Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Getting Political

This isn't a political blog.  So I won't belabor the choice America has in this presidential race.  I'll just send you to this interview/ad featuring Trump's one-time architect:  HERE.

Look, I'm a designer.  I've done work I haven't gotten paid for.  (I even got one small claims court judgement - but no cash.  I framed it as a reminder.)  

And I'm an architect.  I've watched an interior designer fight to be paid any fee at all for work completed.  I've known other architects and designers who have been stiffed by clients.  I've seen architectural firms close because they've been stiffed by clients.  It makes me mad.

Trump's architect, Andrew Tesoro: 







I feel for this architect.  This is what Trump really thinks of small business owners, whatever economic and job growth he may now promise at a podium.

Potential Trump Voters!  You could get stiffed too - so could the country.  

Please reconsider.  

This is a still from the Clinton ad HERE.  Not public domain, but I don't think Hillary will mind my using it, do you?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cornelius Parker, You Rascal You

Yesterday's post on set design reuse and attribution (HERE) has developed legs...

The story in Theater Jones (HERE) inspired another one at the Arts Integrity Initiative (HERE) with the perfect title:

"When a Tree Falls in Athens and Rises in Camelot, Whose Design is it Anyway?"

Most good designers understand the ethics of their branch of design instinctively (besides, where's the fun if you just steal another guy's design?), but it's worthwhile discussing these matters.  When is recycling and reuse fair and when is it theft?  What is plagiarism and what is inspiration?  How much "sampling" or borrowing is okay and how much is Too Much?

Fair questions.

And the answers are going to vary somewhat from one type of design to another.  For instance, using recycled or stock pieces is legit in theater design (and so eco-sustainable and budget-helpful that we should do it and have a tradition of doing it), but every ethical designer knows that means mix-n-matching bits from many shows then seriously rethinking and redesigning those pieces into a new, original - collaging - not just repainting and changing the designer's name.  Yeesh.  

But even other kinds of designers don't always understand theater design ethics.  Architect friends don't quite get the nuances... seeing as built buildings don't often pick up and move on (as sets or costumes often do).  In architecture it's more often a matter of "did your drawings get reused without agreement?" not "did that porch get trucked away?"  Even then it's looked at as a theft from the physical owner - like stealing a sofa - rather than as a theft from the designer... 

...unless the designer and building are very famous.  There are loud art/ethical questions about removing the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon or selling bits of Greene and Greene's Blacker House for profit and replacing them (in the house) with reproductions.  The DMA has the real front door.


IMAGINE PICTURE OF
BLACKER HOUSE DOOR
HERE

The Dallas Museum of Art has such legalese copyright policy that, frankly, I'm frightened to use their photo here even with attribution on this fair-use-y post.  They don't seem worried about vulture-picking the carcass of that great artwork the Blacker House, but I bet they're pretty defensive of the copyright of the photo of their loot.  
So. 


Cornelius Parker?  He's the unethical (and imaginary) theater designer who reused a fellow designer's work without informed permission, appropriate payment, or full attribution.

Still a gorgeous tree. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Design, Reuse, Adaptation, and Proper Credit.


I was just finishing a meeting about the set design for my next show at Kitchen Dog Theater (Feathers and Teeth), chatting with the director, when the influence of earlier productions came up.  Was it ethical to reuse a brilliant piece of staging an earlier director invented?  No, we agreed.  The same rule holds, of course, for set designs: if an earlier designer has a clever idea, the next designer can't steal it without credit or permission.  (For that reason, I try hard not to look at earlier set designs for my shows until after I have an idea of my own.) 

Credit and permission are important.

I've written about copyright before.  An idea is not copyrightable, but it's specific manifestation is.  For instance, the idea of toasting bread is free for anyone to use... but you can't precisely copy that patented GE toaster.  Right?

Well, there's a complicated question right now in the DFW theater community.  At the end of a show's run part of a set - an absolutely gorgeous tree! - instead of being thrown in the dumpster was sold to another theater company for use in a different show.  The tree's designer was consulted and okayed this reuse.

But.

In fact, more of that set - most of it actually - was saved and reused.  In almost exactly the same way as before, but for a totally different show.  The original designer was credited in the second show's program as "the tree designer" but credit for the set as a whole was given to another name.  A made-up name.

Weird.

Distressing for the real designer.

Read the details HERE at Theater Jones.

What do you think?  Was this design hijacked?  Was credit fair or misleading?  

