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Alexandra Schaller design a magical New York for “Little Voice”

Building a world that feels livable, believable, and further enhances a story is a key component to all theatre, tv,and film production design. When that world is set in the diverse musicality of New York, as part of the Apple TV Sara Bareilles series “Little Voice’ then that world being built is a combination of aspirational, magical, and authentic. Alexandra Schaller is a production designer who has experience including everything from the hit SLEEP NO MORE, the Netflix series “The Get Down,” the movie “The Fantastic Mr.Fox”, and now you can see her work in “Little Voice.”

“Little Voice” follows the journey of Bess (Brittany O’Grady) as an aspiring singer-songwriter who is trying to make it in New York. The series is not only a love letter to the musicality of the city but also takes inspiration from the journey of Sara Bareilles who provides original music for the series. Creating that musical, magical world is up to Alexandra Schaller.

Sean Teale and Brittany O’Grady in “Little Voice”

Alexandra explains the first few months of new production are the key to setting a good foundation for creating this world.

“I was hired pretty quickly and pretty close to when they wanted someone to start and we worked on that show for about 6 months. There is a period of pre-production, probably a few months of having creative conversations, building the set, and scouting the locations for the first few episodes and then start shooting. We design the next episodes as the current ones are filming so it’s a rolling design process until the end.

The setting is contemporary New York, but it has a magical, aspirational, somewhat earnest quality to it. We wanted to lean in and capture the beautiful bridges, the eclectic musicians on the street, but also offset that magical quality with a groundedness by borrowing the textures and grit of the city, graffiti, street art etc, and using real New York locations.”

Alexandra explains that Bareilles’ songs were a major inspiration since her music is so evocative and specific.

“I am lucky because I had a really close relationship with Jessie Nelson (the show runner) and Sara where when they were writing they would talk to me about what is coming. Sara would play us the songs that were the engine for the episode, so tonally we could understand what Bess, the main character was going through so we could work off of that feeling.

This show is all about the music, whether it is Bess singing Sara’s songs or her friend Prisha who is in a mariachi band. The vibe of everything on this show came from the music.”

Nadia Mohebban and Shalini Bathina in “Little Voice

One set that required production design to focus on feeling both like a genuine immersive location, but also had to have practical sound and production design was the show’s bar, Saint C’s. Saint C’s named after the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia. After taking inspiration from performance locations in New York and LA the bar is both an intimate venue, but also allows for practical acoustics needed for live performances.

“It was important to Jessie for the bar to have a theme so we ran with the idea of the patron saint of music and turned images of our favorite musicians into saints, gilded them and hung them on the walls as art.

It was built on a soundstage and what is interesting about this show is a lot of the performances were recorded live. Because the performers were performing live, it was important in the production design to create an environment for them that allowed them to give their best work.”

Saint C’s proved so popular that it even hosted a set from Bareilles herself.

“We always joked when it was done that we hoped it was a real bar so we could go there because we liked hanging out in it so much. On the last night Sara performed a set on the stage so that was pretty fun!”

One set that required production design to focus on feeling both like a genuine immersive location, but also had to have practical sound and production design was the show’s bar, Saint C’s. Saint C’s named after the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia. After taking inspiration from performance locations in New York and LA the bar is both an intimate venue, but also allows for practical acoustics needed for live performances.

“It was important to Jessie for the bar to have a theme so we ran with the idea of the patron saint of music and turned images of our favorite musicians into saints, gilded them and hung them on the walls as art.

It was built on a soundstage and what is interesting about this show is a lot of the performances were recorded live. Because the performers were performing live, it was important in the production design to create an environment for them that allowed them to give their best work.”

Saint C’s proved so popular that it even hosted a set from Bareilles herself.

“We always joked when it was done that we hoped it was a real bar so we could go there because we liked hanging out in it so much. On the last night, Sara performed a set on the stage so that was pretty fun!”

Capturing the history of the places and the city was also important to Alexandra and the creative team, as can also be seen in the care and details of the character’s apartment, which is an old tenement.

“NY has a lot of history; every single venue, including the bar that we built has been converted from something that it once was. By putting Bess in a tenement apartment that was a historic NY building we see layers of history through the episodes that are call backs to that.

It all really starts with the character, and who Bess is. So there is a giant spool used as a table because it’s their first apartment and they hauled in something for free, so it makes sense for her character to have it.

As well, when you think about the history of a tenement apartment, one of the main occupants of tenement apartments in the 1950’s are tailors and seamstresses so we actively sought out a giant spool knowing that would make sense for the history of the building.”

Alexandra says not only did she enjoy working on this project, but also working with the talents Sara Bareilles.

“Sara is so talented and she is just one of those people that deserves every good thing that happens to her because she is such a good person. She’s really collaborative and also knows her mind and that’s really cool.”

Check out the world Alexandra Schaller built for “Little Voice” on Apple TV+. The show premiered on July 10, and has new episodes out every Friday. You can see the trailer for “Little Voice” here or you can go to tv.apple.com for more information on Apple TV.

You can follow Alexandra Schaller online at her website https://alexschaller.com or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/schallex

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