Metamorphoses makes a splash

April 7, 2014

When the curtain rises for Metamorphoses, theatergoers can expect to get a little wet as actors plunge in and out of a pool sprawling across the stage. In fact, the first three rows on the CU Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s Tony Award-winning play, which runs April 11 to 19, will be a designated “splash zone.”

“This is the first time that we have put a pool of water this large on this particular stage,” says director Kevin Crowe, a graduate student in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

And, designed by 1978 CU-Boulder theater alumnus Jim Doyle of Los Angeles-based WET Design, it’s a wet set in more ways than one.

WET Design is a studio known for its huge, lavish water features and other elaborate sculptures around the world.

“Water, fire, fog, smoke, ice ­­‑­‑ I do it all,” says Doyle, 58, who earned a master’s degree in theater and production design from the University of Southern California after leaving CU. “I’ve gotten to do flame and water as an art form in front of 3 million people. Pretty fun stuff.”

Doyle began his career as a special-effects designer in Hollywood, earning a 1992 Oscar for technical achievement. He’s now been with WET Design for 18 years.

He created the infamous razor-fingered glove worn by horror icon Freddy Krueger. He also worked on Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking Thriller video, which inspired him to invent a liquid-nitrogen fog machine that replaced old-school dry ice.

With WET, he has created some of the world’s most ambitious elemental sculptures, including the flaming cauldron for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the fountain at the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a live volcano sculpture at the Mirage hotel and the fountain at the Bellagio hotel, both in Las Vegas.

While the set for Metamorphoses will make a splash, both Crowe and Doyle emphasize that the play’s the thing. Water runs throughout Zimmerman’s adaptation of the myths of Ovid, the Roman poet, from the river Styx on the borderline of Hades to ancient Greek baths and the pool where Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection.

“Without water, there would be no play,” Doyle says.

“Water really becomes a character. It’s a sensual element onstage, with bodies going in and out, telling these classical tales,” Crowe says. “You really can’t experience this any other way than in a live performance.”

Doyle reconnected with CU a few years ago after approaching Bud Coleman, chair of the Department of Theater and Dance. He has since given guest lectures and interviewed students for internships at WET Design.

“Then last year, Jim not-so-casually jostled me with, ‘Why don’t you ever ask me to design for the department? What’s the matter, do you think I’m not good enough?” Coleman says. “After I regained the use of my jaw, I stumbled around with I knew how busy he was, and we could never pay him what he was worth. Jim looked at me and said, ‘I’d love to design at CU again. If you want me, we can make this work.’”

Doyle says Metamorphoses has offered him more than an opportunity to design a set.

“I wanted to challenge students, shave to finish, and do the actual construction,” he says. “When it’s all done, we’ll do a post mortem and talk about how things went, what we learned and what wasn’t learned. It’s a real opportunity for education.”

Coleman agrees.

“We are so grateful that Jim Doyle volunteered to work with our students on this once-in-a-lifetime endeavor. They have had the opportunity to learn firsthand that spectacular design does not depend how much money you have to spend, but rather on artistry, communication and collaboration,” he says.

By Mary Zimmerman

Directed by Kevin Crowe
Where: University Theatre, University of Colorado Boulder
When: 7:30 p.m. April 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 and 19; 2 p.m. April 13
Tickets: $17 general admission; $15 CU students; $5 high-school students
Box Office: 303-492-8181; or go to