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Dot’s Todesco invites people to “project their own thoughts” onto her theatre sets

Cristina Todesco designed this set for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.Cristina Todesco designed this set for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.

“I love when people project their own thoughts and feelings onto my sets,” exclaims Cristina Todesco, Dot resident and in-demand scenery designer. For the second time in three summers, the tens of thousands who gather on Boston Common to enjoy the Free Shakespeare on the Common, courtesy of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC), will be enjoying the spectacle being played out on a set by Todesco.

Two years ago, Todesco’s buckled wooden barricades and ramparts withstood the bloody battle scenes in “Coriolanus.” This year, CSC is doing “Twelfth Night,” one of the Bard’s most popular comedies, which opens with the heroine Viola washed up on the shores of the land of Illyria.

Specific design inspiration comes from “The Tempest”- like prologue that CSC Artistic Director Steven Maler has added to the play using the shipwreck and the ocean to symbolize the chaotic energy that Viola brings to Illyria. Todesco’s swirling abstract background is brightly colored in some sections and starkly black and white in others.

This contrast, Todesco says, highlights the dualities in Maler’s vision of the play. “There’s lots of color in certain part of the play and lots of darkness in others just as there are scenes of comedy and scenes of melancholy.”

Maler introduced Todesco to the Wynwood Walls in Miami. The Wynwood Arts District, one of the biggest street art districts on the planet, features street art and graffiti murals. The cinderblock facades of warehouses have been re-purposed as a permanent outdoor mural exhibit featuring pieces by some the world’s most renowned street artists.

Maler told the Reporter that “Cristina Todesco is one of Boston’s most extraordinary designers, and one of my favorite collaborators. She brings such a vivid and unique imagination to all of her projects. I admire her collaborative spirit and her deep passion for the work.”

Todesco appreciates that CSC’s free performances are open to folks who don’t have $60 for a theater ticket. “I love the fact that people can just stumble on this show,” she says. “Tourists from all over the world are wandering around the Common and they can just stop and watch the show and come away with a really great experience of Boston.

“Another thing is that no one is requiring to you to stay. People crossing the Common can just stop for 20 minutes or whatever, but they have that theatrical experience of live theater and bright lights and an attentive audience.”

Besides her CSC credits, Todesco is in great demand with big, middle and tiny budget companies like the Lyric Stage Company, Speakeasy Stage, the Huntington Theatre Company, Company One, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Todesco received the 2008 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Set Design for The Clean House at the New Rep. A resident of Lower Mills for the past 16 years, she also works in one of the Humphrey Street Studios in Uphams Corner.