Personally, I think the credit was misleading, but the real problem was that, effectively, a set for Midsummer's Night's Dream was twisted into a set for Camelot without proper payment to the designer and without explicit permission from its designer for that zombie-afterlife. Permission which its designer would not have given, thinking that, artistically, it's just bogus to just slap a set onto a text it wasn't meant for.  The - shall we say "adapter"? - seems to think: What's the fuss?

Pretty tangled.


tangled tree limbs - courtesy of public-domain-image.com


Follow-up post HERE.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reading Riot!

It's been too long since I reviewed any books here... but then, it has been too long since I had time to read any books.  But I've been having a sort of sanity break just lately - time to visit the beach, take that long-promised water color painting class, and to really read.

As my theatrical life speeds up again, I'll give you a in-the-rear-view-mirror look (if not full reviews) of some of the favorite books I've found during The Lull:


The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - recommended by the owner of Fort Worth's cool new bookstore The Last Word, this is the first in a series of literary detective novels that I really enjoyed.  And when I say "literary detective" I mean a detective/peace officer inside literature.  As in dealing with those hotheads in Wuthering Heights and prosecuting fraudulent and/or cloned Shaxpeares.  Or working with 'em.  Whichever.  Amusingly meta.  Literate.  Clever.  Funny.  Alice-in-Bookland inventive.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler - another find from The Last Word.  This is a retelling of Shakespeare's (the real one's) The Taming of the Shrew.  I found it oddly charming and gently funny.  Romantic, but not in the least mushy.  I liked it so well that I immediately followed up with the same author's Pulitzer Prize-winning Breathing Lessons as a chaser.  Both good... wisely observant of real people and (rare!) understanding of the chemistry of relationships and especially long time marriages.

Another entry in the retell-classic-stories race is Emma, Jane Austen's classic rewritten by Alexander McCall Smith.  Which worked pretty well.  I have to admit that Emma is not my fav Austen heroine - too bossy, too unaware, too embarrassing-herself (I cringe).  But this modern day retelling is lively and funny and makes ol' Emma more fun, I think.

As is my wont, I spent a good few hours revisiting old favorites by the old authors too.  Among the best times this time was a great Terry Pratchett, The Truth.  This is set in his Discworld, but is a strong stand-alone from that series.  More-or-less it's about the invention of a Free Press... really funny, thoughtful, smart, silly, and sane... in a crazy way.  Classic Pratchett.  Not a bad first book to start with if you haven't met his work before.

Another golden oldie: Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute.  I'm a fan.  Shute's On the Beach is probably best known now, but this is my favorite, with one of my favorite all-time heroes- he's quiet, humble, talented but poor in a worldly way, unambitious... and, when he needs to be, a brave and resourceful man.  His superpower is figuring out what the right thing to do is and then just doing it.

A different kind of hero - but with the same superpower - is in The Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger.  I loved this book as a teen, and it was dated then, but I still enjoyed it hugely.  For me, it's a classic like The Prisoner of Zenda.

On the topic of heroes: Andy Weir's The Martian is as good as and even more involving than the film version.  And that just won a Hugo award.  Plus NASA people I know like the science.  So there.  Read it!

A shockingly new variation of hero lives in Naomi Novik's non-science but magic-based novel Uprooted.  A girl?  Hero?  Absolutely.   Disclaimer: I always want to like books about magic, but am often disappointed by how well, mundane, it all becomes by about chapter five.  By chapter eleven it's generally all ren-faire-ish politics.  Yawn.  (Ditto "urban romance" another vamp/were/zombie clash? mega yawn.)  Not so much here.  In this novel magic is real and really scary.  Some wonderful, thrilling visions of magic at work.  Very visual.  Very the creepy side of the Brothers Grimm.  Loved it.  I need to reread this soon.

Speaking of so called "urban romance" AKA Vampire Lit...  A few interesting recent reads:  the latest in Charlaine Harris's Midnight, Texas series is fun.  (She authored the books behind TV's True Blood.)  I enjoy her work, but I'd kinda class it in the beach-book airplane-book category - in the nicest way.  Funnier, so I like it better, is the series by Drew Hayes that starts with The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant.  At the tippy-top of my Favorites for this genre (more or less) has to be Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, starting with Rivers of London or in the US, Midnight Riot.  (Because, being the US, we won't read books without gratuitous violence in the title?)  These are excellent.  Can't recommend these magical-policeman stories strongly enough.  And BTW there are comic books as part of the series at Comixology.

