Monday, January 31, 2011


Here's the latest bit from the "Design Methods" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium (currently being re-re-formatted aargh! for its e Publishing launch):

Go-Bys –  Not quite inspiration and not really guides are those pictures of someone else’s work used as a model for your own project.  Don’t use a go-by for the whole design.  (Plagiarism is mortal sin, but, sshhhh, shop-lifting a few little bitty clues is only a venial one).  A go-by can kick-start your brain.  You don’t need to feel guilty either, because you will modify it all completely by the end.

Which brings up intellectual property rights.  The principal is simple: stealing is wrong.  Permission and compensation are fair.  You know when you’re cheating.

It’s after the lawyers trample in it all that it gets muddy.  I mean, the Chrysler building is trademarked? 4.10  Use that shape in a set and legally you ought rent it from someone.  Really.  And collages using images you didn’t create yourself require permission from the copyright holder of each scrap. Yes, that ladies’ underwear ad.  You can legally line the bird cage with overlapping funny pages, but frame it and becomes Art and apparently illegal.  Freedom of speech?  The law tells collage artists to shut up. 4.11     

4.10   Yes, trademarked by the building owners. Yet an architect cannot copyright a building’s design, only the construction drawings.  Go figure.
4.11  But, thanks to the brave Barbie artist who beat Matel’s lawyers, you can now legally dress your dolly in tortillas and bake her as an enchilada.  Just don’t dress her photo, unless you took it yourself, or, arguably in Britain, if it’s a museum photo and a documentary sort of photo rather than an artistic photo…  Yeesh.

As a footnote to that footnote...  One of my shows may have been plagiarized - it's hard to tell.  Designers often come up with similar solutions as they solve similar problems, but in this case there were so many similarities, shapes, materials, plan all seemed too similar.  At the time I was 95% convinced it was borrowed - but over time that conviction has dwindled to 75%.  On the other hand, one architectural plan really was blatently stolen!  The thief admitted it cheerfully - couldn't understand my upset - but did, in the end, pay a token design fee,

ADDENDUM:  Copyright law keeps evolving.  As of 2013, it may be okay to use that ladies' underwear ad... if your use is "transformative."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Film Fest Continues....

Night Shift from way back in 1982.  You never saw so much tan corduroy or orange - everything.  Young Michael Keaton, Shelley Long, and Henry Winkler.   Still a fun romp: a prostitution ring run from the NY City morgue, where pretty much everyone has a heart of gold.  (Except the evil pimps and the chilly fiance, very much a "Taffeta, darling!  Taffeta!" Young Frankenstein style fiance.)

Favorite more-or-less quote: Keaton's "Idea -Man" babbling into a HUGE tape recorder about mixing tuna with mayonnaise in the can.  In the end, he suggests feeding the mayonnaise to the tuna.

Saturday, January 29, 2011



Who came up with this e publishing software?  It'd be easier to make nice purple mimeograph copies of this book and hand deliver it to each reader, really it would.

Formatting, illustrations, footnotes... yeesh.  A mess. And to make things worse, when going from Word to e publishing formats, nothing converts the same way twice!  Alice the book, like Alice the character, shrinks and expands in strange and unexpected ways.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Arts Fund Raiser - Paaaartee!

Tomorrow is Kitchen Dog Theater's cool annual Hootch & Pootch party.  Always good fun.  Buy your ticket right here: Party Pass!

Go!  spend money!  Support one of the best theaters... well, in a loooong travel in any direction, frankly.  We do New Work - hardly anyone else does - better than that, we do Good Work both new and old.

So go party.  And if you buy one of the mystery bags you might get lucky and find one of my unique collaged jewelry pieces.  This year I made a big assortment, from silly bejeweled Mexican Bingo card badges to serious silver and collage art necklaces and pins.   Adorn yourself with micro-art.  (Whoever gets the Humpty Dumpty locket... I almost kept that.  I did keep the Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum pin with the goofy hand-blown glass beads.)  But there's the Tahitian lady on mother-of-pearl and the "language of flowers" necklaces up, literally, for grabs.  Catch Humpty quick!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Film Fest

Moonstruck.  What a wonderful movie!  How beautifully observed... love of all kinds and depths.  And family.  Great performances.  The scene at the very end when the whole family sits round the breakfast table, waiting for the fiance, highlights all this films' perfections and then Olympia Dukakis crowns it all: her face as she tells her husband that his life was NOT "built on nothing."  A rare movie.  Go watch it.

