Doin’ It Right

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.

Darn you Carey Perloff,  I lost my bet

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….

   “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.

There’s an App for That

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.

 

Decibel-O-Meter (Android)

Turn your device into a decibel meter

 

eSet (IOS)

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.

 

Prospero (IOS)

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

 

StageHand (Android)

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.

 

Swatch   (IOS) 

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.   

4000 Miles to a Realistic Set

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.  

Passing a Class in College

No one ever really asks me how to succeed in a college class. They usually want to know how to “get an A,” as opposed how to learn something. Well, I decided to answer the question I wish students asked me: How do I learn as much as possible in college? Here is my answer (at least my answer at the moment.) Part of getting the “A” is doing well with the minutia of class. The following tips will help you succeed in a class. My college defines success as a “C” or better. More importantly, these tips will help you get the most out of your college class. You will learn more and retain more after you leave.

I always tell students they should question the qualifications of the article they are reading. So, here are mine: I’m a college professor, and I’m grading students. I see what students are successful in my class, and I see which ones are not successful. Some students get a C or better with out doing all of these. Students who earn the As and Bs seem to do all of these.

So here they are, my top ten tips for succeeding in college:

1) Go to class! You are in college, no one is making you go. Sure every class has attendance policies, and you should pay attention to them. But going to class is more important than just those policies! Even if teachers just seem like they are reiterating what is in the text book, the lecture is more focused (and more likely to be on the test.) Unlike a text book, if you are confused you can ask the teacher a question – and they will answer. Also regular attendance can make the difference if you are borderline on a grade. Teachers who see the effort are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt about weather to round up to the “A” or down to the “B”

2) Be on time! Most classrooms are not set up to allow students to sneak into class late. Yes, it happens on occasion: Bad weather, traffic, late bus, etc. But it if happens to you regularly, you need to make some adjustments in your schedule. Professors know who is coming in late. They don’t like it. It will hurt your grade.

3) Participate! Sitting in class like a lump on a log doesn’t help your learning or your grade. Answer questions when the instructor asks. Ask questions when you don’t understand. It isn’t a bad idea to try to force yourself to speak in class at least once each session.

4) Read the syllabus! Most teachers take a lot of time putting important information in the syllabus. Details of assignments, grading systems, lecture topics etc. can usually be found in the syllabus. Take the time to read and understand it. If you don’t understand something, ask! Also, before you ask the teacher a question that might be on the syllabus, check the syllabus. Instructors are annoyed  if you ask a question that could have been found by reading the syllabus.  Oh and if you lost your syllabus, check the class’s web page or blackboard site, it is probably there.   In fact, check to see if your class has a web page, or facebook page or whatever.  There is probably good stuff there.  Take advantage of it!

5) Be prepared! Before you can participate in class, you need to know what is going to be going on. Complete the reading and homework assignments before you come to class. That means more than skimming the chapters five minutes before class. It means reading the material closely, taking notes, and especially discovering what you don’t understand. Write down what confuses you. Things that confuse you make great questions to ask in class (which helps you have something to say when you participate!) On a full length semester class, you are generally expected to put in three hours of work for each unit the class is worth per week! Therefore if you have a three unit class, that meets for three hours a week, you will need to do 6 hours of homework to put in enough time (3 hours in class + 6 hours of homework = 9hours). The school and the teachers expect you are doing that much work. That is what it takes to be prepared. (If the class is offered in a compressed schedule you may be expected to spend even more time out of class)

6) Get a calendar! I love Google calendar because my phone can access it, I can get it on line, and I can print it out if I need a hard copy. You don’t have to use Google. A calendar in your phone, or a free web application, or even an old fashioned paper calendar will help. Write on your calendar every class session you have to attend. Schedule when you are going to do your homework, when study groups are meeting, when you have to work, etc. Write down everything, including (and not unimportantly) when you are going to sleep. You only get a social life around those scheduled events.

