Ilona Gaynor


The Ascent
Theatre Set 1:1 Scale
Steel, Paint, Wood, Latex, Diabond Acrylic
7.6 x 14.2 x 3.71 m


Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne

Research Training Photographs
George Etheredge for The New York Times

Theatre Set

Corporations and other large firms, routinely send their employees on team-building survival courses. Most of these one or two-day experiences – teach participants how to light a fire, build a shelter, find edible plants and otherwise ‘survive in the jungle.’ For some companies, however, a survival experience is not enough. They want to see how individuals within their team can handle extreme situations, observing how far it might take for them to ‘hit their threshold’.

The Ascent is a four act play (a comedy), accompanied by it’s set. The story centres around a law firm attending a morale boosting training day. The primary exercise takes place inside the fuselage of an American Airlines 747 passenger plane, designed specifically to simulate a plane crash landing in water – the result of which is for all employee’s to escape safely and to avoid drowning. The set minimal in its geometry; is formed in tubular steel and designed to be a reduced three dimensional line drawing, that could be seen in plan section from above as printed in the play manuscript. The structure; rendered in white; details the fuselage, wing span, tail fin and pointed nose of the cockpit. It’s interior is divided into four sections: First Class, Business Class, Economy Class and Pilots Quarters and in each of these sections sits rows of folding chairs that are proportionally spaced in correspondence to the class they are located in; some having more leg room then others.It’s characters are separated amongst the three class sections according to their position within the law firm: junior staff, administrative and secretarial staff are sat in economy, the partners in first class and the senior staff within business class. Positioned on selected back rests of the seats are signs labelling character seat assignments; freezing them in position for the audience to imagine them sitting; undisturbed after boarding.

The Ascent is written as a parable aimed to highlight, explore and be entertained by the ecosystems of power and its discrete nature of class politics; paralleling contemporary workplace geometries from multiple vantage points; subtly questioning the assumption that all progress in life or in the workplace is purely vertical. It’s as much about finding escape routes as it is about ‘climbing a ladder’.