Reflecting on all this sort of richness is an interesting collection of essays by writer Neil Gaiman in The View from the Cheap Seats.  Obviously, this will mean more to you if you first know Gaiman's fiction: I'd suggest starting with Stardust or Neverwhere or his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, a cheery look at the Apocalypse.  The essays are thoughtful and scholarly about the sort of imaginative fiction I love, though delving more deeply into comics than I can keep up with.  A takeaway?

"I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, 
ideas will, eventually, win."

On the battlefront of Ideas - in the skirmish of democracy - Sarah Powell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is an amusing and informative look at one of the Founding Fathers... or, rather, their French battle-buddy.  I really like the way she spins things, for example:  "Devoted to the principles of liberty, equality, and religious tolerance - which, dear Internet, is not necessarily the same thing as Satanism..."  

I've been reading up on history lately... starting with 1820s New Orleans ('cause Architect/Pirate Barthelemy Lafon!) but slipping back in time a bit (because I've gotten interested in the hit musical Hamilton).  So I've been reading The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed.  Another award winner.  Fascinating!  Also dipping into letters by Hamilton himself and this and that.  The internet is a rabbit hole for history - just a warning.  Anyway. 

I've found my history reading timely... Nice to know that political discourse - as we see it in this years presidential race - hasn't really changed much.  Sigh.

Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull courtesy of Wikimedia
public domain


The most fascinating reading has been my gift copy (thanks!) of Hamilton: the Revolution, the book by Lin Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.  This documents the creation of the you-can't-BUY-a-ticket Broadway musical.  A really in depth look at its writing and its development on stage.  This book would be an ideal present for anyone creating (or interested in) new works for the theater.

Phew!  Last entry.  Also on artists doing their art, the book of the long over-due retrospective for painter Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun...  Gorgeous portraits!  Vigee Le Brun, by Joseph Baillio, Katherine Baetjer, and Paul Lang.  Important painter, protege of Queen Marie  Antoinette, international celebrity in her own day, it only took the Metropolitan Museum, what, 200 years? to stage her first international show.  Figures. 

 Another thing that hasn't changed enough, misogyny.  As a member of France's Revolutionary Council explained back in 1800s:

"Among savage peoples, who are closest to nature, does one see women doing the work of men?  He thinks it is because a famous woman, la citoyenne Le Brun, showed great talent in painting that a host of others have wanted to take up painting, whereas they ought only to engage in embroidering police officers' belts and caps..."

Sometimes fiction is more upbeat than history.  I'm looking for a nice comforting dystopia next...

Monday, August 22, 2016

Passing...

This weekend was saddened by the death of Rose Pearson, co-founder of Circle Theatre.

Rose added hugely to the arts in Fort Worth.  

Any idea how much hard work, dedication, and grit it takes to make a theater last - thrive! - for 35 years? It's a BIG accomplishment.  A good memorial.

Throughout the fifteen years I've been privileged to work at Circle, Rose's influence was always strong in her theater, but what I'll remember best was how, even when she was very ill, she remained closely involved - coming in for important board meetings, meeting visiting playwrights, or working by phone when she could.  She even used her too-up-close view of the hospital experience to inform a production by making suggestions on the privacy curtains around the only-pretend-patient's bed.  Art uses everything.  

A woman of amazing strength.

Her theater?  Much saddened, but continuing on under the guidance of her husband and Circle co-founder Bill Newberry. 

Courtesy of Circle Theatre

Monday, August 1, 2016

Forbidden Sketching

Sketchbooks are VITAL.

Just saw a recent, highly-irate commentary by Oliver Wainwright on the Victoria & Albert Museum's policy of not allowing photography or sketching! in its temporary exhibits.

That's really pretty awful.

(If you don't know it, the V&A is a treasure.  Buy a plane ticket and an entry ticket and go visit it immediately.  I'll wait.)

...You back?

Sketching in a museum is how an artist studies.  Learns stuff.  Not allowing sketching in an art museum is like not allowing reading in a library.  Anyway, the irate article is in The Guardian HERE:  in a post titled "'No Sketching': V&A signs betray everything the museum stands for."

Now, it's not like you should go running around and recklessly sketch just any old how: one of our local museums here in Dallas - Fort Worth does restrict sketching to pencil only (afraid that the temptation to draw an ink moustache on a portrait might be irresistible), but after asking you to put that pen away, they'll happily provide the pencil.  Because they know that being able to sketch is important.

Sketching is so important that the V&A even has a webpage extolling the importance of sketchbooks HERE.  (They should read it.)