7) Find a friend in each class. If you miss class (even for a very good reason), the instructor doesn’t want to repeat everything they said in class in an email to you. Find a good friend who will agree to take notes for you if you aren’t there, and of course you will do the same for them! This is also a great person to study with, and even work on assignments with, and partner up with for that group project every instructor seems to assign.

8) Take advantage of office hours. Most instructors hold 3 to 5 office hours a week. This is when the instructor is sitting in their office waiting for a student to come by and see them. You can get personalized one on one tutoring here. Don’t understand something? Go to the office hour! Want extra help with a concept? Go to the office hour. Showing up to office hours also makes it look like you care, which can give you that extra boost if you are on the cusp. If your class schedule doesn’t work with a professor’s office hours, ask if they can make time for you. They probably will. A quick note: if the professor’s syllabus asks you to make an appointment for the office hour instead of just dropping by, follow the syllabus’ suggestion. Also, check and see if your professor has virtual/on-line office hours, then you don’t have to get yourself to campus.

9) Read the books (even the extra stuff). Instructor’s rarely assign reading that they don’t think you should read. Read it. If you can’t afford the text book, see if it is available used, or as an E-Book, or in the library (many professors put their books on reserve in the library). If all of those fail, talk to the instructor, he or she might let you borrow their copy of the book during office hours. If the instructors list additional, optional, or supplementary texts try to read those as well. While you won’t be tested on it specifically, this material will make the other material easier to understand.

10) Know your instructors. Spend some time trying to find out about your instructor in advance. Ask others who have taken a class with the instructor. What does the instructor expect? How do they run their classroom? Also, do a quick google search. Has the instructor written books or articles about topics that will be covered in class? If so, get your hands on them and read them! Even if the instructor didn’t assign his or her own texts, they will be a valuable resource for the class.

Dumping of Notes

So, I was at USITT for a week.  I have typed up my notes from the sessions I was in.  Here they are only slightly edited.    This is more of a resource for myself (and others), than an actual post. :

My Notes from an awesome adventure at USITT.   I apologize for any misspelled names, it probably has more to do with my ability to read my own handwriting than my spelling ability.  Class sessions/program names are in bold.

 

 Backstage at Disney

**World of Color Round table**

From Jason Badger — Process for programing fountains:

1200 DMS controlled fountains.  GrandMA 2* lighting desks were used to program fountains, video*, mist, moving lights, and flame units

Each moving fountain had an LED ring around it, that can project light approximately 60’ im the air.   It took three programmers to make the show happen

 

*later in the day I learned that 3 Grand MA 2s ran the show, with a spare just in case.  The video was programed via a huge (drool-inducing) rack of Hippotisers — with complete redundancy — all video was being computed by two separate units so the failure of a single unit would not hurt the show.

 

From Mike Carter — Networks

30 switches, run over fiber form the basic IP network.  This network is not connected to the Disney computer network (dark network).    Subnetworks were developed for each design area (i.e. sound, lighting, video, etc.).   Video data was so intense, each projector required a dedicated pair of fiber.   Certain parts of the network (especially sound) did have some interface with resort wide network.

 

From Jeremy???? — Sound

The system uses mostly Meyer sound.  The system runs at 96k resolution from the processors all the way to the speakers.   The downside is that the orchestral tracks were only recorded at 48K resolution.   Each audio tower has a network switch to accommodate the data.  A mix down of the show is sent to other areas of the park that are able to see the show to some extant.   This happens through the main park wide audio system.    The shows (amazing) low end reproduction is from 11 subterranean subwoofers.  (did he say in the drainage system???)

