My blog has moved to my renewed website (www.setsandlights.com). Please join me over there. PLUS, you can check out my portfolio.
My blog has moved to my renewed website (www.setsandlights.com). Please join me over there. PLUS, you can check out my portfolio.
I have been silent for almost a year. There are lots of reasons: Being chair of the Theatre Arts and Dance Department, designing tough shows, dealing with a husband in Grad School, working on my book and more. The real reason, I think has more to do with trying to figure out where I see myself in the future. I spent a good chunk of the last year writing songs. I spent time writing other things. I spent time working for my family. All important things. I have come out of the year with a few decisions and revelations:
I stepped down from being department chair (Point #4 taken care of, which gives me more time for #2). I have just a few chair duties left. I’m designing more (#1 being advanced), and I’m doing some more academic projects (#3). I’m working on writing an original musical (#5 — as soon as I can figure out the complications on the second act I’ll be in great shape).
The real point of all of this intro is to talk about what changes I’m going to be making to my life to make #1 and #3 happen more. I wanted to redesign my on-line portfolio, and I wanted to update the look of this site (and I wanted new business cards — but I’m not discussing that in this post). To update the look and feel of the portfolio, I hired a web designer. My old portfolio (still up, but out of date) was coded largely by me, with a bit of help from my husband who helped by creating CSS. This was eight or nine years ago, which in web-years is a millennium or two.
I’m used to being the designer. I’m used to working with the client (director, producer, etc.). I’m not used to being the client. From the start of this process it has been a fight of two forces within me. Force 1 is the “I’m a designer, I know what I want, I should be able to execute it.” Force 2 is the “I don’t want to be that client (director, producer etc.) who tells me how to do everything even when that isn’t the best way or up to current standards or whatever.” It is hard for me to relinquish control.
Once I found a designer I thought I wanted to work with, I did some research. I looked at 30 or so theatrical designers’ websites. I looked at big famous designers with Tony Awards. I looked at designers who lit teeny tiny clubs in the middle of nowhere. I took notes. I examined trends. I figured out what I liked and what I didn’t. I wrote a memo.
You didn’t read that wrong. I sat down and wrote a memo about what my goals and dreams were for the new design, and what my minimum requirements were for the new design. I also included 4 or 5 designers’ web address with notes about what I liked and didn’t like. Despite my fears of looking like the controlling-client-from-hell, I met with my web designer. She took the time to look at the websites with me. We talked about what I was looking for. Then she went away and designed.
I know that design never happens fast enough for a director after we have had our concept meeting. I also know that it takes time to design. Not just to do the drawings/renderings (or in this case coding), but time to do the thinking, the experimenting — you know, the design. I sat around on pins and needles waiting for my site to be created for me.
The great day came, and I looked at it. I was thrilled. I was overjoyed. It was great. Except for…. I had notes. Some of the notes were major. Some were minor. Some were miscommunication. I sent them. And I waited. Because I did not get a response is .023 nanoseconds I was sure I had offended my designer. Darn it. Luckily, she was not offended. She made the changes. They are wonderful. We have a few tiny things to work out, and I have to start loading content. (And content… And content… And content… And content.)
I’m planning for the website to go live on or about August 1, 2014. I’m learning that I’d rather be a designer than a client. And I’m hoping this keeps my writing, designing, and sharing my work with the world.
I have been trying to do more academic writing. I’m struggling with it. Mostly my problem is I like to write short, tight (1500 word) essays on ideas about theatre. Heck, my blog posts are even shorter than that. Over the summer I was working on an essay on a concept called Worldbuilding. I was never able to get it to the length I really needed it to be. I took about 500 words of it, and shoved it into the longer work I’m working on where it fit nicely. I had all but abandoned the article, but I needed to reference it for some reason tonight. I decided I like it too much not to share. So here it is.
LESSONS FROM LITERATURE: WORLDBUILDING
I should start with a confession: My husband writes Science Fiction. I don’t mean he writes stories as a hobby, I mean he writes them, and gets people to pay him money to publish them. Part of the job being a science fiction author is to attend conventions to speak to readers and aspiring writers, and to make a name for oneself to hopefully sell more books. He was heading to a “con” (as the insiders call the conventions) and was leaving right after I opened a show and in a block of time when I was actually going to be “off” for a weekend. I decided to tag along.
