Thursday, February 26, 2015

Creating the Romeo and Juliet Set

Not that I'm behind on progress pics or anything... but the Romeo and Juliet set has now been struck and I'm just now blogging the "Finished!" photos.  Sigh.  It's been busy here at Set Design Central.

What's been going on?

Well, reading new scripts - I and You to be produced at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth and The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.  Starting to think through them and to sketch.  Building a white model for The Farnsworth Invention and presenting it to the Board of ICT for it's Main Stage production at the Irving Art Center.  Approved!  Now I need to start construction drawings.  Talking through lighting / possible-projection issues for WaterTower Theater's up-coming All My Sons - debating whether and what kind of model might help assess those.  (A SketchUp model may be coming.)  Projections will be part of Farnsworth too.  Need to start those construction drawings.  Oh!  And getting paid.  Always important.   And getting that pay to the bank and running model-material-gettin' errands... complicated by Dallas' current weird and icy weather.

(You Northerners shouldn't laugh too hard - remember, we don't have much in the way of salt trucks or plows in the usually-balmy South.)

Also starting the yearly struggle with Taxes.  Yeesh.


But here are some R&J pics:

Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet - photo (and set) by Clare Floyd DeVries

Here you can see the full stage: Montague's tower on the left (SR), Capulet's tower on the right (SL).   Far left is the proscenium edge fountain, at center, an existing doorway dressed for the occasion plus a colonnade suggesting more town, gardens etc.

Following are (much better) pro photos by Chuck Marcelo (thank you!) showing how all this stage-set urbanism works as a background to the action.

Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet - photo by Chuck Marcelo

Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet - photo by Chuck Marcelo

Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet - photo by Chuck Marcelo

Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet - photo by Chuck Marcelo

Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet - photo by Chuck Marcelo

A really good show and a set I'm pretty happy with.  Thanks again to everyone who helped create it - and to Fun House for letting me play too.

There's one more blog post coming on this production - to show you shop in-process photos... as soon as the weather and my schedule allows me to go pick those up from the TD.  Meanwhile, here's a list of previous posts:

1)  "A Set Design from Scratch" - first post, with schematic design drawings and inspirational photo  HERE.
2)  The post that should have been first "First Steps" HERE with initial sketchbook doodles.
3) "R&J Construction Drawings" HERE, containing... guess!
4)  "A Valentine's Present" HERE, about finishing and opening.
5)  "Process Pics" HERE, with my photos from the theater.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Process Pics

As promised, a few progress pictures for Fun House Theatre and Film's production of Romeo and Juliet:

Here's my drafting board when just getting into construction documents.  Note the old-school actual hand-drawing tools.  At the top of the board is the schematic design sketch, below is the half finished construction plan being drawn on white tracing paper laid over the yellow trace of the schematic design plan.

I find it helpful to do early sketches on yellow trace.  For one thing, the blank paper doesn't look as blank so it's less intimidating to start thinking (and so I have to color in less), but there's also some evidence that the color yellow helps creative thinking... who knows why?  That, supposedly, is the reason sticky notes are yellow.  That or because yellow is easier to notice?

Below are photos from two stages of construction.  The top photo shows both towers mostly built, but incomplete around their bases.  In the second photo the angled "skirt" of the Capulet's tower has been added at the right.  On the left, the rest of the stones at the base of the Montague's tower are still in progress.  Please forgive the hideous work lights!

Set construction actually started in a remote shop - those photos to come - while in the theater space my kind helper and I started painting the upstage yellow "stucco" wall even before the previous set had been removed!  Though you can hardly see it in this view, I left some painted sky from that show in place... peeking over the top of a garden wall.

Below is the finished fountain at the stage right proscenium.  The rim/bench and sorta headstone pieces were built for this show, but the waterlilies came from a production of Madame Butterfly that never happened (in my garage for years!) and the decorative fountain head is leftover from another show (a keystone cobbled together from a Halloween mask and foam... but I forget for which show).  Notice the elaborate outer rim/bench then darker inner moldings, then inner rim, then small pool design?  

This developed because February is not yet kiddie-paddle-pool season.  No one could find the 36" diameter bucket I wanted.  A 22" diameter bucket we could find.  Yeesh.  As the carpenter had run out of time, this was a last minute scramble on my part, using an old circular "Texaco" sign from a show about Hank Williams (in my garage) cut into a donut using my tired scroll saw, plus $5 worth of fat pipe insulation, and all the greenery (in my garage) I hadn't already used elsewhere...

In the background you get a better view of the rocks at the base of the M's tower.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentines Present

It's wonderful when a show turns out as well as you hoped...

Fun House Theatre and Film's production of Romeo & Juliet is exactly that!

Buy tickets immediately.

Fun House Theatre and Film's production of Romeo and Juliet
photo Chuck Marcelo

My part, the set, turned out well.  But the kids'!  This is a lovely version of Shakespeare's classic romantic tragedy... particularly poignant because, for once, the leads are nearly the age of the characters.