 

Jason Badger again — Video

4 Hippo media servers, 19 live projectors, 6 underwater projectors.  Spider (??) routing system.    Aspect ratio 4200×800 pixels.  12 Terabytes of storage.   Since “Beauty and the Beast”   all animated films have been digitally composited (each layer of hand animation individually scanned into a computer and then stack on top of each other) so any element can be pulled out for use in World of Color, or other show.   Older films may have elements rotoscoped out by the animation department if needed.  (Rotoscoping is a process of hand tracing frame by frame  of reference material).   Since World of Color went on-line, feature animation has been doing special animations of current (forthcoming) films specifically for inclusion in World of Color

 

From Pete ??? – Floating Docks

The fountains lights, etc submerged in the lagoon are attached to three separate submersible tables.   Each table moves up and down independently, and together they cover most of the lagoon (larger than a foot ball field!).    Each table has a water tight, submersible electrical room underneath it.  (Basically a sizable sea-crate.)  The tables have three positions (from lowest to highest) — Submerged (during the day when guests are in the park), Show Position (for performance, with the deck just below the surface of the water), and Maintenance (the surface of the deck just above the water).   The electrical rooms are accessed by hatches in the deck.    After experimenting with underwater splices for electrical connections, they discovered that underwater connectors are far more effective.  (NOTE:  we learned later, that there are cameras in the underwater electrical rooms to make sure no one is in them during performance).

Bill Slessor (sp?) — Sustaining Show Technical Director

The show was delivered in 570 truck loads.    Disney constructed an onsite shop for the installation (in the area that will soon be the new “Cars” themed land).   More than 1800 people worked on the construction crew.    It took three months of technical rehearsals to perfect the show.   The show is still being regularly updated with new sequences and features.

 

**Hyperion Theatre and Aladdin**

From Jerry Tomlinson, Tech Manager

The venue has 72 line sets.   The initial idea was that several traditional theatrical venues would be constructed on each Disney property, and shows would be developed in Anaheim and then “tour” through the other Disney properties.   This has not happened yet.  The Hyperion used sound stage techniques to create a dead space audio-wise.    That way every sound the audience hears is specifically intended by the creative team.     The current show (Aladdin) uses about 600 conventional fixtures, and 90 automated fixtures.   Daily a crew of 6 inspects all motors, rigging, lighting etc before the show crew comes in.     The show crew is 15 people, most are trained for positions on multiple shows (or multiple positions on this show).   Show Automation (Chuck Brandt) is controlled form the trap room, although multiple stage managers and crew have enable or dead man or E-stop switches to maintain safety.   (The flying carpet is currently not in the show  until a technical glitch is fully explored.  Kaitlin Bueon (sp?) demonstrated the lighting system.    Two lightboards (Obsession II, and GrandMA) are used to run the show, but they are linked so only one go-button is needed.   Although the show was originally conceived with three follow spots, the show has only used two since shortly after its opening.  Also, see technical specs package distributed during tour.

 

**Parade Lighting**

Kaitlin Bueon explained the process of float lighting.   Disney developed a system to send a “go” wirelessly.  This done approximately every 2 1/2 minutes so that if a float is “off” from its cue sequence, it will correct it self in about 2 1/2 minutes.   Each float contains a system playing back DMX (it is not really a lightboard), and batteries to power the (usually low voltage, direct current) lights,   Batteries also need to be on-board to power the parade unit.   Each unit has a driver, but the drivers vision is often impaired.    Each float has an escort who walks along it, next to an e-stop (sometimes 2) in case of emergencies.

 

**Pyro/Fireworks Show** 

Disney uses a air-fired fireworks system to lessen the environmental impact of the fireworks show.  Strict safety proceeders are in place for loading and firing of the show.   Balloons are released from several points to check wind conditions.   There are approximately 190 shells in the current show, fired from 18 locations around the property.  Each location is visually supervised by a crew member.

 

**Rope Access**

Disney uses a Rope Access program so that technicians can access parts of the park and its structures that do not have traditional methods of accessibility (such as ladders, cat walks, personnel lifts etc.)    Disney trains its staff to international safety practices.   Prior to any Rope Access project, a risk assessment form (several pages) is created to confirm that there is no other way, safety protocols and several levels of management sign of on the Rope Access project.   At all times in a Rope Access project, the rigger has 2 points of safety contact.  With this method they are able to reach many areas that would not otherwise be accessible.   To date, Disney has a very good safety record with this method (actually a better safety record with Rope Access than traditional methods). We watched  a simulated rescue.

