Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Years, New Fun Stuff to Do

Traditionally, this time of year is a chance to wrap up last year's business and start fresh with the next year's.  Oddly enough, my own Last Year did round off to a natural conclusion (except for tax-filing) and This Year's projects seem to be starting up promptly.  It's not always so tidy.  

So what's up for this year?

First on my board are designs for I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard at Kitchen Dog Theater (just now working on construction drawings), Clever Little Lies at Circle Theatre (just starting its build), and Kind Lady at Mainstage  Irving - Los Colinas (which needs me to Get Going!).  Probably the shiniest show I'm looking forward to so far is A Winter's Tale for Trinity Shakespeare this summer.  Summer Shakespeare in air conditioning!  What a concept!

First thing though is to clean up my studio so I can work.  During the holidays the room tends to become a dumping ground for wrapping paper, ribbon, and all-the-stuff-to-hide-from-company.  As studios do.

So what rounded out Last Year so nicely?  Kitchen Dog met its fundraising challenge!  It's only a first step, but it's a very BIG first step on the path to creating our own permanent home.

Every Dog's Home is its Dream Castle...

Fervent thanks to all those who helped us!  Sincerely.  We are so grateful.  

Now time to dig out my own ol' Dream Desk here...

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Update on the Dog House Challenge

We're at 90% people!

Just need that liiiitttttle bit more to reach our goal and meet the ever-so-kind fund raising challenge grant.  So, if you have just an extra $1... please think of contributing toward Kitchen Dog Theater's new home before the end of the year: your single dollar bill can become $6, just like that!

HERE's the donation page.  

Here's the story: our hard-working (and award-winning) theater company recently lost our home of twenty years.  Our goal is to own our own performance space.  There are all sorts of possibilities - as an architect and designer I'm pretty excited.  But first we need to prove to our generous challenge backers that we can get our friends excited and raise actual money.  

I, personally, have donated.  Till it hurt.  So... please, as you clean up between the holidays, scrounge all the change you can find from under your sofa cushions and send it to us!  

Please Help the Dogs Find a Good Home.

Friday, December 18, 2015

No Spoilers

Have just seen the 8:20 a.m. showing of the new Star Wars.

Go buy your own ticket imeddiately! imeddiately!  im  Now!

Big happy Star Wars grin.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Public Domain Treasure

The Interwebs just get more interesting all the time: today's special is a new-to-me site for public domain book illustrations.  Wonderful Stuff!


A 12th century half timber house drawn by Viollet-le-Duc

The treasure trove of public domain material easy to access via the computer on your desk - or on your lap, or in your hand - is becoming a wellspring of inspiration...  I just wish countries would stop extending and/or enlarging copyright protections to unreasonable limits.  The UK is heading toward a redefinition of copyright that would make it illegal to stick a photo of your (English) sofa on Craig's List.  (Is there Craig's List in the UK?  Maybe not for long!)  HERE's an article on that silliness at BoingBoing.

I'm all for copyright - I copyright stuff myself after all - the rules just need to be fair and sensible.  A family snapshot sitting on its own sofa ought not to be illegal, huh?  Or that for-sale photo either.

(For more on copyright issues, look in my Set Design Archive under, um, "Copyright.")

PS.  That house pictured above?  Torn down.  Like Kitchen Dog Theater's home of 20 years will be.  Don't forget our new-home fund raiser - see blog post below.  
The Deadline Approacheth!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Woohoo! NEA Grant to Kitchen Dog!

You know that theater company I was bragging on?  Kitchen Dog?  (Well, okay, bragging' and beggin', as in to raise cash to meet a match challenge fund raisin' for a new home.)


I bragged what good work we do in supporting living playwrights and new works.

Well the NEA agrees with me - giving us our fourth grant in a row! toward our New Works Festival.  One of only 29 grants to Texas arts groups.  I tell ya, we do good work!

Please grant us your help in building a new home to house these new works in.  (More info HERE)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Scenic Zoology

Once in a while a set design goes to the dogs... or to other animals.

My recent (last show today!) production of The Importance of Being Earnest at Tarrant County College NE  went to the moose and the peacocks.  The director and the student cast decided the moose's name is Bunbury.

Here's how it happened...

There's this awkward scenic transition from Act I to II - Algie's flat to countryhouse garden. 

Sure, the college has a fly loft.  I could simply fly scenery in and out - but I kinda hate that method of scene changing.  It's like shuffling flash cards at the audience: 2+2, no! wait! 2+3.  It feels arbitrary, random, as if any possible scenery might fly in, taking the audience from the first act of Earnest to - who knows? - third scene of The Magic Flute?  Death scene of Othello?   

Visually, scenery changes can be startling, a shock from one "look" to the next.  A horrible example on Broadway was the change in the middle of The Producers to "Little Old Lady Land"; I thought that whole segment could have been cut.  I suspect the show's set designer felt the same, because the setting for it looked kinda... perfunctory... while the rest of the show was wonderfully designed.  (One reason I don't really love traditional prosceniums.)  

I prefer visual as well as story-telling logic to the shift from one setting to the next.

