Friday, March 15, 2019

The Blogging Habit - a Huuuuge Catch-Up Post

"Where have you been?" my faithful readers (all both of them) might ask.

Sorry, it's been a wild few months and I haven't posted a thing.  First there were a bunch of shows and family health issues and holidays, then family weddings and more shows, and now home repair and yet more shows...  Blogging - like exercising - turns out to be hard to do regularly, but much much harder to do if you get out of the habit!

I'm trying to regain the blogging habit.

So, what did I miss blogging about?


The shows at the end of last year included Once, my first show ever at Theatre Three.  I never got to see the final show.  We had tickets and friends lined up to see Opening, but spent the evening at the hospital instead (all's well now, so no worries); rehearsals however were wonderful!  Here's a sketch, inspired by Dublin's architecture and street art scene.

Once at Theatre Three - sketch by Clare Floyd DeVries

Almost simultaneous was Men on Boats at Circle Theatre (my last there as Resident Set Designer - they're getting rid of residents, new management, new philosophy).  Suggesting the Grand Canyon on Circle's low-ceilinged stage was a bit of a trick!  Here's the model... which was finished and painted in a hospital room.  (A great conversation starter with nurses.)

Men on Boats at Circle Theatre - model and design by Clare Floyd DeVries

The actual set was built from ordinary flats and platforms with an added layer of carved foam and then paint.  Big thanks to the great carpenters and painters who pulled this off with while I was preoccupied with other things.  Thank you.

At Kitchen Dog Theater, Radiant Vermin was a completely different kind of design - a minimalist sort of Monopoly house all-white stage with spiffy model house footlights.

Radiant Vermin at Kitchen Dog Theater - sorry, I don't know who the photographer is (tell me and I'll eagerly credit them).  
The floor and wall - to ensure perfect, seamless whiteness - were built very smooth and flat, then covered with stretched muslin painted, and frequently re-painted, white, white, white.

Radiant Vermin at Kitchen Dog Theater - sketch by Clare Floyd DeVries

And, lastly, Kiss Me Kate at MainStage Irving Las Colinas.

Kiss Me Kate at MainStage Irving Las Colinas - a construction drawings, just for variety

It was a little hectic just last Fall!  

Since then You Got Older at Kitchen Dog has opened and closed...  

I don't have any good images for that one yet, but I'll add them asap.  Basically, it was one of those scripts with many varied settings that are difficult to do on a small stage - reality, fantasy, garden (with growing/dying bean plants), bedroom, kitchen, dive-bar, hospital room, woods during a violent snow storm, imaginary cabin snowed-in during that blizzard...  

Our solution was to build a seemingly simple wall of "weathered" wood slats that opened up or pulled out and thus transformed to suggest the different locations.  I compared it to a Swiss watch... but maybe more a Swiss cuckoo clock?

You Got Older at Kitchen Dog Theater - sketch plan by Clare Floyd DeVries


Several exciting things are coming up, including Office Hour at Circle Theatre (my first as a visiting designer), Wolf at the Door at Kitchen Dog, and - the BIG excitement! - my first Off-Broadway show, an Equity Showcase of Self-Injurious Behavior at Urban Stages in NYC.  Can't show sketches of this yet - the director needs to see them first - but I thought I'd blog the whole process here as it goes along.  

So, new section...

Self-Injurious Behavior - the Off-Broadway Adventure:

To date, this show - written by Dallas actress/playwright Jessica Cavanagh -  has had a first, very successful, run at Theatre Three's downstairs space Theatre Too.

This run was so successful that it was decided to pick the whole thing up and move it to New York: props, costumes, director, whole company, and designers...  except for the original set designer - who had conflicts - and the original set - which wouldn't fit this completely different stage.

Hence me!  A lucky fluke... which is often how Big Breaks work I notice.

More on this show as it develops...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Why You Might Want to Vote for Beto O'Rourke

I voted for Beto on the first day of early voting.

Here's why:

1)  Ted Cruz is a bad senator.

When Cruz was elected to represent us - Texas - he took the Tea Party promise never to compromise while in Washington... kinda missing the whole point of representation.  You know, Congress working together - making deals and compromises - to help as many citizens as possible and advance the country.  Instead, Ted shut down the government.  