 

Educating the At Risk Student

Discussion led by William Kenyon

Four main reasons making students at risk:  Money, Physical, Mental, Emotional

 

Money

Reasons: Family problems, loss of Scholarships, Outside Debts

How to help: 

Work-study positions (even in other arts venues on campus)

Scholarships

Guide students with Budgeting skills

Several free budget templates are available on-line

Explain the concept of Value Gained vs. Value Loss

 

Change in Family Support

Sometimes families withdraw support

A parental “booster club” can be helpful

Especially if run by parents of former students

Encourage students to be aggressive in applying for scholarships

Physical

Reasons: Disabilities, Injuries, Drug/Alcohol Binges, Drug/Alcohol Addiction

Disabilities/Injuries

Students are often very supportive of other students

Encourage students to form a family like structure

Alcohol

For practicum, create a “Hold a Hammer” day

Allowed one time during the semester

No-Questions-Asked, means “I’m impaired” and no dangerous work

Find out Alcohol/Drug referral program at your school

 

Mental

Reasons:  Short Term Stress, Long Term Stress, PTSD, Eating Disorder, Learning Challenges, Suicidal 

Work to create a family environment so students can support each other

Drill professionalism into students

Students need to be focused on their personal reputation

 

Emotional 

Issues: 

Adjusting to College Life

Peer Pressure

Death of a family member

Couple Breakups

Pregnancy

 

Keynote

Louis Valdez

“What is the stage”

Theatre of the Sphere — Circle in a Square

The Square is the stage

The circle is unending, embracing the actors & the audience

Theatre is in the Audience, not on the stage

Theatre artists must turn their negatives into positives

Theatre can be non-violent weapon against oppression

Theatre as the language of teh human spirit

Light is an active participant in the theatre

as are all design elements

A community is needed for theatre

Theatre should be developed for a specific community

Technicians/Designers:  givers of mission & movement

The future belongs to those who can imagine it.

 

 

Digital Portfolio

Presented by Michael Harvey and Brian Swanson

 

What is the Goal

Is it to suplement the physical portfolio

Is it to replacement of the physical portfolio

 

 

Advantage

Disadvantage

Portable

Cheap

Resolution / storage

Compatibility

Media (not all computers have CD Drives)

 

 

Websites should be a content management system

Such as Joomela (sp?)

 

From Holly Pierce

Powerpoint

Hyperlink tool — Allows links to other points in the document

Adobe Accrobat

Can embed hyperlinks

New software (getting better):  Acrobat Portfolio

 

 

Dos

Don’t s

Non Linear Navigation

Plan (do a flow chart)

Remember Basic Design skills

Showcase your Work

Keep it Simple

Same Format in the whole presentation

Be consistent

Build digital portfolio for a specific audience

Test Test Test Test

Design a nice label for your CD (NO SHARPIE!!)

Make it hard to find your stuff

Take more than 3 clicks from start page to any image

Do more than 5 images / show 

Bloat

Use more than 2 fonts

embed video needlessly

SHARPIE!!

 

 

CO-CURRICULAR OPPORTUNITIES

Presented by Dan Robinson, Scott Ollinger, Matt Allar, Jeremy Hopgood, Shelby Newpart

 

What is Co-Curricular

Coordinating with curricular elements

Something in addition to the curriculum

 

Recommendations:

Take out the “Co:

Craft flexible syllabi that allow for many opportunities

Create Permanent Topics Courses to use for unusual projects

Use the “Guest Star”

Interview a Guest artist in class over Skype

Think about guest lecturers from other disciplines

Co-produce a show with another theatre company

Get Out of Here

Travel with the students

Tie in events such as USITT, Urta, SETC, NETC, etc.