This is not a review (how could I write one?  I'm head over heels into this production and this group of kids and adults) but I can say that all the actors did well, with several performances I think that could step onstage among any troupe of adults and hold their own, that the physicals like the sword fights are unexpectedly exciting and real-looking and the balcony climb touchingly youthfully exuberant.

On top of that, the production elements like the costumes were very effective.  I can't tell you how often a relatively rich theater has told me that they can't afford to do the Bard in period... yet this underfunded kids' troupe managed it beautifully.  (So there!)  These aren't accurate Elizabethan clothes, but rather suggestive ones.  Except for maybe one hat, they work great.  Color-coding the two rival houses works well at clarifying the action both for the children in the audience and for the adults.  I liked the live classical-music underscoring.

And speaking of effective on a low budget...  Our set, I just realized,  cost about 1/100th of the set presently onstage at the Dallas Theater Center.  Okay, that stage is twice as big and that musical has, I don't know, 20? times the number of settings...  Still a pretty good bang-for-buck bonus for this R&J.

A snapshot of Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet
Photo by... Alexandra Bonifield maybe?

In getting this show up and finished I've gotten behind in my blogging, but I promise to post construction photos and better "finished" photos in the next few days.

Thanks! to all my helpers - carpenters, painters, and faithful drudges - who make things possible.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In Passing

Sad news in today's newspaper: actor Nye Cooper has died.

Those of you outside of the DFW area won't recognize his name, but for me and many around here this is the actor who perfectly embodied Crumpet, the cynical department store elf in the Santaland Diaries.

I got to design that show one year for WaterTower Theater, setting it in the store's stock room / break room... cluttered with odd chairs, wonky tables, a time-card machine, boxes, empty clothing racks, and dilapidated Christmas decorations.  Nye sat on a giant fake Gingerbreadman instead of on the more usual Santa throne.

And was he funny!

Perfectly cynical, so funny, and somehow touching.

Ever since then, when I watch someone else in the role, I compare them to Nye Cooper.  When I read the original David Sedaris story I hear his voice.

We hardly met - a quick "Hi!" in a hall once I think - but still there Nye Cooper is, a fixture in my mental library of great characters.  Just as another actress, Kristina Baker, is in my head: the measure for Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.   Even Patti Lupone I compared with her.  (Patti?  Pretty darn good.  Helena sweety? I'm sorry.)  Kristina has also died, but I remember her Mrs. Lovett.

Acting is ephemeral stuff - gone as soon as seen - yet strangely longer-lived than the actors.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

R & J Construction Drawings

Bringing you up to date on Romeo and Juliet for Fun House Theatre and Film...

I finished the construction drawings Friday and hand-carried copies to the TD, the estimable Dave Tenney.  (That TD stands for the Technical Director, in this case, also the Carpenter.)

Before looking at these drawings, it's important to know that they were created for this particular very clever carpenter - with whom I've built many sets.  We know each other well: I know the level of quality I can expect and the kinds of information he needs or doesn't, while he knows my design quirks and preferences.  It's also important that this set is going to be built fast, on a modest budget, mostly from stock pieces and incorporating columns and arches left over from a previous set we did together.  (Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.)  If I were making construction drawings to bid out to many shops or for an unfamiliar carpenter, I'd detail and draw and note much more than I need to here.

(Thank goodness!)

The design is still substantially as it was in the schematic design drawings HERE, with minor changes suggested by the director.  The biggest of these was to shift the SL tower belonging to the Capulets downstage a few feet.

Romeo and Juliet for Fun House Theatre and Film, set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

You can see that moving the Capulet tower DS meant modifying the colonnade upstage of it a little.  As I thought through the drawings I modified many things in small ways, mostly to make them simpler to build or better suited to stock pieces.

Romeo and Juliet for Fun House Theatre and Film, set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

Above are the elevations for the SR tower where the Montagues live.  Because this tower needs to be color-cued blue to match the family's livery, I've designed it in materials (well, faux ones anyway!) that naturally tend toward cool grays... slate, granite... so this is a mostly "stone" tower.

Romeo and Juliet for Fun House Theatre and Film, set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

The Capulet's tower needs to tint towards red so it's built of faux (red) brick and redwood colored shingles and rusty metals.

Notice that certain things like the plaques over the doors are called out as "by designer."  That means that I'll show up with them under my arm, ready to attach.  Sometimes that means you're going shopping or borrowing from another theater, sometimes emptying your garage.  This time I'm loaning a couple terracotta medallions I bought, long ago, from a thrift store for another show (Enchanted April at WaterTower Theater) that have been decorating my kitchen ever since.

Notice that the footprints for both towers are TINY.  That's because the theater space isn't very tall - only about 12 feet, and that's up into the ceiling joists.  So to make these sets look taller in proportion I had to make them look narrower.  Luckily these are all kid actors so they're pretty skinny.

Romeo and Juliet for Fun House Theatre and Film, set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

A section through the Capulet's tower shows how the balcony is supported.

Actually, that's gonna change.