Then he ran for president.  

That meant he missed a LOT of votes in Washington and a lot of constituents in Texas.  Even after losing, Ted visits Texas now for fund raisers, but few open town halls.  He's infamous for not listening to constituents. I met one Muslim gentleman (phone banking for Beto) whose group not only couldn't get their senator to meet them... but Cruz's office staff more or less shoved them out the door and turned off the lights.  As they did during the controversial votes on Obamacare.  He hid from worried constituents.

2) Beto is a good Representative.  Comparing Ted Cruz and Beto O'Roarke, only Beto values or practices working across the aisle to get things done.  Beto also holds twice-monthly town halls.  I've seen him in town halls... Beto will take an open question from anyone.  Really listens.  And tells you what he really thinks.

At a time when politicians shout accusations and threats and riled up partisans turn to bombs and guns... we desperately need representatives who listen to citizens, who work together, and who can speak politely and honestly.  Ted Cruz even snapped at the debate moderator who asked him about civility.

3)  Personality.  Both Cruz and Beto are smart and energetic.  Perhaps Cruz is also a great guy when you get to know him (though one Republican leader called him "Satan in the flesh"), but Beto definitely wins the traditional political challenge of who-you'd-have-a-beer-with.  

I'm not so impressed by that.  What I like is that Beto seems kind.  We need kindness.

And he's hopeful.  Instead of fear, Beto talks about how we can work together to make our country better.  I appreciate that.

4)  Policies.  I agree with many of Beto's ideas, but even if you hate Democratic policies, at this dangerous moment we really, really need Congress to act as a curb on the power of the presidency and of the party in power.  Checks and balances!  

Our country is choosing what kind of country we want to be - I choose kindness and civility and hope and balance.  

I voted for Beto - I hope you will too.

Monday, October 1, 2018


The last day to register to vote in Texas 
for this November is October 9th.

There's an online form at, but it has to be mailed in so MAIL IT TODAY or (since I don't trust the mail for something this important) GO IN PERSON.  The website can answer most of your questions.

This election is too important to miss or mess up.  

And if you argue that your vote isn't important or doesn't count or will be out voted... tiny violin players will not serenade you.  

Voting is your civic duty.  We all count on you to hold up your end of this deal, of this American Experiment.  So.  No... actually, yes, pressure.

Go vote.  

No excuses accepted.  

Early voting begins October 22nd.

Addendum:  Yesterday was the first day of early voting in Texas - I voted.  (And got the sticker to prove it.)  The crowd was HUGE!  So, if you have an opinion, if you care about our country... well, the other guys are voting their opinions - you vote yours!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Week in the Life of a Set Designer

Admittedly a busy week...


An enjoyable meeting with the set dresser for Kiss Me Kate at Mainstage Irving Las Colinas.  (For which I wasn't 100% mentally ready as a. I hadn't finished the construction drawings yet and b. I was totally consumed with other shows and other deadlines.  In my defense be it known that Kate doesn't actually open until November.)  

Anyway, we talked about basic design direction - simplified, stylized, black & white & gray plus punch-of-color, with those colors largely chosen from borrowed drops in order to tie this thing together!  Already a handsome three part dressing screen is found!

Here are rough photos of the very rough white model for Kate:

This is the ground state of the musical, the Backstage look.

This is the look for Downtown Padua in the play within the play.

And here's a look at Petruchio's House interior.  

In order to simplify all the (many many) setting changes, I have one large fixed unit that gets redressed now and then and four small-as-possible wagons that spin round to use their reverse sides as different set pieces.  That fireplace unit above will be particularly cunning since its reverse is the theater's stage door.

Also Thursday was a production meeting for Once  at Theatre Three.  After an afternoon of helping paint etc. in the theater and a short coffee break/chat at the nearby Thai street food place.  (I'm getting addicted to their iced Thai coffee!)

Here's the color sketch of the large scenic unit AKA "The Main".  Remember this, we'll get back to it anon.


