that inspires me."

She enjoys working in a beautiful studio on South La Cienega where nearby oil wells are still pumping away. "This film noir-ish side of Los Angeles fulfills my sense of romance. It reminds me of 'Chinatown,' which still exists in these little pockets. In New York you just don't get those odd juxtapositions."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World