The carpenter thinks he can make the cantilever sturdy enough even for a good-sized climbing Romeo without needing to overlap two platforms as I show them.  (Counter-weight, I was thinking.)  He's simply going to brace the heck out of everything, which will simplify things.  Again, with a different carpenter, I'd redraw the detail, but in this circumstance there's no need.  

BTW carpenters commonly construct sets in other ways than you, the designer, expect - and That's OK.  They're the experts on construction.  They often create shop drawings from your design drawings in order to figure out exact  panel layouts and structure.  Study these - you'll learn a lot.

Also on that sheet are drawings for the fountain and the rolling bed/tomb platform.  


A pretty modest set of drawings compared to what a bid-set would require, but everything (I hope) a good carpenter needs to get this thing built!

Friday, January 30, 2015

How Big Is Your House?

This is just too funny to miss.

There was quite a fuss a couple years ago when the size of one of Mitt Romney's houses was revealed... a measly 11,206 square feet of La Jolla, California.  Ocean view natch.

But how does that compare to, like, normal everyday houses?

The Washington Post's handy Compare-O-Metric will show you!



I could fit my life - including design studio - into Mitt's Living / Dining room.  I dibs the ocean view!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reading Script Submittals

I'm a reader.

Of play scripts (because I design theater sets).  Of non-fiction when I research or get curious.  Of on-line stuff.  Of newspapers and magazines.  And of novels - mostly genre ones - when seeking amusement, excitement, pleasure, or just a break from the day-to-day.  I read toothpaste boxes and wine labels.  If it has letters on it, I read it.  I like reading.

Last night was a script reading party for Kitchen Dog Theater where we made a dent in the boxes of submittals to our new play contest. It's exciting and intimidating to see the number of envelopes, the hope and hours of work they represent.  Everyone around the table last night wanted to find the prize, a great new play...

Dear Playwrights: can I make a few suggestions for making a good impression on readers - any readers, anywhere - who receive an envelope of your work?

1)  Make the cover letter short.  Pithy.  "Here it is, hope you like it."  Contact info.  Answer any questions - about previous productions, number of characters or whatever.   Don't get cute. Briefly mention awards, but be wary of bragging as too-florid praise can backfire.

2)  Make it businesslike.  Never, for instance, cross out something on the title page; reprint it.  Send a clean copy.

3)  Make it readable: white paper, black letters, readable font and line spacing.

4)  Make it sturdy.  There are supposed rules about the "professional" brads or whatever... as far as I'm concerned any sturdy binder, paper clip, or folder is fine, but loose pages or rubberbanded ones are hazards.

All that's mere format you say?  Exactly.  Don't put off your reader before they start.

As for the actual play...  There's only one rule:

Make it interesting.

Of all the scripts I read last night only one met that requirement.

I enjoyed that one!  I passed it on to the readers who will choose a winner.

The other scripts I read fizzled after a handful of pages, usually because nothing happened.

So, if you're submitting scripts to contests please remember that you, Dear Playwright, need to first get past me or someone like me, the grunt-readers who weed through those boxes of submittals to find the promising scripts.  You need to not bore us.

Now, if you want your script to be actually produced you'll also want to think about issues like not requiring too huge a cast or creating roles too difficult to cast - like an triple-threat actor/ singer/ dancer who also skateboards stunt-competitition level well.  Think about other difficulties like musicians, young children, or  trained animals.  Consider difficult, expensive set requirements.  Any of these requirements can be met (except maybe that skateboarder) if the play is good enough and there's enough funding.  Is there enough funding?  Is your play good enough?

But first you need your script to be read - eagerly! - by multiple readers.  For that it needs to be interesting.

Interesting is, of course, subjective.

My personal "interesting" meter looks for an intriguing situation with lively characters who have different voices and who DO and say things that keep me awake.  (I'm not talkin' sword fighting here, though that'd be fun - DOing can be opening a door or verbally sparring too.)  I prefer wit and humor.  And if at all possible make your drama touching or philosophical or beautiful or deeply true...

The meter hits 10!

(Note: the image is public domain from HERE.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

First Steps...

But if I'm going to show the development of Fun House's Romeo and Juliet set I really need to show the rough sketches that come before the "pretty" drawing (that drawing a designer uses to persuade the director and producers that This Is The Set They Want!).  HERE is that "pretty" sketch.

Here are some of those rough sketches.

These particular doodles were done in the near dark of another theater - Stage West - during an interval in the Tech rehearsal for The Explorers Club.  (Now onstage in Addison at WaterTower Theater - get yer tickets!)

Designers often do overlap shows - have to really - there being not enough weekends in the year or dollars in the fees not to.  Besides, by the time Tech arrives the set designer's job ought to be largely done - now you're mostly checking for goofs, omissions, and minor issues like light leaks or ragged hems on sofas - so that, if things are going smoothly, you have some extra headroom to think about the next show.

So this pic?

Documents me thinkin' about the next show.  In these sketches I was trying to work out the texture of the two towers and whether a flare to the base of the Capulet's would look right... and how to support that balcony anyway...?

Preliminary sketches for Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet
by Clare Floyd DeVries in the theater of Stage West during Tech for The Explorers Club.