First meeting with a new-to-me director for the next show at Circle Theater, Men on Boats.  This is going to be exciting and challenging...  How do you scenically convey the Grand Canyon?  (And on a stage with 9' high ceilings?)


All day (Day 1) Tech for Once.  I got home at 11:30.  (It was a good thing I'd gone fabric shopping for "wallpaper" that morning because the AC was freezing!  I wore my "wallpaper" wrapped round me like a shawl, even over my head, as I watched the Q2Q.)  The music is amazing!  Going to be a good show.


I was excused from more than a pop-in today at Once as Q2Q continued.  (The pop-in...  Me: "Any notes?"  Them: "Not yet."  Perfect!)


Print out set dressing photos for Once at home, frame them with frames from my garage storage mess, um, Tupperware TM  system, then return to paint some more.  9:30 pm production meeting on the next show for Kitchen Dog Theater (with the bestest title!) Radiant Vermin.  Here's an idea sketch of the sorta footlights, for which the prop designer brought in a fantastic 3D vacuform test model:


More painting on Once.


More painting on Once.  Here we are, three hours until Picture Call:


Once previews tonight and officially opens Monday - buy tickets soon because they're gonna be hot!  And keep an eye open for Radiant Vermin, Men on Boats, and Kiss Me Kate because, each in their very different way, they look good...

Friday, August 31, 2018

Passing Greatness

This is a month - a week ! - when we're losing some of our great public characters, people who shaped our times:

A funerary wreath - public domain from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today I read of the death of choreographer Paul Taylor - hugely influential in dance.  

Also recent is the death of playwright Paul Simon at 91, who pretty much owned Broadway in the 1960s and '70s.  I fully expect that a version of his The Odd Couple will someday be performed on Mars.  (Question: Felix or Oscar who's the martian versus the astronaut/colonist?  I imagine a neat-freak astronaut always worrying about habitat pollution and atmosphere breaches...)  The lights on Broadway dimmed last night in his honor.

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, was buried this week with appropriate pomp and ceremony.

And Senator John McCain.

Let's look back fondly and with respect.

During sad periods like this it feels as if losses pile up and comfort is thin against the chill of time passing, of entropy, of the void.  Nothing and no one lasts.  "It's all sand-painting," as one wise actor told me, as we watched my set (built with so much labor!) being thrown away.  In theater you see that ephemeral quality more starkly than, perhaps, in other kinds of lives.  Things pass.  Even the pyramids aren't what they once were.

But things come to pass too.  Wonderful new characters arrive daily... we just don't find out for a while.  I wish it were possible to read - right next to an obituary - a birth notice (a genitary?) announcing the arrival of the next truly great dancer or playwright or singer or statesman - explaining just how important and beloved they will become.  Not in replacement of those greats we lose, but as something new and differently excellent, perhaps in a field or kind of life that doesn't yet exist...  Maybe these inspiring figures are already here, almost ready to take the stage and make it their own.  

Let's look around us...  hopefully.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


A designer friend pointed out an interesting article in The Telegraph (HEREthat talks about the disservice "traditional" theater design habits pose for actors of color...   Basically, that a "traditionally" dark colored set for Othello can cause a dark-skinned Othello to fade into the background.

To which I say, "duh."

Doesn't that seem like a likely hazard a set designer ought to expect?  Ditto the lose-their-face chances of overly dark or, say, skin-tone-brown costumes.  Wake up people!

Now, lighting designers may have a more legitimate problem, in that many commonly used lighting color gels don't flatter darker skin tones... but solving that problem is just a matter of a little forethought.  LED lighting is tricky mostly because, as far as I can see, LED's natural color range doesn't look right on any person of any skin color.  I've certainly witnessed a few lighting designers struggle before finding the right color.  Then again, if Elpheba in Wicked can be made to look green and glorious next to her pinky sister-witch, any actor can have a perfect, flattering light.