In the college's production of Earnest scenic switcheroos could be particularly jarring because, instead of two intermissions, there would be only one.  The audience would watch set changes.  These needed to look logical and, if possible, be entertaining!  (The director added wonderful business to the shifts, so they were, indeed, very entertaining.)

As the director and I talked, I mulled over what - what on earth! - I could use to visually tie the first setting to the second.  I needed a sort of visual hinge to ease the transition.

Hmmmm....  Bachelor's flat... Victorian fireplace... deer head?  Moose head!  (Moose are funnier - just look at one.)

Giant topiary moose!

So the giant topiary moose, Bunbury, became the linchpin of the whole design, the one constant element in Algie's study, the country house garden, and, outside the window, the conservatory for the final scene of the play.

Here follows the photo-essay of the development of Bunbury the Moose:

Bunbury's head sticks through the wall of Algie's study.  He's pretending to be taxidermy.  

Here's Bunbury revealed in topiary splendor.

Below is his first manifestation, a model to help figure out how the heck to build him:

Photo courtesy of Master Carpenter Heidi Diederich

A few construction photos...

In the first photo, that pile of rags will become Bunbury's furry / leafy hide.  He was built of plywood "ribs" as in the model, draped first with chicken wire, then muslin, and with strips of muslin and other fabrics poked through the chicken wire into a lumpy texture that suggests shrubbery.  All this was painted and additional silk leaves and flowers were added.  In the last photo above you see him starting the final foliation process, as ivy is wound up his legs etc.  Below you see him onstage.

Bunbury pretends not to listen to Cecily and Miss Prism.  And here he is again, below, pretending not to listen in on Algie's courtship of Gwendolen.  

In this photo you see (besides the blurriness of my illicit during-the-show photo) the final Bunbury moose head.  (Antlers are cardboard, foam, wire, fabric, and paint.)   

On the fireplace front are his attendant fireplace peacocks.  These are an adaptation of a popular motif of the time, turned into a faux mosaic tile mural.  Their painting turned out very well.  (Thanks Heidi!)  Actually there's a lot of faux and fool-the-eye artificiality in all three settings - as there is in the play itself.  Those books, for instance, are all fake as are the ones later in the conservatory, and even the carpentry is a mix of real 3D and trompe l'oeil.

Here's my original color sketch for the peacocks:

Final note BTW, that one crucial bit of set dressing?  That handsome brass fireplace screen?  It's a piece I own and have used for countless shows, wherever a touch of Victoriana is suitable and there's no practical fire effect.  It's a real antigue.  It folds small for easier storage in my garage.  But it is, if you look closely, in very bad condition - only held together by wire, twist ties, and plastic zip ties - so I got a good price on it from the antiques dealer.  Looks good on stage though!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Put Us in the Dog House!

Kitchen Dog Theater (of which I am honored to be a member) recently lost our home of 20 years.  

We're saving up to build a new one!

A very, very generous Dog Fancier has offered us a challenge grant: if we can raise $100,000 dollars by the end of this month, they will give us Half a Million Bucks!

Can you, Dear Reader, please help us?

A gift of any amount is tax deductible and we'd be very grateful.  If you do the math, this challenge means that your gift gets multiplied by 6 !   $10 becomes $60!  $100 becomes $600!  $1000 becomes...  !

But only if we reach our goal in time.  This is a one-time-only deal.

The link to contribute is HERE.

For the last two decades Kitchen Dog Theater has been doing excellent work.  I don't throw that word around either, I mean it.  Serious,  good work.  Producing new plays and classics, encouraging living playwrights, winning awards, critical enthusiasm, tears and laughter in the seats kinda good work.  Some of the best talents in town call Kitchen Dog home.  

Oh, wait.  Homeless.

Honestly, this good theater company needs a good home...    

Please help.

*As a temporary measure we're producing this season at the Green Zone, but it's not a long-term place.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Scouting Locations

I've only designed for one film so far - Ciao, an award-winning indie by Yen Tan - but the experience was memorable.  I remember converting two identical condo bedrooms into two different sets, right down to carefully double-stick-taping faux window mullions in one room, to help differentiate.  Cleaning, prepping, and set dressing the kitchen for shooting (which the film crew needed to use for real lunches), having that shoot rescheduled, then cleaning up lunch mess and doing it all again, several times.  Literally waiting on paint to dry for the shot - all of us, the whole production with lights and camera and me with a hair drier hurrying things.  Serious phone conversations from the depths of Home Depot on how to artfully place an on-set towel, "...a little wrinkled, not perfect, 'cause it was used in the last scene, right?..."  And, funniest for the bystanders, us scouting locations...

We drove around Dallas in a little teeny car and, when we arrived at a potential location, piled out:  the driver and AD, a big burly guy with "Rosebud" tattooed on his shoulder; the co-writer/director, a tall, lanky Malaysian guy; the producer, a short, determined, firecracker of a guy who looked about twelve; and me, the production designer, short, plump, gray, looking like their Den Mom.  Kinda like watching a clown car unload.

What brings this to my mind?

This interesting little vid about film locations HERE.

10 Movies That Stole Their Sets From Other Films

This may be the biggest difference between film and stage work, finding real world locations instead of building all scenery from scratch.

Mind you, there's always a lot more modification to that real world location than the audience realizes.