The Greenroom for Broadway’s “Girl from the North Country” Has a Bob Dylan-Meets-Ace Hotel Vibe

published Mar 10, 2020
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Credit: AT Video

When you imagine the backstage area of a Broadway theater, you might think of small, cramped, dark spaces—and a lot of the time, you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s quite the opposite at the Belasco Theater, where “Girl from the North Country,” a Broadway musical based on the songs of Bob Dylan, just opened.

More than 100 years ago, theater impresario David Belasco designed his namesake theater to include a large backstage “greenroom” area. The space is large enough that it’s rumored to have once housed an elephant for a Harry Houdini show. These days, it’s a relaxing, boho hangout for the cast of the Great Depression-set “Girl from the North Country.” It’s a place where they can nap, do Sunday brunches, and even have a jam session.

Designer Mike Harrison was tasked with not only creating multiple functional areas for 30 people in the 1400-square-foot space, but also infusing it with a cozy vibe to help the busy cast relax (and that might also take Dylan back to his days performing at the Bitter End). Harrison nailed it, according to Kimber Elayne Sprawl, who plays Marianne Laine in the show.

Credit: AT Video

“It’s such a chill vibe,” Sprawl tells Apartment Therapy. “It’s just a welcoming space, the colors are very calming. It’s set up very communally. We talk and relax to keep energy up and full for the show.”

Sprawl has a special affection for a lamp that looks like Edison bulbs and an old-school fan had a baby (more on that later!) and a beanbag chair that someone in the cast brought in for a personal, homey feel. “I eat my dinner in it and then I snuggle up with my blanket,” she says.

Even though the theater—like many old Broadway houses—is supposedly haunted (“Allegedly, a woman in a tattered blue dress who knew Belasco is still here,” Sprawl says), it doesn’t stop her from playing a competitive chess game with castmate Tom Nellis, cuddling up with people on the couch to take a little nap, or letting loose on the guitar in the jam area.

Credit: AT Video

We asked Harrison a few questions about how he transformed the space, his love for layering rugs, and how to score unique, stylish finds from thrift stores. [Interview has been edited and condensed.]

Apartment Therapy: Theater spaces are a specialty of yours. Did you have any unique challenges when you were putting this one together?

Mike Harrison: I’ve done 102 dressing rooms all over New York City, so it’s always exciting to get a bigger space like this and see what i can do with it. When I walked in here, I was overwhelmed by the height of the ceilings and the massive amount of space I could play with. That was pretty challenging because I wanted it to still feel cozy for the cast and to have a place that’s not just this big, empty loft.

I was looking at the key art for the show and there was constantly a telephone pole in there. I thought, well I could create a string of bistro lights that looks like telephone wires for this really high ceiling that’s a nod to the show, but also makes it feel closer in.

AT: Tell me more about how you created cozy areas within a larger, communal space.

MH: I wanted to break it up into various areas so they felt like they were actually in a living space, vs. a big Tribeca loft, so I made sure to position things for that. In the “living room area,” I set these two couches apart from each other, with side chairs and tables and lights. I put in an oversized IKEA dining table so people could really enjoy their meals between shows. And then there’s a little area for a jam session, plus a foosball table.

Credit: AT Video
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The jam area is appropriately decked out with Bob Dylan posters and records.

AT: Tell me about your design and style inspiration when you were choosing pieces and an overall look for this space.

MH: Sometimes I’ve been asked to really mimic the show, to make the greenrooms really feel like an extension of the set. What was cool about this one was that they just wanted a cool lounge, a hangout. I said, “What if it felt like the Ace Hotel lobby?” It’s super collected, it feels like its been there forever, there’s new pieces, vintage pieces, layering. That’s really what I was trying to achieve, this cool style, so I went everywhere, from shopping online, to thrift stores and antique stores, and found some gems that made it feel like someone had curated this cool hangout lounge.

AT: Can you tell me about a couple of your favorite items or objects and where you found them?

MH: My favorite item in the room is—it gets noticed every time someone walks in—this incredible lamp that looks like a fan, and it has Edison bulbs. I thought that really set the mood for what we were trying to achieve. Edison bulbs automatically bring in this vibe of a cool lounge. It was such a funky piece that I thought, “I want to design around this”. It’s doing everything i need it to do—it’s interesting, it’s giving ambient light, and so that was the first piece to set the whole mood. I found it at HomeGoods.

AT: What can you tell us about creating the jam area?

MH: If people come and see the show, it’s so music driven, why not have a space where if someone comes backstage they can pick up a guitar and jam out with the cast? I put tambourines and a harmonica in a box over there. It makes an after-party experience you won’t forget if you’re seeing some cast after the show and then get a whole other performance you can join in on. It was really exciting to make this other area where the cast can jam out with everyone or play on their own.

AT: I want to ask about the rugs, I noticed them as soon as I walked in.

MH: If there’s one thing that Mike Harrison is known for, it’s layering rugs. It’s my favorite thing to do. It adds interest and style, but it also relaxes a space. There’s something about layering a rug makes you say, “I can sit on a floor pillow on the rug,” because it takes the seriousness out of everything. Also, you get to play with different patterns and textures and it defines the space. We have a lot of cement floor, so it warms it up, adds style, adds function, and adds a whole attitude of cozy and relaxed. I found larger rug in the “living room” area from HomeGoods, and other one tucked in the corner of a thrift shop, all rolled up.

AT: Do you have any advice for shopping in thrift stores for specific items like these?

MH: Just think about the size and the proportions the most. I didn’t know about this funky lamp (below), but the size was perfect and I was going for that eclectic feel, so I wasn’t afraid to just try it out in the space. When you enter a thrift store, ask, “What is the size and shape of something I need?” and then it’ll automatically just work in the space. This lamp was $20.

Credit: AT Video
The HomeGoods lamp everyone loves.

AT: What other stores were particularly helpful for that Ace Hotel-meets-Bob Dylan vibe?

MH: Actually, just already using what they had in the theater! You can’t recreate that. I took an old fire door I found and put a Dylan poster on it. It’s now a piece people can talk about.

AT: What were some other favorite finds?

MH: They asked for a cabinet that could lock and hold liquor. I found one on Craigslist for $100 the day we were supposed to install everything, and I begged a car to drop it off at the front of the theater. I found a beautiful, long expensive couch from thrift store and spent more money getting it delivered than on the couch itself, but that’s New York City. I got a record player from Urban Outfitters so the cast can play Dylan albums, but they’ve brought in others by Donna Summer and Diana Ross, too.

I love that it’s being lived in, it’s being used. That’s what’s fun about these spaces—they can be messy, but they still has all of the style I wanted to infuse into them.

AT: How did Bob Dylan inspire you?

MH: Even though I wasn’t supposed to create an extension of the set for the space, it is a Bob Dylan musical, so I was like how can we bring him in? Someone mentioned something about bringing in the Bitter End vibe, which is where he used to play, so I brought that in by taping out the autograph wall that people who come to the show are going to sign. I got a great lamp at a thrift store and once I popped in a red lightbulb, it automatically gave that cool, grungy vibe. I got some of his music and posters too, because we had to do a nod to him because the show is his music.

Thank you, Kimber and Mike!