Overcoming Cost Challenges

Grants

Students forming official student groups and requesting funds from student governments

Create a Student USITT official student club

 

Show Me the Money

Look For

Internal incentives

Faculty Development

Special Campus Funds

Campus Wide Themes or programs

Always try to tie funding requests to current “Buzz Words”

Student Involvement

Clearly define how students are involved

During pre-production, production, and post production

Define the role of the volunteer

Make sure the students understand the requirements and expectations

Make sure there is an evaluation at the end of the project.

Talk the Talk

Develop Interdepartmental projects

Tie into Campus wide initiatives 

Try to work with other programs (on and off campus)

 

Creative teaching projects for Technical Theatre (Poster Session)

**Model in a Box**

Students (as a group) are given a poem (recommended Poe or Frost)

& a set of materials (each group gets a copy of the same set), and a matching box

With only the addition of glue and color media and scissors, students interpret the poem as a scenic design in the box.  Working entirely within class (2 class sessions)

Teaches Time management, planning (students may plan outside of class), and collaboration

 

**M&Ms and Primary Colors of Light **

Set up lighting instruments with heavy primary colors

Display a bowl of M&Ms, ask students to separate the M&Ms based on color under each primary

Turn on white light so students can see how they did.

Teaches:   how lighting color affects perceived object color.

 

**Pick You Season** (NOTE: Have hand out)

Students, work in groups.

Given the parameters of the department’s season

Students create a focussed list of potential plays (2 or 3x the final number)

Analyze each play in terms of Budget, rights, themes, marketing, student participation etc.

Using analysis students select final season, including overall marketing scheme f

 

Teaches basic lessons in producing

 

**That’s the Lecture Now Let’s Build!**

Hand out only — needs to be considered for scene shop portion ofTA 23

 

**Super Hero Project**

(Hand out given to our costume instructor)

Costume design project, could be applied to more!

Teacher generated a number of adjectives about a character, and a number if (silly) Superhero abilities.

Students draw a selection of adjectives, and a super hero ability, and create a super hero based on what they drew.

Students create a back story, and then a costume.

 

Teaches: Character analysis, filling in gaps in a script, develops drawing skills

NOTE:   If we ever did the CID intro to design class — this could be an over all project — designing the costume for the costume portion, the “lair” for the scenic portion, lighting the space for lighting, and creating a mini radio play about the superhero for sound???  Maybe it could be considered if we are in a place where we are expanding offereings

 

5D and the future of design

NOTE: This session focused on the work of designers who use multimedia in design.   It was more about philosophy of high budget design than techniques about multi-media.

 

These designers have a preference of working with people with diverse (non-theatre) backgrounds because it “keeps the blinders off” from everyone

No one know what is and isn’t possible so all ideas are worth exploring

 

Extensive prototyping of ideas

Virtually

At smaller scales

 

Collaboration between the entire design team is essential

 

Basic Process:

Group Analyzes the Group Mandate (Their word for concept)

THEN:  Each specialist (designer etc.) does their thing (very free form) without knowing what the others are doing

THEN: All ideas are brought back tot he group and critically analyzed

THEN the Group Mandate is reevaluated (does it need to develop more, or be made more flexible?)

More concrete ideas are formed and work moves on in earnest.   Specialists often work very closely developing other areas than there own (a scenic designer on a specific project may get very involved with the costume process — mixing it up is ok so long as all the work is covered, and no one is over burdened.)

 

Multi-disciplinary  skills are vital

 

Top qualifications to work in this methodology:  People skills

Even if someone isn’t the best at a task, they probably know someone who is who can come in for a day or two if needed.

 

New term: Trans-media == Film+Theatre+Video+Themed entertainment

Regardless of training, venue/media does not change the design process.

