Monday, May 18, 2015

Not a Review: Sense and Sensibility

I recently got to see the Dallas Theater Center's production of Sense and Sensibility... 

Really enjoyed it.  I think it's a clever adaptation that - for once - catches the sometimes nasty edge of Jane Austen's humor and the real and frightening stakes involved with a young woman's reputation and future.  The Dashwood sisters live in terrifying times.  Marry or starve, basically.



Any of you who think Jane Austen is actually, you know, ROmantic, I advise you to read Robert Rodi's Bitch in a Bonnet and Fay Weldon's Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen immediately.  Sooner than that even.

I really did like this adaptation of S&S.  The general idea is that a Greek English chorus of nasty gossips shadowed and commented on the action, peering through windows and pushing characters around.  Cuts and simplifications to story, characters, and themes clarify the threat and strengthen the emphasis on gossip.  Some characters - like Mrs. Jennings who, in the book, has a good heart under her gossipy skin - became simple tattle-mongers.  (Not quite fair.)  In the program a comparison was made to today's ability to ruin a woman's reputation in minutes via Twitter and Facebook.

That's topical - just ask Monica Lewinsky.  In a series of entertaining webisodes called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, this ruining-her-reputation trope (this time from Pride and Prejudice) was translated for the modern day into the release of a sex tape online; in S&S days it sometimes took only writing a letter.

Reputation stuff still does damage.

I have to agree [sorta] with Mary Bennet, when she says: "...we may draw this useful lesson: that loss of [perceived] virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step [not necessarily her step, mind you] involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."

Tell'em sister!  Sometimes all it takes is breaking up with that "undeserving" dude...  "Revenge porn" they call it when he then puts all her sexts or too-personal photos etc online.  "Doxing" is when he - or other enemies - reveal all her personal information.  And though men also suffer from these shaming techniques, the victims are generally female.

So.

Topical.

Because I liked this production, I felt inevitably picky-picky about certain aspects: it's The Designer's Curse.  I'll ignore most of these as too picky to smudge an admirable production.  The set was simple and fitting.  (And, for the Theater Center amazingly! not extravagantly expensive.  Okay, picky, there had to be a better way to bring on London.  Sorry.)  The costumes good, especially the chorus, though there were a few choices I disagreed with.   (Col. Brandon's underwear?)   Lighting good (except that rain).  The acting was good (I'd change a little casting) with real stand-outs as Elinor and Edward, who made the show.

I don't know that this production will convert those who go into the theater thinking Jane Austen is either a) dull or b) mushily romantic... but it ought to.

Well done.

Less than a week to go, so get tickets!  HERE.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sometimes the Wheels Fall Off

Or you fall off the wheels.

Or there ARE no wheels.

Or...

Public Domain image of a theatrical set builder on a bad day.


It's been unspeakably busy here at Scenic Central lately.

Two shows opened almost simultaneously - All My Sons at WaterTower Theatre and The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.  While, a close third, I & You at Circle Theatre is sloooowly finishing...  the slowness mostly because the carpenters and painters had to fit its build in with the Fort Worth Opera's schedule.

Juggling schedules, that's what it's all about for designers and builders... and for actors and directors and producers too.  Or sometimes just juggling.  On a high-wire.  On a bike, feels like.

Usually my sets get finished in good time before Opening - are mostly finished, except for details, for Tech.

This time?

This time I actually - no kidding - had exactly half an hour at home to wash the mud off before dressing and returning for the opening of All My Sons.  (Mud because I'd been scattering dirt and pea gravel on the "backyard" set, then stomping it into paths right up till the last moment.)

Because a few wheels fell off a few bikes this time...

The biggest whoopsy! bike-crash was when one poor TD drilled into his hand and had to have surgery.  That delayed things.  Some over-optimistic scheduling.  Some needing to redo or tweak hard stuff that didn't come out perfectly first time.  Some replacing of fake grass (more on that later).  Some hanging posters on some concrete walls.  Some small floods.   Most recently a desperate hunt for some replacement rolling desk chair wheels that fit weird Swedish-metric sockets.  Every rolling chair in sight had its casters ripped of to try their fit!  (It's like a desk accessory version of the glass shoe fitting thing in Cinderella.  But so far it's all Ugly Sisters; the builder is stopping by Casters R Us and International House of Casters tomorrow.)  So some delays and difficulties.  Some... well, lots of somethings actually.

But the MAIN thing, the IMPORTANT thing, is that everything did/will eventually, mostly get done and the sets are/will looking good on time.

Blood (literal), sweat, and tears, Baby!

Now I can put the casters back on my drafting chair before I fall off it again.




Monday, April 13, 2015

Tech Hell x 3

That title says it all.


Three shows opening soon (so get yer tickets!):

All My Sons WaterTower Theatre, Addison
The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild Contemporary Theatre of Dallas
I and You Circle Theatre, Fort Worth

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Please Forgive a Little Back-Patting

The Column Awards (Dallas - Fort Worth area theater awards) were held a couple of nights ago and one show I was associated with cleaned the house!

