When asked to describe the mechanics of their work together, both men seem relieved to be acknowledged as a team. "It works best as a total collaboration between all of us," Bennett says, stressing that writers and directors play a significant role in shaping his and Salzman's creations. "When I design scenery, since we've worked together a lot, I know how Tom's going to light it. And when I do something kinda weird, he knows why," he adds with a laugh.
For The Laramie Project, which tells the tale of the Matthew Shepard killing in Wyoming, the inspiration came from an unexpected source. After the creative team brainstormed for a few days without deciding on a visual vocabulary for the show, "we were all at a loss, and then the director [Michael Hall] pulled out this sweater that he'd brought back from a fact-finding mission to Laramie," Salzman recalls. "In this sweater was a color palette, a feeling. Tim went away and designed a new set, and the lighting palette all changed -- based on this sweater.
"In the theater, unlike films, people want to use their imagination in order to be taken to another place," Salzman points out. "Tim and I go for the essence of what a play needs: Sometimes we need to do virtually nothing but stay out of the actors' way; other times, we superimpose ourselves so the sets and lighting almost become another character. But you never know if it's going to work until you do it," Salzman cautions.
"We think we know," Bennett adds. But even full dress rehearsals, he stresses, aren't enough.
"We can't really know until we hear the audience's reaction," Salzman concludes.