 

Video Projection on Scenery

Presented by Koi (sp?) Hopper, Jeff Doughty, Adam Dahl, Kevin Griffin, Robert Miller

 

LED Framing spot — allows brighter deep colors, multipurpose a single gobo

 

Presentation on Rollin College Media Projects

Programs like “Media Shout” more adept than Powerpoint for what we do

Other choices: Isadora, Arkaos Media Master Express

 

Best choice: A media server

 

1 Media Server + Software + One High end project – Educational discount = approx. $10,000

 

Places to get quality video content affordably: Bluepony.com, istockvideo

 

BlueKaos –DMX Media Server aprox. $5000

 

Madmapper.com software — inexpensive, limited but powerful

 

Kigdom.com — House of Worship site — better prices on projectors than mainstream places

 

 

Death of the Incandescent Lamp

presented by Fred Foster, and Howard Brandsten

 

Read 2008 article titled ????   found at www.concerninglight.com

 

What will we do without incandescent lamps?

Onstage lights not directly affected by new laws

Once household lights are not incan., cost of production of stage lights will go up

 

the Lumens/watt formula of efficiency is not actually a good indicator (Incans are far easier to safely dispose of than CFLs, little to no study on safe disposal of LEDs)

 

LED lamps are not full spectrum (nor are CFLs)

 

Dangers of CFL:   Mercury, Radio Interference, implanted medical device interference, if broken a HazMat clean up must be performed

 

Make up rooms,  dressing rooms etc. are affected by new laws

 

recommended EBook:   ILightBulb

 

Teaching Technical Theatre to Non-Technical Students

Presented by: David Navalisky, Kat VanKleet, Ashley Bellet, Vincent Lobell, Ross Roushkolb

 

Goals of projects:

Increase Student Interest

Build Vocabulary

Teach Essential Skills

Meet Curriculum Requirements

Demonstrate connection to their life beyond theatre.

 

First thing to remember:   They havn’t done this before, they have never been taught

 

50% Project

Class jointly designs a set for a play (int. realism)

The set is then constructed at 50% (6” = 1’ -0” Scale)

Can usually be done from scrap

Working in small teams the set is divided up for people to build

Then assembled. When things don’t fit right, the group stops to figure out why

No blame

 

Build a Hero 

A Repeat from the poster session

 

Design Morgue

Students are given an adjective and asked to create a design board of visual research to represent the adjective.

In class the morgues are discussed and analyzed.

Done on a regular basis through out a semester.

 

Fake Food

For either  a prop class or general intro to stage craft

Students are assigned to find a play that mentions food.

Students research what the food would like, and research (often internet) how to make a fake version

The students must then build fake food that meets the description.  

Added bonus:   TD & Prop master judge the food.  Anything that is deemed good enough to go into storage for the department earns an “A” on the project.

 

 

Other tips to make people more excited about tech:

 

Foster friendly competition in the projects, makes students try harder

In stage craft class, have everyone who works on a set piece sign the back of it.

Create a grid of all of the essential skills — when a student has mastered the skill, it gets signed off on.

 

ADA in the technical theatre classroom

Presented by Montana Hisec-Cochran

 

History

Section 504 of  the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Organizations that receive federal funds are barred from discrimination

ADA 1990

Extension of the above, but not covers places of public accommodation

 

FOR Colleges and universities

Law requires accommodations, not modification of curriculum

 

Higher Ed is not required to:

Substantial alteration of the curriculum

Substantial alteration of the manner in which program is offered

to have an undue burden to the institution

 

Note:  Undue burden arguments rarely fly in court

However, schools do not need to change (by federal law) the delivery method of a class (traditional or on-line) (STATE laws may be different, work with local ADA office on campus)

 

Before an ADA student may enter a class, he/she must be otherwise qualified

For example if a student must meet certain proficiencies of a program to be admitted, the ADA does not change that

 

Brochure available on Universal Design of courses

 

Dealing with ADA students in technical theatre classes:

 

Examine the essential elements (in our case SLOs)

These are the requirements for the class

Consider how they can be met with in the students abilities

 

Communication is key

The students is probably well versed in their disability

If there are additional concerns speak with the camps ADA counselor or coordinator

 

SUGGESTION: put campus address of ADA office in syllabi

 

SUGGESTION: if the class has an on-line component, add ASL interpreters to the Blackboard site — this helps them be prepared for what they will be interpreting.

