“I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”
—Benjamin Franklin

Newsies is a musical that takes place around 1899 in New York City, and pits wealthy owner of the newspaper New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, against the young teenagers that peddle his merchandise around the city. A story of classism, capitalism, and what roles influence and justice play in the connection of ideas and people.  The pivotal plot element to Newsies is the printing press, along with the ink that flows through it. This may seem obvious, but the newsies themselves don’t even know that’s what they need until most of the way through Act II. Their entire success doesn’t hinge upon ideas, nor networking, nor wit, nor grit (they actually have plenty of all four) but rather the simple access to a tool around the climax of the show that allows them to finally flip the odds and succeed. This tool is as a part of their world as anything else, right under their noses, yet it takes running into obstacle after obstacle to even consider it—a powerful metaphor for access and class division. In discussion with the director, we together found the concept of access being the lynchpin to make the connections needed, and I found ways to infuse this concept throughout the design.


Instead of merely pushing the printing press on stage for five minutes in Act II at the moment it is needed, I instead decided to abstract the design of a press and make it the permanent central element of the set, used primarily to signify the throne upon which Pulitzer sits, that then transforms into the machine for that pivotal scene. The design of the press fused notions of accessing connection: a planked dock in the harbor, iron work of the elevated train system, and of course the interlocking gear system of a period printing press. The platform actually raked up downstage, providing a shift in dynamic so that when characters moved downstage on the platform, they actually rose up.
Early sketches of the abstracted press
Drawing of the printing press
Routed and painted facing of the press in progress
Scouring farmhouses and junkyards for the right elements that make sense scenically, but also safe for actors to handle.

The “final parts” for the press to work in the climactic scene—gears, clamps, cranks—were integrated into the beams and surfaces that surrounded the audience, further solidifying the mechanistic ties to the city itself. The entire space became the press and a means for the newsies to succeed, the audience themselves very much actors in that journey.

The printing press being fed paper

With the center of the stage the domain of Society, it was fitting to make the audience area that surrounds the 3/4 thrust stage as the world of the newsies. This also was a practical solution of mine—the ensemble cast was actually much smaller than what the script calls for, and there are several moments in the show that need the power of a large politically weak group of underlings fighting the elite few. In order to support the concept of the house serving as the underbelly domain of the newsies, I designed two staging areas that were at the height of, and above, the audience—made of newspapers, elevated train girders, and ramshackle scaffolding to represent the machine of the city in that industrial age of the 1890’s. As the air effects kicked in during specific tumultuous moments of the show (simple fans high in the ceiling), newspapers hanging from beams would flutter and twist.

Newsie platform in the alcoves of the house, high above the audience
Newsie platform in the alcoves of the house

Extending the metaphor that New York City itself operated as one giant machine, I used the element of ink as the connective grease. It formed the skyline on the upstage wall. The skyline is later revealed in the show to be the center of a triptych—on the left I painted the profile of Pulitzer, and with him is a bucket of ink labeled “power.” On the right, the deluge of ink ends in a wave, and trapped in that wave are the newsies—their arms and legs reaching out through jail bars, news-caps and crutches flying.

Early sketch of the backdrop with ink dripping to form the skyline; the curved support for the upstage newspaper wall so that the backdrop seamlessly flowed to the floor.
The triptych of Pulitzer, inked-over skyline, and wave.

The ink from the skyline dripped down, flowing through the Belgian block streets and seeping into the “gutters” and “margins”—unwanted areas for ink in a newspaper as well as descriptors of the lower class. I elevated grated gutters around the stage and while they restricted the movements of upper class characters, the newsies were able to use them to catapult around the space and connect with each other.

Reference images and paint treatment samples
Deck painting in progress

Highlight Reel

Theatre Production

Disney's Newsies

Scenic Design / Scenic Charge
Millbrook Playhouse, PA 2019
Music by Alan menken, Lyrics By Jack Feldman, Book By Harvey Fierstein
Director/Choreographer: Courtney Laine Self
Lighting Designer: Caleb Stroman
Costume Designer: Michelle Stovall
Sound Designer: Chase Hendrickson
Props Designer: David Singleton