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?


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 stiff 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.


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!