 

If your class will have an ASL interpreter, think about placement where so the student can “hear” the lecture and watch what needs to be seen.

 

If you know in advance, ask the ADA office if you can learn some key signs for your class (especially safety)

 

Guiding principles in making adaptations/accommodations:

Compassion

Creativity

Collaboration

 

SUGGESTED THEATRE READING: “Beyond Victims & Villains, Contemporary plays by handicapped playwrights”

The Week Ahead, and Looking Back

I’m in Los Angeles to participate in the United States Institute for Theatre Technology conference.   I used to attend USITT almost annually, and it seemed like it used to be in Long Beach at least every other year.    It has been a few years (three?) since I was able to attend.  The Long Beach location provided to big points of cost savings:   I could drive there, and I have friends in the area who are letting me sleep in their spare room.

Previous USITTs have been about (for me) job hunting,  product research, connecting with old friends, net working, and occasionally actually working the convention at a booth or table.    This time, while I am doing some product research, and I hope to see old friends, I have two main goals.   One is the classes, workshops, and sessions I am attending to become better at my job, and two is to talk to publishers (or a specific publisher), about the book I’m writing.   

To that end, I brought mostly nice cloths with me.  I remember running around past USITTs in ripped jeans, and old show T-shirts.  Not this time.  I have a suit, I have several kilt/dress shirt/vest ensembles.   

And because of hoping to do the book, I’m really nervous.   I wasn’t this nervous when I was at USITT to interview for jobs.  I wasn’t this nervous when I was representing an organization.

I always thought that once I reached my thirties, going to conventions and trade shows would be no big deal.  I would be cool and nonchalant.   Maybe that never changes.  I aslo figured I wouldn’t be nervous on opening night (or when presenting my design concepts for the first time).  I still am.  

So here I am getting ready for tomorrow.   My workshop/class thing tomorrow starts at 7 am — we were warned to be there, ready to go no later than 6:45.   I can’t get any information on if the convention center parking will be open then.  It had better be.  Tomorrow will also be my first day driving there.  I’m planning to arrive no later than 6:30 (and if google is right, i’ll arrive at 6:03).

I have lots I want to learn this week, and lots I want to do.   What it will be, who knows?   But I hope it will at the very least be a wonderful experience of learning.

And to that note, I may (if I’m awake enough), do daily blog posts about what I have learned that day, or a big wrap up at the end.

Reflection on “Almost, Maine”

Well, I haven’t written in a while, which typically translates to, I’ve been doin’ a show.  In this case, the show was “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, directed by Janine Christl for Fresno City College.   I designed the lighting and scenery, Deb Shapazian did the fun costumes, and Jeff Barrett the moving sound design.    

Here is what Donald Munro said of my work in his review:

“Christopher R. Boltz’s scenic and lighting design is wonderful. Three tall dark screens, each depicting spindly trees painted in white, can slide from side to side, opening up spaces for scenery to fit in. Whether they’re interiors (a living room, a bar table) or exteriors (an inviting front porch, a field covered with snow), these set pieces offer a unified sense of texture and proportion that gently and effectively insinuates the audience into the look and feel of this small town.The Northern Lights themselves pop up now and then to glorious effect, and Boltz’s lighting design subtly picks up on the image, often bathing a scene from the side with a mild, comforting green glow.”

Well Yippee for me.   I think the set was nice, and I was rather proud of some of my lighting.  This review, however, is much longer, and includes more praise than I typically get from Mr. Munro.   I am certainly not complaining — it is nice to read nice things of oneself.    However nice my work on this show is, it is not better (in my opinion) than many other shows I have done.   (In fact the concept was sort of stolen from two of my other shows.)   