I could write about lots of things that I saw, and that happened, but one single discussion caught my attention because it applied so much to theatrical design. Juliette Wade and Deborah J. Ross led a discussion and reading about “Worldbuilding.” Wade and Ross, aside from being prominent Sci-Fi authors, are experts in the concept of Worldbuilding — and they opened my eyes to a new way to discuss and analyze what theatrical designers do.
Worldbuilding is the art of telling the readers about the world in which the novel (short story, etc.) is going to take place. Often this world is not our world — instead it is an alien planet with different life forms, or a fantasy version of earth with magic and wizards. In essence, Worldbuilding is setting the scene of the written world. Ross and Wade emphasized the art of showing the readers what the world is like not by merely describing it, but building scenes and moments that organically take the reader on the journey through a new and exciting world.
Suddenly in this presentation, I was led to think about the similarities and differences that theatrical designers face when compared with prose writers. Worldbuilding seems to be a popular topic within the science fiction community, but any play (and I would suspect any book) must engage in a fair amount of Worldbuilding. Wade shared a rule that she lives by: If there is technology in a Science Fiction or Fantasy story, you have to tell the reader on the first page, preferably by the end of the second paragraph. In fact, as Wade shared the opening of her forth-coming novel, she described “electric chandeliers” in the underground cavern/concert hall. In her experience, if the level of technology isn’t clearly demonstrated up front, readers are shocked by its existence later in the story. The reason for the shock is that readers take what information they have at the beginning of a story and begin, in their mind, to build the world of the story. Once they have decided what level of technology is available, any deviation from that shocks them out of the story and forces them to rebuild.
Theatrical designers often have similar challenges. Plays, and designs, need to set up the rules at the start. Theatrical designers rely on the audience’s willingness to accept the conventions of the design, but consciously or not, good designers let the audience know what they are in for up front. Extrapolating Wade’s advice-to-writers to the theatrical designer, we need to tell the audience what is up with our world in the first scene (or certainly by the end of the first scene change.) Are we in the world of the unit set where every location in the play will happen in this one space with just small property changes, and major lighting changes? Or are we in a world of ultimate reality? Whatever world the audience is about to engage with, designers need to let them know up front. If a production design begins realistically, then suddenly changes to extreme abstraction we will jolt the audience out of play because we broke the rules we established at the start. Breaking the rules is something that should only be done with extreme deliberateness.
The biggest lesson I learned from Ross was to present the world incidentally through the action of the story. I don’t want to imply that Ross was Worldbuilding by accident, far from it. Instead she introduced readers to the complex concepts of an alien world as she was dealing with other writerly stuff such as plot and character. While Wade’s reading demonstrated rich narrative passages that allowed the reader to see the world, Ross’s reading jumped straight in to the action, but carefully crafted that action and her telling of it to expose the world we were visiting. Ross’s approach is also one that relates organically to the theatrical designer. Theatrical designers do not get to give the audience a two minute guided tour of the design so that they can take in what it is and what it means. Instead, the curtain goes up, the actors enter, and the play is off and running. The audience has to pick up the world of the play while following the action. Is this the sort of play where a Styrofoam cup and some string symbolizes a phone? If so, designers show that to the audience. Whatever the world of the play is, it is important to show it through the action of the play.
Taking Ross and Wade’s ideas together is a major part of theatrical design. The opening moments of a play — the opening actions must be very carefully conceived to build the world for the audience. Prior to attending the panel on Worldbuilding, I had an intrinsic understanding that the rules of the play had to be presented up front, but not a clear comprehension as to why. The rule was drilled into me by several design professors,and I had seen from the audience what happened when the someone broke the rules, but not reasoning behind the rule. But following Wade’s ideas must also be tempered by Ross’s diving-in approach. Although novels have a luxury of time with their audience that theatre lacks, Ross’s approach tries to get the action moving without obvious descriptive sections. In one sense the theatrical designer does not need the narration since the audience can see the visuals of the design. But even with the visuals, designers must present what the world is through the actions of the actors.
Worldbuilding, as applied to theatre, is not merely for one designer. Although my initial thoughts were about scenery, I suddenly remembered a production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice that I lit. In my thoughts of the play, the underworld had no sun (since there is no sun underground). I attempted to light the scenes in the underworld with an ever changing mix of very low angeles of side light. When, in key moments, the sun could penetrate the earth’s surface to get down to this underworld, the light was in tight pools of golden light piercing through the jewel-colored textured lighting from the side.