Exact Words

Never judge a book by its movie.


Latest in the series of excerpts from the "Design Methods" chapter of the up-coming Alice Through the Proscenium:

Inspiration – Many designers start with a “found” something, a painting, a song, a seashell, something that for mysterious reasons feels as if it fits this project - that seems to connect you to it.  A totem.  A talisman.  Some things just seem more important than they should be, having hidden potential to explain the universe, like Newton’s apple.

Guides –  No physicist would dream of physicist-ing without knowing his Newton.   Find out what earlier designers can teach.  Study example.  (Though not earlier designs for this specific play, not yet.)  Fellow designers or books can give advice.  There is no over-abundance of useful theater design books (hence this one), but other arts can help.  Writer’s guides, for instance, often extrapolate well to the visual arts; at some deep level, design is design.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Timeless versus Trendy Architecture

Just had a run-in with a brand-spandy new hospital - 3 months old - that got me thinking about how buildings reflect their periods.

This is a very nice hospital: convenient and pleasant for patients and families, while staff seemed to like both its facilities and appearance.  Its style is commercial contemporary with a spa-like feel.  There is a strong flavor of the current '70s revival.  (Also obvious in fashion.  Oranges and greens?  Those silhouette-like scrolling floral patterns?  '70s Retro.)  This hospital seems well designed...  maybe a leeetle bit trendy.
It's said that architecture is timeless, but that's rarely true.  A few buildings come close: the Parthenon or, locally, the Kimbell Art Museum.   Each is a building of its time that is also particular to its site and individual in its design.
But most buildings wear their era as prominently as the date on a yogurt .  Nothing wrong with that.  Dallas' Fair Park or Miami's south beach are famously Art Deco - a "dated" style more widely loved now than it was new.
Trendy though?  Trendy, to my mind, has the of-its-time quality of any style, but trendy is only expressed in popular surface details.  Trendy gets "dated" as any style does.  (Art Deco was laughed at for years afterwards.)  But trendy feels superficial, not integral to the design.  It isn't bone-deep.  A perfect example is our rash of Wachovia Wells Fargo banks.  Notice that gentle arc roof?  In the mid '90s that shape charmed architects of uncounted thousands of projects world-wide.  Round about the year 2000 that flat arch sorta... slid sideways, from symmetrical to asymmetrical.      Wachovia, um, Wells Fargo has the slump-y version.  Not that this isn't a good looking roof... but it's everywhere.
(sorry lost this link)
In the '80s it was paste-on shallow Post Modern (Postie-Toastie!) detailing and stair-stepped gables.  (I'm guilty.)  Now it's the Millennial Arch.    Trendy.

Maybe we architects need to dig a little deeper when designing, eh?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Film Fest Continues...

Unbreakable by M. Night Shamalan... back when his films were worth watching (Hate to kick a guy when he's down, but The Lady in the Water, really?  The Last Airbender??!)  Nevermind.  Unbreakable is a moody and thought-provoking superhero film with terrific performances from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

I (picture a little heart sketch) Huckabees.  I'd read interesting things, the idea sounds good, and it's chock full o' stars, but I really didn't enjoy the film's shrill tone which, by the dinner table scene, became rant-y.  Didn't finish it and that's unusual for me.


Another little bit from the "Design Process" chapter of my up-coming design book Alice Through the Proscenium

System – Try dividing a design into “systems”: a skyscraper is designed by thinking of its skeleton (steel frame), its skin (glass), its circulation (elevators), and its services (air, power, water, sewer) as separate, interwoven systems.

Be Dumb  Dumb #1: try to design without preconceptions.  Be naïve.  Modern artists like Picasso worked to regain the simplicity of a child or “primitive” artist.  Aim for the innocence of a new-laid egg.  Dumb #2: Later, try looking at your design and drawings as if completely stupid.  Avoid assumptions, study the drawings,  find where you go wrong, then clarify ambiguities.  We can get locked into our own angle of view, making a fresh viewpoint one of those “Aaahhh!” moments of suddenly seeing the hidden picture in a fool-the-eye puzzle.