Why did I steal?   Well the original set idea was cool, but too expensive and heavy.   At a production meeting, I developed a new concept, sketched it, and then overnight drafted it.  It was functional. It was pretty.  And it was far from perfect.  Sitting in the audience at the closing performance, I saw at least three things I should have done — each of which would have made the scene changes more elegant, faster, and saved money.

What I think I am most proud of on “Almost, Maine” is my crew.    They had a tough job.   There was a fair amount of set, and a a large amount of props, and oh yes, it snowed.   There was a lot to do durring the show.   The crew stepped up their game.   The worked together, and with very little leadership from the faculty.  The organized additional rehearsals of the scene changes.   The worked out better traffic patterns back stage.   AND if the show had run another 2 weeks, would have made the scene changes truly art.   I would have liked the changes to go smoother and quicker, but what I liked more was that several of my students stepped up and became leaders.    Students that I thought (or feared) were just in the production class to earn 3 units really cared about the show.   They promoted the show, they talked about the show, they took their work on the show very seriously.  And that, in many ways, is what college theatre ought to be about:  How much learning and growth happened within the students, regardless of what any reviewer says.

I’m also proud of the cast.   Janine, our wonderful director, took a large cast (19!) and made a town come to life.    Many of the cast were in their first college show, and had a lot to learn, bad habits to break, performance skills to master.   They did.   Some grew more than others, and maybe some had farther to go than others.   The most amazing thing I saw was the incredible growth I saw between the first run I watched, and final dress.  AND THEN, to my amazement, there was growth between final dress, and the final performance of the show, eight days later.

“Almost, Maine” is a production of which I am hugely proud.   It may be one of the most educational shows we have done since I have been at City College.   And this great work, is work that is hard for an audience to perceive.    Audiences see the finished product (and in this case, the finished product was pretty good), but they can’t (nor should they) see what went into it.   But in educational theatre, what went into is the most important thing.

Click Track, The Positives and Negatives

Over the weekend I saw a local, community theatre production of a fairly recent popular musical.  There were several of my current and (recently) former students involved.  I’m glad I saw the show.  It sparked several things I want to write about over the next few weeks.

The theatre where I saw the show has not used a live band for years (or at least that’s what was explained to me).  Typically they use (according to some in the know) some sort of click track — sometimes locally produced with a full orchestra, or a small combo (pre-recorded) or MIDI/Synthesizer tracks

The show used tracks from a company called the MT Pit, which provides this service.   On one hand, these tracks were some of the best backing tracks I have ever heard.  The orchestra sounded very professional, they had a nice swing, and a good tone and sound.

That said, the lack of a live orchestra hurts a musical so much.  I used to think, “well the tracks aren’t very good, but if they were….”  However, this showed me, that no matter how high quality the tracks, it sucks some of the life out of a show.   The recording can’t vamp while the audience laughs (or move ahead when they don’t).   The recording can’t feel when the performer wants a little ritardando or accellerando or whatever the performer needs to connect with that specific audience on that specific night.  The fact that theatre is live is what makes it magical.  Taking away the live musicians hurts a show so much.

The flip side, theatre is so expensive to produce.  Rights, physical production, staff, insurance, advertising etc. all cost a lot (and those costs are rising constantly).   I understand while theatres look at the orchestra and think it is a needless expense — or at least where the cost doesn’t equal the benefits.    Click tracks, especially beautifully  sounding tracks tempt producers to think this is better.  I’d rather hear a small combo, or even piano only so long as it is live, and there, and present with the actors.  Those few musicians make such a difference.

In educational theatre, while my over all opinion holds, if given the choice between students not learning about musical theatre, or doing theatre with a click track, I guess I would choose the click track — but really, I can’t imagine that the click track is cheaper than a small combo.

It was so frustrating in the theatre — great tracks backing the singers, but they were still tracks, plodding on at the predetermined tempo.   A machine trying to do the job of an artist.  It ends up being disappointing.