Uptown Players' production of Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, in its category of Equity Play, won merely:

Best Play; Best Director (B.J. Cleveland); Best Actor (Bob Hess); Best Actress (Wendy Welch); Best Featured Actress (Julia Golder); Best Scenic Design (as Miss Piggy would say, "Moi!"); Best Lighting Design (Jason Foster), and Best Sound Design (B.J. Cleveland).  Sadly even this role-call leaves out a few great people... I guess we had to leave a few awards for somebody else.  Did we?

Woohoo!

All kidding aside, congratulations to the whole Vanya, Sonya, Masha, and Spike team.  It was a terrific show.  And congratulations to all the other winners and nominees and patient un-ballyhooed-this-year worthies who do such good work all around the DFW area.

Uptown Players' Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike - photo via Uptown

Among those who deserved wins, nominations - heck coronations! -  for this set are set dresser Kevin Brown and TD Dennis Canright and his carpenters, painters, and volunteers.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Is This Thing Still Working...?

From Wikimedia HERE


Yes, I'm still blogging - and I have a backlog of good stuff too! - but I'm bogged down with deadlines right now.  The latest one finished was a submission package for a theater company to even get permission to do a play: cast bios, designs, the whole works.  That's unusual.

Besides that a ton of meetings and another script to read.  I'm having to Turn Down Work.

I hate that.

Anyway, this site still works... it's just that I'm, um, working.

See ya soon.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A New York Minute

Back from NYC.

Fun!  I saw three shows: Churchill, a one-hander about the British Prime Minister set late in his career, which was very good; Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with the original Hedwig (also book writer), John Cameron Mitchell, which was excellent rowdy fun; and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which was fascinating.  And the highest tech of the three...   In fact, watching as a set designer, these three shows - seen in that order - were a primer on the use of projections on stage.

In Churchill, the set was backed by a large window with traditional mullions which acted as a projection screen.  Usually these projections were further "back-grounded" by adding an intervening layer of glazing lines (as in a "leaded" or stained glass window).  So images were always mere backdrop to the actor and never pulled focus.  The set was a traditional wood paneled room that worked just fine.

In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the setting was a joke - literally.  To explain why Hedwig, the little-heard-of rock singer, had a Broadway-worthy set (as you MUST have at Broadway ticket prices I guess), Hedwig explained that this was a one-night-only concert held on the stage of a just closed musical - just closed during its first night intermission!   The unlucky show?  Hurt Locker: the Musical.  Pretty funny.  This "borrowed" set was a faux war-torn city made of vanishing perspective cut-out side flats of buildings, an upstage groundrow of more wrecked buildings, a stage floor of, apparently, blown-up street paving with a destroyed car at center and a whole frozen-moment-of-destruction spray of car parts in the air.

Very cool.

Later in the show all these I-thought-fixed pieces moved or did something expensive and Broadway-y.  Sound.  Lights!  Projections!  Amazing.  Not overdone.  Most projections were the collage of images you'd expect, but there was a wonderful sequence where a scrim dropped and Hedwig (behind the scrim) interacted with cartoon-like animations.  Wonderful!  Occasionally later bits of these animations reappeared, but never again to such delightful degree.

There was no lack of projections in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  The set for this story of an autistic boy's adventure was set in almost a cubic shadowbox lined with graph paper - big blank gridded surfaces.  Throughout the show laser projections were "drawn" on the walls and floor... or suddenly spattered out like exploding stars, or outlined the neighbors' houses, or...  The ingenuity and surprise and the interaction between actors, props, chalk, projections, light, sound, and the physical set were impressive and told the story well, interpreting the boy's autism-shaped view of the situations.  The scene at the London Underground station was a Wow-er.  Very impressive.

I figure they must have Tech Rehearsalled this puppy for MONTHS.

As to whether it's a good play...  The story was interesting but slight, so that the fireworks of the tech used to tell it were both the only way to tell it and the most compelling thing on stage.  I don't think there'd be much play left if you stripped away the razzmatazz.  (On the other hand, it might be a terrific book - I'll look for it.)  But the boy's after-curtain explanation of a geometry proof was Crazy Cool!  Pythagoras never looked so exciting before.

So did I come back all jazzed to do projections?

Kinda.  I actually have a couple shows coming up that will include them, though at a simpler (i.e. less expensive) level.  Obviously projections can be a great, even integral part of the theater performance, but I'm kinda a fundamentalist... for me it's The Story.  Everything else (even the set?!) must be a distant second to the text.  So, for my taste, many projections and, honestly, the whole Broadway way of doing things is often just too overblown, just like special effects in blockbuster films.  Spectacle is great fun, but not especially my cup of tea.

So the most influential things to me were probably what I saw of the City itself - more on that later.

Until then, here are photos from my own recent informal Set Tech, experimenting with sky/tree banners in the breeze for WaterTower Theater's upcoming All My Sons:


Sky/Tree Banner test for All My Sons at WaterTower Theater

Fabric an' a Fan.  That's Technical, that is.

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.

Busy.

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.