Car Load of Strike

Ha!  And yesterday I was complaining about having a box of models and drawings to put away...  Today I have a car full of things from Strike that need to be stored or returned.  In my (small) car at this moment - no kiddin' - are;

  1. 1 lg. oak desk chair with arms - return theater #1
  2. 1 sm. secretary chair w/out arms -  "         "       "
  3. 1 drafting stool (disassembled) - store
  4. 2 tall stools (unmatched) - return 1, store 1
  5. 1 tall metal rack shelf unit (disassembled) - store
  6. 6 boxes painted books - return theater #2
  7. approx. 8 pc. large foam molding - return theater #3
  8. approx. 5 pc. small wood molding -    "         "      "
  9. 7 practical lanterns - just inherited, store
  10. 2 paint trays & rollers - trash dirty roller covers, store rest
  11. 1 ice bucket, 4 glasses, 1 bowl, 1 tray, 3 "pewter" mugs, 1 trophy etc. - store
  12. 6 pc. assort. mad-scientist gear, inclu. 1 "remote control"
  13. 1 trashcan w/ misc. set dressing - store set dressing...
I get my studio trash can back!!

The thing about set designing no one mentions is that mostly your car (and garage and attic and front hall...) are Full Of Junk.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


A sad day - Strike.  That set that you only finished it seems like minutes ago, now has to be dismantled.

For the black & white show, Death is No Small Change, tonight is the last performance and the strike.  The set designer has to show up and collect her stuff.  Which means I'll get my studio trash can back!  Wahoo!

Otherwise sad.  Quite sad.  Very sad.

Some shows you miss long afterwards: I still miss long ago Sweeney Todd and Urinetown, and the recent Charm.
Charm at Kitchen Dog Theater

High School Ambassador

Saturday was High School Tech Theater Day:

A fun chance to explain theater set design to a room full of interested students.  Some good questions.  Some Show-N-Tell.    (I have a big box of models, sketches, and production photos sitting on my drafting board now, waiting to be put away again.)  Some very bright kids who guessed the secret that I confirmed....

The Techies have all the fun!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Designers are inspired by the work of others.  

We're not talking plagiarism here, but that "Ahh! Cool - sorta like that!" moment when you get a clue of what direction to start your own traveling...  A Go-By example gets adapted to different needs and warped by different circumstances; the final design will resemble the original inspiration in some ways, differ in others.  Design is an adaptive art.  

Inspiration discussed a few days ago with a colleague?  Piranesi.  Famous for beautiful etchings of Roman ruins and of imaginary prisons...

I suspect Piranesi's visions influence many designers of "dark" material like Sweeney Todd or locations like the Phantom's lair - possibly Tim Burton's Batman? certainly my own Man of La Mancha's prison:

photo by Mark Oristano, courtesy of WaterTower Theatre

There was a show of his work at SMU's Meadows Museum a year or two ago, the etchings themselves  both amazingly detailed  and obscure, murky, almost black in their deep, shadowy, frightening, endless...


Just watched the last episodes of Dr. Who season 5.  Well, the newest 5th of, what? 30 seasons? 40? It's been going on forever.  There was a Dark Ages Doctor and a Jurassic Doctor I'm pretty sure.  He's a time traveler!  Of course there was a Jurassic Dr.


I was a slow convert to this latest incarnation of the Doctor - played by Matt Smith - but this story line may be the strongest ever, with a breathless ending.  BBC Dr. Who link  If you haven't been watching, quick!  You only have 5,um, 30, er, 40? seasons to catch up on.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Film Famine!

Like a shipwrecked mariner (think Castaway), I can't get out to movies right now.


So I'm starting a old-movie marathon - no theme, just the randomness of Netflix and Christmas presents, then a flashlight tour of the Film Vaults.

Last night started the legendary BBC Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, whose broadcast brought Britain to a standstill (feminine Britain anyway).

Throws a whole new light on the classics!

Music and Set Design

My first musical was Sweeney Todd.

The DEEEEEP end of the pool.

Among the hundreds of design lessons I learned from that show is this one musical nugget: Don't make singers run up too high a stair 'cause they need breath left to sing!

A shout-out to the late Kristina Baker whose wonderful Mrs. Lovett coped with my rickety metal too-tall stairs. So talented. So kind to me. So missed.

Music, Architecture, and War

As students, we kept reading that architecture was like music. Rhythm, sure, column spacings/note spacings... I got that one. But I couldn't see other obvious similarities.

