As a scenic designer, Argentina’s Melanie Waingarten makes the impossible, possible. She reads words on a page and turns them into something solid; she transforms what she creates in her mind and makes it a reality, which is why she loves what she does. It is a process of understanding and interpreting the script to create spaces in her head that she then materializes in sketches and later in installations. It is the challenge of thinking narratively and dramaturgically while working on creating something that is functional and in service of the performance.
“My work revolves around creating worlds, playgrounds for interaction, imaginary, poetic, and theatrical environments that turn scripts and literary pieces into three dimensional, visual worlds,” she said.
Waingarten’s passion for what she does translates directly into her work, which is why she is such an internationally sought-after scenic designer. Having worked all over the world, Waingarten is known for her outstanding work on plays like The Sower at The Hollywood Fringe Festival 2018, King Lear at the LungA Arts Festival in Iceland, and many more. Not only does she like to entertain through her art form, but she knows it has the power to make a difference and positively impact lives, which is what she strives for.
“While living and working in Argentina, I had the opportunity to travel to the slums of outer Buenos Aires and teach art to impoverished and marginalized communities. It was this experience that helped me recognize the power that art has as a transformative social device. Through that project, I was able to provide certain individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it, the opportunity to create and interact with different materials,” she said. “More recently, through my work with Kaiser Permanente on plays about creating social awareness on important topics such as bullying and mental health, I was once again reminded of the power and responsibility that art can hold not just as a form of entertainment, but rather as a device for social good.”
Waingarten often takes part in projects that are more for the sake of just art, one of which was the play Don’t Forget to Like. The story of the play is simple, but honest and human; addressing different topics around family, sexuality, and friendship within the relationship of bullying and social media.
Since 1985, Kaiser Permanente has been using the arts to inspire people to make healthy choices. What began as a single play for elementary school children has become a series of award-winning theatrical productions, experiential learning workshops and youth engagement programs. Don’t Forget to Like is the latest production bringing awareness to the topic of bullying. The show is being performed at different schools around Southern California, opening dialogue about the impact of such phenomena in the physical and mental health of children and young adults.
“This was a project for a different audience and for a different purpose. Materializing a space to tell a story that could change the way we see the world. There was an extra layer of personal responsibility in creating a theatre and an art that could appropriately channel social commentary and transformation in the process,” said Waingarten.
Using the perfect equilibrium between technicality and design with artistry and creative expression, Waingarten created the idyllic set for the play, which was a unique experience for the scenic designer. Not only did she collaborate with the creative team, but with doctors, psychologists, and sociologists. The process started with an investigation about bullying and the culture of middle school kids before any creative artistic journey. She had the challenging mission of not only creating a space that represented the school as an institution that the kids could identify with as they watched, but also a space that touched on the metaphoric, the magical, and the imaginary, something that would make the experience an unforgettable one.
Furthermore, being that this play would be travelling to different schools and stages, Waingarten also had the demanding task of creating something that was flexible and functional when it came to the practical aspects of having the actors loading, unloading, setting up, and transporting the whole set from one school to the next.
“This project gave me the opportunity to not only tackle numerous areas of the practice of set design, from the artistic to the practical, but more than anything, it gave me the privilege of creating a performative playground that, in the process, opened dialogue with the next generation about meaningful social issues that affect us all,” she said.
The success of Don’t Forget to Like is secondary for Waingarten, who is simply happy to lend her talents to such an important cause. She knows the play is important for our youth, bringing topics to the surface that are often not talked about, giving an opportunity for dialogue and a sense of identification among children and adults alike. Furthermore, it provides resources and information for those who need it.
“I feel incredibly grateful to be able to tell stories that can reflect and question contemporary social issues. Another refreshing aspect about thinking of success in this project was the fact that it wasn’t based on how many tickets were sold or how much recognition it had to the outside world but rather on how relevant and impactful it was for the children and educators,” she concluded.