Theater magic. When anything can happen. For Josh Zangen, Vala’s In-House Set Designer, that’s what keeps things fresh and exciting. And as one of the founding designers of Vala, it’s that theater magic that Josh is determined to deliver to audiences.
Josh originally became involved with Vala when introduced to Founder Jonathan Brielle through In-House Lighting Designer, Jason Lyons. What immediately appealed to Josh was that, “it’s different, it’s new, it’s something that hasn’t been done fully and needs just to be created from scratch.” That attraction to new experiences has led to him working on an impressively varied list of projects. While Josh found his passion for set design as early as elementary school, he went on to major in Entertainment in college, and his career as a set designer includes everything from Justin Timberlake concert tours to Jurassic World Live.
It is his ability to transition from the intimate set of an Off Broadway production to the pageantry of a huge arena rock show that makes Josh such an ideal set designer for Vala. As Jonathan explains, “each piece will uniquely tell us exactly what we need so that we don’t just experience it digitally on film, but make it so people have to imagine it live.” Josh’s breadth of past work allows him to capture those evocative emotions that best represent each specific piece.
From Rock Shows to Musicals
While designing for a rock concert doesn’t seem like it would have all that much in common with a musical, storytelling remains important to both, though they function differently. Designing for a concert requires “extracting the emotional side and story arc.” It’s “more about a body of work, an essence of persona, band, album or set list.”
One of Josh’s interests has always been “bringing theatricality to concerts and concerts to the theater.” An example of this is Kylie Minogue’s 2011 Aphrodite Tour, which used Greek mythology as the overarching theme. As set designer the challenge was to create that specific environment.
Being able to translate stories is central to the project of Vala, with just 18 minutes in which to tell the story. “We don’t want to impose something that’s too on the nose . . . to develop that is tough. It’s very collaborative.”
A Collaborative Process
Another aspect of Vala that has attracted Josh is that it provides “a constant collaboration, a constant development, [and] new ways to work with artists, that pushes all of us.” While Josh has a vision for Vala that is fun, invigorating and fresh, he also looks forward to seeing how “the work is going to help us develop what that is.”
The Goal Here Is to Create Musicals
Making great musicals means encouraging theater magic, and not overdoing film magic. “What’s great about theater is anything can happen. It’s theater magic, as they say, and film magic can be quite different. Sometimes it’s CGI, and we’ve chosen not to use that. It’s being honest to the theatrical experience. The important thing is to make people use their imagination, the way they would in the theater. We want to find the theatrical way to do it on film.”
The central question for Vala is how to transform the idea of an entire musical into a complete piece that still has the essence of the full-length musical. The objective is “to develop it, further it, make it presentable to the public and [to give it] life after this first step.” For Josh, “the goal here is to create musicals, to spread the joy and love in creation.”