Designers on every show build the world of the play. The colors of that world, the rules of how it behaves, how it looks, how it reacts to the actions of the characters — all of this is the Worldbuilding. Is it a world of blackouts, and corseted figures? Is it a world of mechanized scenery and melodic sounds? The designers are not even alone in Worldbuilding. As most things in theatre are, the world of the play is also guided by the director.
Ross and Wade’s in-depth exploration of Worldbuilding at the conference and on their individual blogs, is not a new concept in either the world of literature or the world of theatrical design. What these literary concepts and constructs create for designers is a new way to look at an old problem. How do we tell our audience the rules of the world they are going to interact with for the next few hours? How do designers collaborate to give the information to the audience in the most effective and efficient manner? And do the audiences care?
Wait, do the audiences care? About Worldbuilding? No. Not as such. But Worldbuilding is the work, the backstory, the result of the analysis. Without it, the scenery is just a room, the lighting is just illumination, the sound is just noise, the costumes are just cloths. With Worldbuilding the room, the illumination, the noise and the cloths transcend their individual natures to become a world — a theatrical design.
For more information:
Bay Con, where I heard this talk: http://www.baycon.org/
Deborah J Ross’s blog: http://deborahjross.blogspot.com/
Juliette Wade’s blog: http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/
My stress level has been growing over the past year. In some ways, it came to a peak last night and that made me realize something. Last night I was in tech for a dance version of “Wizard of Oz” featuring over 100 kids between the ages of four and 18. I am the lighting designer and also calling the show. Tech was stressful. The theatre is a rental, and the budgets are (like in all arts) tight — the producer cannot afford overtime. At one point we were 40 minutes behind schedule. For lots of reasons, I am less prepared on this show than I like to be (although in this case I am as prepared as I can be). I worked through our first two breaks of the evening (which is not uncommon). Durring the third break, i decided to get up from the tech table, hit the restroom and water fountain. Those important tasks completed, I returned to the tech table and saw I still had a few minutes left, and decided to check my messages.
The messages had nothing to do with the show I was working on, nor any other show I am working on. In fact they had nothing to do with my work or art at all. They did send my already high stress level through the roof. I quickly realized what was happening, and in trying to de-stress myself from the messages so I could focus on the show, I just sent my stress level even higher.
Well, I made it through the night. We actually got back on track and finished 5 minutes early. On the way back to where I’m staying through the Los Angeles traffic I reflected on what happened, and how to make it not happen again. I came to the following conclusions:
1) Lighting dance (especially with talented dancers and great choreographers) is one the the most joyous exciting things in my life. Yes it can be stressful, but the rewards are so great it is worth it.
2) A large part of my stress seems to be coming from a lack of releases for my stress.
3) I constantly decide that my time to do art for arts sake, and my time to get physical exercise should be subjugated to other commitments (i.e. they are just for me, and therefore selfish and therefore unimportant).
4) I’ve never been good at saying “no” to requests. I have gotten better. I have learned to figure out when I just cannot do a show, and I try to help the producer that wants to hire me to find someone else. For a long time, I did what ever was asked of me at work regardless of what it meant. In the last year or so, I’ve gotten much better at saying “no” there as well. I need to get better at saying “no” in other areas.
5) My “selfish” stress relievers are not selfish, they are actually important.
This whole process got be back to thinking about a time several years ago when I no longer wanted to attend theatre in my free time. Somehow my involvement and love of theatre resulted in me avoiding going to the theatre. I found a solution to that — I stopped going to the shows that I “really ought to see,” and started going to the shows I wanted to see. I’m now going to the theatre more. (In fact, now the biggest things keeping me away from the theatre I want to see is the 3 hour drive to San Fran or LA, and the cost — not my dislike of theatre). I’m enjoying going to the theatre more now as well — even when I am attending for professional/work-related reasons.
I found a solution to that problem that made me a happier person and a better artist. I need to find a solution to the current problem, and I think I can.
I’m very simply going to set goals, and find a way to track them. The draft version of the goals are three fold:
1) Art for arts sake 5 times per week. Writing articles for theatre publications counts. Working on my text book counts. Composing music counts. Painting, other writing, photography, etc. counts. Designing shows I’m being paid to design: Does not count. Painting/building a set/hanging lights/installing theatre gear (paid or not): Does not count.