Why is drawing so important?  On the V&A's page architect Eva Jiricna explains it perfectly:

"If I draw it for myself, I understand it. If I try to imagine it, it is too whimsical. Sketching is a tool - an extension of one's brain."

A page from the 13th C sketchbook of architect Villard de Honnecourt
Seeing, drawing, trying to understand & thinking - copyright long expired

So why the V&A's no-drawing ban?
Keepin' the line movin'.  Move along, move along...  I mean, are museums about art and education or are they about selling some tickets here!

Such a pity that drawing - and thinking - takes so damn long isn't it?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Goodbye Old Blue

You'll remember earlier posts about Kitchen Dog Theater losing its home of twenty years, the memorably BLUE box of the McKinney Avenue Contemporary...



The ruin of the MAC - photo by Tim Johnson




Stand on any corner in Dallas long enough and a bulldozer will get you.  Sigh.  I can where's-Waldo a glint of blue paint on some of the rubble.  See it there?

Temporarily we'll be at the Trinity River Arts Center for a while, but we're working on getting a permanent new home.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Scenic Painting - Backdrops

The traditional painted backdrop doesn't happen much when I set design... In part because I  just don't design for many proscenium theaters, but mostly because I don't lean toward the picture-postcard-backdrop school of thought - for me, sets are more environment than picture.

But Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale seemed to demand a backdrop.

Besides, for once, I had a real, bonafide, not-me! talented scenic painter on board.

So here's the process:


Schematic design sketch for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
Yellow tracing paper, ink, and colored pencil

First came the rough sketch, showing the theater seating (thrust, with seats and balconies around three sides).  This was mainly to explain to the director what I was proposing.  The idea was to create a "tapestry" appropriate to the court scenes with which the play begins (and that reappear in Act II), but one that would also fit as the environment for the outdoor scenes.  A bleak winter woods.  Prowled by bears.


Design development sketch for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
Yellow tracing paper, ink, watercolor pencil, colored pencil, and CAD

Here's the next sketch, just the backdrop itself because the frame is in another downstage plane.  The center part of the view will also be in another plane, back about a foot from the rest, and attached to a huge sliding door that opens for the final "statue" scene.


Color rendering for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale 
Vellum, watercolor, watercolor pencil, and some colored pencil

Above is the final rendering that the scenic painters would work from.


 Progress photos of the backdrop for Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Here are progress photos.  Unfortunately, the backdrop was too tall to fit on the scene shop's painting frame.  (This is a sort of elevator-easel that moves up and down so the painter doesn't need ladders.  Very cool!  I desperately wanted to see it in action... but it's only 20' tall.  This drop was 28'.)  So it was painted in the Opera Dept.'s rehearsal hall.  (Thanks Opera!)


Progress photo of Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
onstage scenic painting - backdrop, frame, and floor.  Notice how that tree stump has developed!

Then the not-quite-finished drop was transferred to the theater.  You can see how the center section has been cut out at that sliding door.  We tried to attached that portion of the view - painted on muslin -  TO the door, but in the end it had to be painted ON the door itself.  Notice the progress of the painted "stone" floor.


The Winter's Tale, at Leontes' court
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

Here is the backdrop in backdrop/tapestry mode for Leontes' court.


The Winter's Tale, at Leontes' court
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

And in the "chapel" scene.  Note the gorgeous floor.

The Winter's Tale
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

Stage daylight lets you see the beautifully painted stump and other details.  Like, below, the distant view of a fortified city.

The Winter's Tale
Photo by Amy Peterson, courtesy of Trinity Shakespeare Festival

A big shout-out to scenic painter Kaitlyn Donovan and her assistants!  Thanks.  Gratitude also for the beautifully detailed build.  (There was some coolo laser cutting technology involved in those oval corner plaques on the frame.)  Props worked hard on great faux wool bales for the final "shepherd" scenes.

Trinity Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
The shepherds throw a party... complete with wool bales and piano.
Photo by Amy Peterson

And thanks for the lovely lighting!  Nice costumes too, huh?  This was just a beautiful show and an accomplished one all round, I thought.  Directing, acting, dance, song...  Critics seemed to agree - always nice.

Back to the drawing board... a little battered and coffee stained.

Oh, remember that rendering?  Here it is back home to my studio... having clearly worked for its living at the scene shop.  

Lessons learned?  (There are always lessons to learn.)

1)  Get better and faster at watercolor.  So I'm now taking a watercolor class.
2)  I really like this pro-scenic painter thing - get more of 'em! more often!
3)  Encase the rendering in plastic next time.