From my observation of shows where I've had African-American casts, the flattering color thing has usually been more a lighting issue than a set color one.  Of three shows: one had a set with strong colors and natural texture/colors where darker skin tones allowed the set to be more bold than it might have been and lighting used wonderful, saturated, crazy colors; the second was a world of caramel where the set faded into a nostalgic, sepia backdrop, costumes were mostly subdued, but lighting made faces pop; and the third show struggled a bit...  The set was minimal - just a warm/tawny oak floor and the cool gray of the theater's walls.  Costumes varied, but had definite color, and lighting - eventually - found a way to accentuate actors' faces.  I think the secret was when a blue wash was added to the theater walls that backlit and emphasized the actors.  Experiment!  That's  key.

Ruined by Echo Theatre - notice the deep deep saturated color in the background and the flattering light on the featured actress.  The bright colors of the set appeared and disappeared as the colors of the lighting changed... which was kinda fun.

Hard turn in this conversation:  Also "traditional"?

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Both freedoms are under siege by this president and his supporters.  Just in the past couple days the press has been derided - again - as Fake News or Enemies of the People and presidential critics have been insulted.  Former CIA director John Brennan had his security clearance revoked.  The man who helped lead the capture of Osama bin Laden can't be trusted with U.S, secrets?!  In what alternate universe is that true?  No, he just pissed off the president.  This is petty retribution and warning to others.

What can you personally do?


1)  Call your representative and senator's offices.  Protest this un-American behavior.  Every.  Single.  Time.
2)  Subscribe to your local paper.
3)  Then subscribe to a national or international paper and to favorite pod casts or news radio or blogs etc.
4)  Read/listen/watch news and opinion from different and even uncomfortable sources.  See what others are seeing.
5)  Vote for candidates that uphold ideas you value, like honest, polite debate on issues, not name-calling, sound bites, or group-think.
6)  Speak out yourself.  

Don't use it?  You might lose it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Catching Up... plus Register to Vote!


In Texas the deadline to register to vote in this November's elections is: October 9.

Now, about catching up...

It's been kinda nutsy here, what with one thing and another.  So I'll just shove a few photos (in no particular order) here to show what I've been up to:

Hir at Stage West in Fort Worth - photo courtesy of the theater.

Hir was a really interesting script - gender and family politics... on steroids kinda.  Funny and awful.  A highly detailed - and usually messy - set.  Below is a snap of stencil painting the kitchen wallpaper.  The wonderful prop designer found tons of great stuff!  Including those crocheted pillows on the sofa.

Below is a construction photo of Bread at WaterTower Theater.  In the center you see the faux oak revolve (notice it matches the other wood in the room?).  It was surrounded by a moat - into which we rained - and by stylized suggestions of lawn and deck etc.  

This was a successful but quite painful project... 

Bread construction photo - WaterTower Theater.

And below here is a photo of Luna Gale at Circle Theater.  CPS files forever and ever and ever...

Luna Gale, Circle Theater.

Now this next photo is an oldy but goody, Ironbound at Kitchen Dog Theater.  The best photo I've found of the bus stop bench!  (Which, after the show was over, was saved and now sits in someone's back yard, yeah!)

Ironbound at Kitchen Dog Theater - courtesy of the theater.

What else have I been doing?  Well, a long visit in California (best sunset ever because hazy from smoke), various other projects, and the latest update to Minecraft (TM), which is pretty dang cool.  What's better than swimming in the summer?

Minecraft Aquatic update... and a coolo underwater coral tower.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Take Nothing for Granted

"Found" sampler
Thanks to its brilliant embroiderer!

This shall be my new motto.

It exactly describes my year...  I'm almost thinking of getting this as a tattoo.

Sorry for the loooong pause between postings.  There's been travel, special projects, and a whole ton of work in the interval.  By the end of this year I will have designed 15 shows.  Not my all-time record, but still pretty crazy-nuts!  Today's post is just a teaser - in up-coming posts I hope to reflect back on this year and a few of the questions it's raised:

Like:  How to design for rain onstage?  (Two shows so far this year have tested that issue.)  What's with generational turnover in theater companies?  Does Yale prepare one well for a career in theater?  Are there special issues in designing for shows with African-American casts - I mean, beyond the special issues of every other cast?  (Segregation - still a thing?*)  Is WWII actually over?*  And the popular demand: Why is oak so bigoted?

Been a weird year so far...

* Yes.  * No.