2) Exercise 5 times a week. Riding the bike around Woodward Park or to Central Fish, or around down town: Counts. Riding the bike to/from work: Does Not Count. Going to the Gym: Counts. 50 Sit ups and 50 push ups at home: counts. Long walks with the dog: counts (i.e. not just around the neighborhood). I think the minimum requirement is 30 minutes of exercise per attempt at exercise.
3) Eat healthier. I’m not sure what that means. Less cookies. Less red meat. More vegetables. This combined with goal 2 will help me loose 20 pounds by Christmas or 4 inches off my waist measurement.
With these goals, some other things in my life are going to have to give. One organization that I volunteer a good bit of time with is going to be told “no.” When my husband and I are on different schedules, if that means exercising without him, then I have to do it.
SO What does all this have to do with theatre design? (Since this is a theatre design blog after all.)
Well, the answer in one simple sense is: Dying from a stress related heart attack at age 40 is not good for my attempt to become a famous writer about theatre or famous designer.
In the broader sense, every job in the world has its own unique demands and stresses. Much of the work of the artist has the stress of the job *plus* the stress of the next job. (If one design sucks, you have a harder time getting the next design gig.) Forcing myself to have less stress allows me to focus on those things that are most important to me: My shows, my teaching and my family.
Healthy people have less stress. I would feel better about myself if I weighed 30lbs less and could fit into mediums again. I am happier and have great feelings of accomplishment when I work on my art and my writing.
Being happy and excited about design makes makes my designs much better than when I’m angry and bitter about designing. I need to make myself happy.
My summer has been super busy — designing, home improvement and of course prepping my teaching for next year. My goal to write more has been put on the back shelf again. BUT…. I have something I want to write about.
My last post was about what happend at Arcadia at ACT. For regular readers of this blog who missed what happened, Carey Perloff responded to my blog. What happend at ACT that day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read the previous blog post), was a bad experience — but one that showed what kind of folks ACT is made of. Aside from commenting on my blog, and having ACT staff respond to twitter and other social media, ACT wrote a very nice letter to the audience members in the theatre that day. The letter was a heart felt apology which indicated that they were reviewing policies and procedures and a generous offer to those people affected by what happened. ACT admitted what went wrong, and is looking to not let it happen again. I don’t think I can ask more. (I could be grumpy and say I wish it hadn’t happened in the first place — but that would be petty and pointless.)
I would like to contrast that with another theatre company. In this case for many many reasons, I’m not going to name names (although those who know me will know exactly what company I am discussing).
Last season a local company did a production of one of my favorite shows, Candide. (I know the show has lots of detractors, but I get to like the shows I like.) The production, though advertised to be a full production, was more of a glorified concert staging. The program listed with the list of other designers “Scenery constructed by” instead of “scenery designed by.” And looking at the set, i can see why. The set was a large platform, and for most of the show it was not used in a particularly interesting manner (the one ocean voyage being a notable exception). This was not the biggest tragedy of the show. The biggest tragedy was the orchestra. An opera company chose to use the reduced orchestrations (for 13 players) instead of Leonard Bernstein (the composer) and Hershy Kay’s original orchestrations (for an orchestra of 20+Members). For next season the announced another contemporary opera. (In fact, I would call this show a modern musical, but my husband, the opera buff, declares it an opera, so I’ll defer to him). This is another show with two prominent orchestrations associated with it– the original 22 member orchestration, or the more recent touring production’s reduction to 14. I need to confess I’m a bit of a nut about live professional orchestrations and knowing about different orchestrations of shows. Due to the orchestra I was grumpy through all of Candide from the thin overture to the the weak sound just before the glorious a capella section at the end of the show. (The vocals were great, so I at least left on a sort of happy note.)
I recieved an email about this company’s season with the announcement of what was coming. I decided before buying tix, I would write and ask about the orchestra. I received a prompt response, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. The first thing was a defense of why they choose to use the smaller orchestra for their production (the full orchestra wouldn’t fit on the stage — I’ll discuss that more below), before assuring me that they would use a larger orchestra for the upcoming opera. I noted that they did not specify which orchestration the would use — and even the smaller orchestration would be a bit larger than the measly 13 used for Candide.
The thing is, because they were not clear about what orchestra they are using, and I was so unhappy about their last show, I am just not going to buy tickets. Questions from audiences should be respected and answered well. I would rather have waited a couple of days for a response with the real answer, than the “we will use a larger orchestra.” It makes the company sound either deceitful or uninformed. Neither is an attractive quality.
