Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Last Chunk of Concrete

If Trump hadn't lost my vote long ago, he'd have lost it yesterday...

I just realized (okay, I'm slow) that his vulgar '80s Trump Tower is built over the dead body of an Art Deco jewel, the flagship Bonwit Teller department store.

Not only that, but he deliberately had his (undocumented, underpaid) Polish workmen destroy the lovely carvings and grillwork rather than save them for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   Wanton destruction. 

The guy's a barbarian. 

Those of us who build, who design, who make art, have to push back against the forces of destruction... it's civilization against barbarism every day: whether the vandals are ISIS destroying archaeological sites in Palmyra or the Taliban dynamiting ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan "for religion", or greedy developers in NYC for a buck.  Or book burners.  Or political candidates who try to dismantle whole parties and, oh, free press and confidence in the election process.  Those kinda guys.

Please, if you're undecided about voting, don't let this vandal near the White House.

Photo from the Department Store Museum

(More HERE at Art Watch International and HERE at the Department Store Museum.)

Monday, October 3, 2016

A New Dog House! A New Kitchen Dog Theater Home!

We did it!

Or, at least, we've taken the first big BIG step toward a new, permanent, we-own-it! home for Kitchen Dog Theater.


The Dallas Morning News has a big article about it HERE.  (Give it a few clicks, eh?)

Basic facts?  A wonderful and anonymous couple gave us a challenge grant for $ 500,000 last fall if we could raise $125,000 (in a very short time)... which we did!  This generous gift became the cornerstone of our house hunt and allowed us to JUST CLOSE THE DEAL on a great building in the northernmost edge of Dallas' Design District.  

About perfect.

It'll be a while - 2018 - before we move in, but that's much needed time to plan, design, remodel, and raise yet more money.  Our goal is to own our new theatrical home free and clear.  It's going to be so... so... homey to have a place of our very own.  

So, if you've got a spare nickle, please toss it our way: Kitchen Dogs would be very grateful!  And, to those Anonymous Heroes, huge, grateful thanks!  If I never learn their names I may just have to hug every ticket-buyer I meet.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Save Pepe!

Artists and designers get their work stolen.

Especially online.

I just listened to an interview with the cartoonist who created Pepe the Frog... an innocent, laid-back. peace-loving frog who's been co-opted by the alt.right in current politics as an ugly hate meme.  You can listen HERE on RiYL.

His creator, Matt Furie, seems like a really good guy - perplexed by this evil hijacking of his work.  

Copyrighted artwork, by the way.  But good luck suing neo-Nazis over copyright infringement, huh?  

See more at Art by Matt Furie.

Public domain frog image

Earlier posts on misuse of other designers' designs HERE and HERE.

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.


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.  

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.


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.


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

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


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