OK, let me quickly discuss the argument that the orchestra wouldn’t fit on the stage. This company typically rents their scenic and costume designs. Again, I understand that this is not unusual for opera companies — but I do prefer shows that are designed for the theatre they are playing in and for the audience they are playing for. For Candid, the company commissioned the set to be built. If the set was properly designed, I suspect the full orchestra could have been seated, and had room for interesting staging. (To see how to cram a huge orchestra onto a stage, and have great space for musical staging in a concert like presentation, look at the video of the San Francisco production of Sweeney Todd In Concert with George Hearn and Patti LuPone — which does it fabulously!) I suspect the true reason for the small orchestra was the cost. Like too many productions lately, the place they think they can save money is on the orchestra. The other place they think they can help the bottom line is by not letting the audience know what really is going on.
Good customer service is important. Good theatre companies know about it. ACT knows about it, and that is why I have renewed our subscription there. The opera company — I’m not so sure about yet.
My husband and I had tickets to see “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard at A.C.T. in San Francisco directed by A.C.T.’s artistic director, Carey Perloff. My husband doesn’t like the play, largely due to its length. I saw the play in a production by Center Theatre Group while I was in college, and enjoyed it. (I also didn’t find it to be overly long.) Prior to leaving, I endured taunts about dragging him to a four-hour long play, I responded that it was only two-and-a-half hours long. Todays production clocked in at four hours and twenty minutes. I had to eat crow before my husband. So, I say again, “Darn you Carey Perloff!”
So what happened? Well part-way through the second scene and actor left the stage and the curtain came down and the house lights came up. After several minutes the usher came down and there was a technical problem, and to please remain in our seats. A while later, an announcement was made that a cast member had been taken ill. A while later we were told the show would resume in twenty minutes. About an hour after the curtain was prematurely rung down, it went back up, with a new actor on stage.
At the end of my rant, I will specifically state details of my opinion of the production, which we both quite enjoyed. What comes first is my issue with business as usual in theatre. On professional contracts, understudies are not usually required to rehearse with the cast, and often do not start learning the show until opening night. This is a cost saving rule negotiated by the producers. Additionally, understudies very rarely get rehearsal with the rest of the company. Instead the stage manager rehearses them separate from the cast on mornings when the stage managers are not otherwise engaged. Lastly, understudies are not at the theatre once the curtain goes up. (In fact, if my memory serves on the LORT contract, they are not even required to be at the theatre unless called.) This is the way it is. Today was a clear example of why it is a bad idea.
If the understudy was at the theatre, it should have taken no more than thirty minutes to get into costume and make up, and get on stage. With an hour delay, it is clear our understudy had to get to the theatre before any getting ready could be done.
Our understudy, a very hardworking Robert Parsons did not know the show. Inauspiciously, he had to call line several times in his first scene. Thereafter, he carried pages of the script around with him looking when he needed to. This did not completely eliminate the need of calling line but it dramatically reduced it. Parsons also did not know his blocking. Other cast members where giving him hints about where to go, but he still was out of his light for several key moments.
Prior to today, I said repeatedly that i have never been disappointed in an understudy’s performance. That is still somewhat true, Parsons is a fine actor and with adequate rehearsal would have been outstanding. I am disappointed in the realities of theatre. At a professional theatre, I expect the show to go on. I have seen understudies on tour, on Broadway, and in Los Angeles. I’d have to look to see if this is totally true, but in my three years as a subscriber to Center Theatre Group, I never saw a show without an understudy appearing on the night we had tickets. And in all of the cases before today, if I hadn’t known there was an understudy, I wouldn’t have known it was an understudy. That was not what was experienced at A.C.T. today. Audiences deserve better than today. The playwright deserves better than today. I would say the director deserves better than today, but as artistic director of the theatre, as well as the director Perloff was at least partially responsible for these realities. The union contract does not bar producers from adequately preparing understudies, it just gives producers the option to risk it. My guess is that usually it is not a problem. Today, A.C.T. earned a lot of ill-will from an audience.
An unprepared understudy going on hurts the production. The pacing slowed down. Ignoring the time we waited for the understudy to arrive at the theatre, get into costume, and the part of the scene they repeated, the play still ran longer than its two hour and forty five minute running time that the house staff informed us of as we had our tickets scanned.
The ushers informed us we could trade our tickets for another day. I live 210 miles from the theatre, that was not an option for us. The family in front of us had come from Sacramento to see the show using a bus or train. They had allowed time for the show, a quick dinner and then back to catch their transportation home. They asked an usher if they would make it. He advised they try to skip dinner and try find a cab to meet their transportation. They left during the curtain call. I usually consider that an appallingly rude act ,but in this case I understood. I hope they made it home tonight.
The play ran so long ,that the parking was far more expensive than the woman in front of us at the parking garage had budgeted. She was shocked, and scrambled in her purse for more money. Perloff was coming down the stairs in the parking structure as we were going up. I am not sure what she was saying to her audience, but I doubt it was enough to get immediate forgiveness for what happened. As pleased as the audience was with the show, and as loudly as they applauded for Parsons, the audience was greatly annoyed at the extra hour-long intermission in the middle of the first act.
In one sense an actor taking ill is an unforeseen event, and in another sense it is not. What is unforeseen is which actor will be taken ill and when. That an actor will be taken ill during a run, is something that can be prepared for, that is why understudies exist.
What went a long way to redeem the whole debacle for me today was that Perloff put together a damn fine show. Douglas Schmidt’s set was clean, simple and beautiful. Robert Wierzel’s tight beautiful lighting told the audience at every moment when we were, which is especially important on Gus’s final entrance. With the exception of the fact that the understudies costume did not seem to fit correctly, Alex Jaeger’s costume design was great, especially the period scenes.
Jack Cutmore-Scott had an understated lunacy about his performance of Septimus Hodge that could turn quickly to a heart-rending introspection. Rebeckah Brockman as Thomasina expertly rode the line between innocent naïvety and ageless wisdom. Nicholas Pelczar, Anthony Fusco and Nick Gabriel were fun, funny and passionate foils to Hodge’s plans. Gretchen Egolf as Hannah was less “showy” than other actresses I’ve seen in the role, and her slow burning anger was a joy to watch.
Carey Perloff’s direction really seemed to find the fun, beauty and nuance in Stoppard’s script. Her production was more understated than others I have seen, and refreshingly so. The period scenes sparkled like New Year’s Eve’s champaign, the modern scenes a deep undercurrents like a fine wine. The final scene didn’t play up the pathos of death common in other productions I have seen, instead concentrating on the simple beauty of two people finding each other for a brief moment dancing. My husband wondered if the audience remembered that Thomasina would die within an hour of the curtain falling at the end of the play. I think they remember. I think focussing on the death is siding with the neo-classists and the scientists who think that cold truth is the most important thing, instead of siding with the romantics who will take peace and beauty regardless of the cost. This debate between my husband and I echos the debates had between the characters of the play, which means ultimately Perloff clearly, and cleverly, succeeded in bring Stoppard’s philosophical argument to this audience.
Now, if only it wasn’t four hours and twenty minutes long, start to finish.
“If you could do anything else… do it, drop out of the arts.” That was the advice I was given when I was just beginning to study theatre. I continue the warning: You don’t have your holidays to yourself, or weekends, or evenings, or anytime any of your friends are free. That is true for the arts. And 99% of the time I don’t mind it.
This year, however, its bugging me. My husband also works in the arts (thankfully, our areas are not too closely together, so we are not competing for work). Between the two of us, we have 2 birthdays and an anniversary in the next few months. I don’t think we have spent all three of them together in a single calendar year in the six years of marriage (or the even longer amount of time we were dating). It rarely bothers me. In fact, I think this is the first year I’m in the dumps about it. Of the three, we will only get to spend one together.
We both knew we were in for this when we started. (I was late to my wedding rehearsal because I was at strike for a show, and left the day after my wedding, without my spouse to head out of town for work.) I tell my students as someone who hopes to work in the arts you get to pick one holiday that you don’t work — and what ever holiday that is, it is the one you are stuck with. Long ago I choose New Years Eve — consequently I have worked on my birthday, my anniversary, every Thanksgiving weekend for years, even Christmas. I have missed wedding, baptisms, birthday parties, class reunions, and more (I was late for my bachelor party). I am the stick-in-the-mud who when being invited out for drinks says, “No, I have an 8 A.M. call in the morning for tech.”
That is the reality of working in the arts… you spend your life for the art. Most of the time, I’m so thrilled about the life I have chosen. I have my art, I have a great husband, I have it all. I don’t get to spend the “special days” with my husband this summer, but for the first time in years I will get Thanksgiving weekend this year (ALL OF IT!!) And since we knew going into all of this that the “special days” everyone else celebrates, we probably won’t we try to make every day that we can be together a special day.
In all honesty, I don’t use this blog as a blog. I use it as a place mostly to post short articles on what ever topic I want to write on. Today, I’m really writing about me.
I usually focus on design, not art. Design is about creating items (in my life scenery or lighting) to support concepts or ideas developed by others (the script/the playwright). The difference is art is about creating items to share your own ideas.
I have been working on a project for the last year that I will hopefully be able to fully talk about soon. A few years ago I did a 365 project. A 365 project traditionally means creating a work of art everyday for a year. What I really did was try to create 7 a week. My work schedule meant that I got a lot of art done in tight blocks and then would go days without doing anything.
It was fun focussing on art projects that I wanted to do, that expressed what I wanted to express, that used techniques that I wanted to explore. As much as I would like to do that again, I am no longer largely living on my own, my duties have expanded both at home and at work, and another 365 isn’t in the cards for me now. However, the art bug is back.
I have a handful of small projects I want to do (and I suspect I will have a BIG project connected with the project I can’t talk about yet). But over the next few weeks, I hope to do an art piece. An art piece for me.
I have an idea — something I want the piece to be about. I have a form I want it to be (a variation on a triptych). I will have some experimentation of media and supplies to get the look I see in my head. But for a change I working on art for me.
In the end the idea may not be earth shattering, and the methodology may not be as ground breaking as I think — but it will be momentous for me. . .
. . . Because I will be an artist again.
This is something I need in my life now.
I was asked to do a short presentation on Apps for theatre. I surveyed friends and colleagues, then did a bunch of research. The presentation went well, but I was asked to post the handout which was a summary of the apps I found. This seemed like a good place, so here is the hand out I, well, handed out!
There’s an App for That:
IOS and Android Apps for Technical Theatre
The following list contains apps that we may discuss today. Some apps are free others cost money. Listing does not imply recommendation. IOS is the operating system for IPads, IPhones, and IPod Touches — not all IOS apps will run on all IOS devices. Android is the operating system that many smart phones and the Nook Color run — again, not all apps will run on all devices.
Decibel Ultra (IOS )
Turn your device into a decibel meter.
Turn your device into a decibel meter
Almost every technical theatre vocabulary word you need to know, includes synonyms.
MultiTrack (IOS — although similar apps exist for Android)
Quick digital audio workstation for your device.
Stage management tools. Scene break downs, prop lists. List things by location or by character or by scene.
Scene Partner (IOS)
[NOTE: App is free, but you must by the scripts] Scripts available from public domain sources and Dramatists Playservice and Samuel French. (other publishers may be available). Allows you to get off book via recording in other actors lines, or using a text to speech ap.
ShowTool LD (IOS)
Beam Calculator. Gel calculator based on fixture (good but in metric). DMX Dip switch calculator. Power consumption calculator
ShowTool Swatch (IOS)
Apollo, Gam, Lee, Rosco gels. Graph, Complementary colors, Can bank gels into collections, favorites lists. Suggests gels for various types of lights (i.e. Backlight, cyc lights, etc). Select color from image, suggests gel color. Lists suppliers by country/region
Stage Directions (Android)
Download (for Free) current and past issues of the magazine to read on your mobile device
Dip switch settings, Light beam calculations, Color Calculator, Pin outs, Wats to Amps converter. Pro version also available.
Stage Lighting Beam Calculator (Android)
Calculate throw distance, beam diameter, field diameter, and foot candles for various instruments . Includes frame size, gels cuts per sheet and lamp.
Stage Write (IOS)
There is a free demo of this app (which is good because it is expensive). Blocking notation on your device. Full version allows lots of flexibility
Stanley Level (IOS — although similar apps exist for Android)
Turn your device into a bubble level.
Apollo/Gam/Lee/Rosco gel libraries. Select a color, see its response curve. List of similar gels from other manufacturers, complimentary gel color. Find gel via picture. Compare 2 gel colors. Put two gels in one light, find the resulting color.
Technical Theatre Assistant (Android)
Dimension Calculator, Stair Calculator, Triangle Calculator, Rope Strength Calculator, Material Information.
Theater Blocking (Android)
Record blocking, stage diagrams, etc. (this seems like a cool app, but my android device is my phone, and the screen is just much to small to be useful to me — your milage may vary)
In addition the apps listed here, there are many apps that are designed to work with specific equipment turning your IOS or Android device into a remote for such device. Most ETC light boards (especially those that run Net III or Art-Net) can be run via an IOS app. Yamaha makes an IOS app for most of its digital sound consoles.
Over the weekend, I saw “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog, directed by Mark Rucker. I want to write about the set. Erik Flatmo designed a very realistic, and very detailed set for the show. I have written before about my dislike of realistic sets, and this show pointed out why. I first want to say that I have seen other work by Flatmo and I like his work, so I do not want any part of this discussion to to be taken in anyway to disparage Flatmo or his work. (In fact, his design for last season’s “Higher” was one of my favorite set designs I have seen at A.C.T.) Flatmo’s great work only points out my issues with very realistic sets.
No stage set is completely realistic. It can’t be. People on stage need a bit more room to move about. The show must be clear to the audience, real conversations must be tilted so the audience can see it. Actors need to be able to move around the stage gracefully. On stage, the space between furniture is often wider the usual. There is often a bit more room along the edges.
“4000 Miles” is set in a rent controlled Greenwich Villiage apartment. The owner of the apartment has lived there for conservatively 40 years (that assumes the main character is the oldest child of the oldest child, the owner’s husband (the main character’s grandfather) was significantly older than owner (the main character’s step-grandmother), and everyone had kids young). The apartment had lots of detail about a long life. Piles of papers stacked around the stage. Pictures, bookshelves, cheap folding tables next to an upright spinnet, next to a nice period desk — these items tell the story of a long and full life — of an apartment full of kids, and now almost devoid of people.
So what’s the problem? Well, there are three (actually there are a few more, but I’m going to highlight three). First, the furniture had to be spread so far apart to accommodate the blocking, that when one character wanted to set down her tea cup on the coffee table next to her, she had to get out of her seat because the coffee table was so far away she couldn’t reach it. This yanked me out of the play.
My second issue was that the owner of the apartment was forgetful, loosing her check book, her glasses etc. I know people like that. (Heck, when I’m in tech, I am that person.) My piles of the detritus of life, are constantly being moved, rearranged, gone through — hoping that my missing stuff somehow ended up in there. The show did not allow time for moving the stuff around between scenes, nor would that have been a good use of time. But the fact that the stuff didn’t move made the very realistic set feel false.
My last issue comes from the fact that in the play, a new character moves in for several weeks. His influence on the apartment wasn’t minimal, it was non-existant. If the apartment owner was one of the women who was so organized and neat that she alphabetized her socks, I could believe that a new flat mate wouldn’t disrupt the order of stuff. This owner was not that woman. I would have liked the computer, once set up, to remain on stage, instead it disappeared after its usefulness in the script. I would have liked to see his stuff creeping into the space here and there — some visual evidence of his presence.
As a designer, I understand the reasons for all of these decisions. For the good of the overall show, they were the right decisions to make. But these three items are examples of the realism of the set hurting the realism of the show. When a set is theatrical, or suggested audiences accept the non-reality and roll with it. But the more detailed and realistic it is the more the audience demands of it. When the set looks like it could almost be a location magically transported to the theatre, and one wall carefully removed so the audience can see in, the audience needs that feeling perpetuated throughout the night. On the other hand, if designers can force the audience to be a willing accomplice in making the magic they are seeing (by leaving more of the set to their imagination), the audience will fill in the details all on their own.
What to do? Make the show even choppier than it is by taking long breaks between the scenes to move stuff around? No, the play could not have handled that. So the stuff was left where it was. Make the set the size of a real Greenwich village apartment? That would come off as claustrophobic. So its probably better to have that coffee table too far away.
I don’t think there is a good solution, if the production has decided to go with a very realistic set. So why not go with something less real — something more conceptual — something more abstract? Well, it really isn’t that kind of show. A single set play where characters speak the way people speak, and a plot that is plausible enough that you would believe your aunt when she tells you that this really happend to her in-laws’ neighbor. When confronted with that type of play, realism is the natural answer.
Personally, I’m generally so repulsed by realistic scenery that I would fight against. But I also imagine I would loose to most directors. (Actually, I don’t need to imagine it — I loose, because the director is ultimately right that realism is the natural answer.)
So what do you do?
You make it real, and hope the audience doesn’t notice the artificiality.