Then, right there in Vitruvius, there it was again: an architect should understand music. Then Vitruvius explained why:

When tightening the twisted ropes that propel a war catapult, the architect can twang those ropes and recognize the musical note that sings "tight enough!"

So if I study music, do I get my own catapult?

* A footnote: architects used to do a lot of designing for war - forts, castles, catapults... My favorite such story is of the New Orleans architect/pirate who was pardoned from hanging in order to design forts for the War of 1812. More another day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exact Word-iness

I was idly reading my Vitruvius yesterday, as one does...

(Who doesn't? Okay, okay, I was waiting and it was handy.) Every architecture student buys a tattered paperback of this Roman architect's The Ten Books on Architecture - in print since A.D. 76.

His literary style is compared to the scintillating wit of written specifications, but his advice is still good:

"[The architect] must have a knowledge of drawing so that he can readily make sketches to show the appearance of the work he proposes." See? Good - if kinda "duh."

Or my favorite...

"As for philosophy, it makes an architect high-minded and not self-assuming, but rather renders him courteous, just, and honest without avariciousness. This is very important, for no work can be rightly done without honesty and incorruptibility."


Another bit from the Alice book's "Design Methods" chapter:

Logic – Our society is biased towards the Western-rational-thought traditionally taught in schools – scientific method, for instance – so this design guide stresses the less understood areas of intuition and its “artsy” ilk. 4.8 But logic is useful. Analytical thought is a very good tool - just remember it is a tool not the only tool, nor always the best tool for a particular job. 4.9

In visual design, logic means something a bit different than in, say, trigonometry. Design logic can mean functional suitability (does it work? Or, this being theater, does it play?). Or it can mean the suitability of parts to the whole. If the set is all angles and prisms, that curved sofa contrasts. At another level, do angles – sharp, jagged, inhospitable – serve the theme of the play? Or do curves – soft, smooth, enfolding? Designs have internal logic. It’s important to make clear what rules apply. For instance, if you establish that stripes of blue tape on the stage mean “ocean” and for all of Act I the actors “splash” in it or skirt the edge of the “waves,” then in Act II you can’t logically tromp all over it like a blue floor!

4.8 In The Salmon of Doubt Douglas Adams explains: “Logic comes afterwards. It’s how we retrace our steps. It’s being wise after the event. Before the event you have to be very silly.”
4.9 At the beach this summer, read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for a fascinating discussion: the author calls these two thought traditions classical and romantic. For a refresher in logical process, read Ken Watanabe’s Problem Solving 101.
(The Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett gave me a taste for footnotes.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Construction Drawings

Not, one would think, a subject of much debate.

Wrong. Designers have strong opinions about how to give the information - graphic and written - needed to build a set. At the moment there is no standard.

I saw an interesting set of drawings by another scenic designer: beautiful, large, free-hand pencil drawings - lovely confident sweeping lines with almost no dimensions or notes - plus a small, crisp, information-packed computer-drafted or CAD plan. Right there you see the clash of the old standard with the new.

The ex-standard was hand-drawn drafting done in pencil on largish sheets of paper, copied in blueline (used to be blueprint). Blueprint has been archaic for about 30 years. And blueline? It's really really hard to find a Diazo machine anymore, so that's out. Xerographic copying still works. Or computer plotting. That plan I saw was a plot.

Pencil is sorta... disappearing. It's almost gone in architecture, fading fast in theater. Computer drafting will be the standard any second now. Sad. Pencil can be beautiful and artistic and quite fast.

My own drawings? I like a small format - 11" x 17" (because it fits any copier )and hand-drawing in ink (for better copying).

(The plan above was for Glass Menagerie at WaterTower Theatre)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gotta Draw, gotta draw, gotta draw...


Latest from the "Design Methods" chapter of my up-coming-sometime-soon-really book, Alice Through the Proscenium:

Happy Accidents Serendipity again. Ideas can arrive accidentally. The trick is not so much in having that luck as in recognizing it. One 1980’s internet entrepreneur said his secret was surrounding himself with smart people doing lots of different things; in that happy chaos there had to be one good idea - his job was to see it. Have lots going on in your work and life, so that in the busy mess good things can happen. Then spot them! Luck requires some chaos.

Meta Fiction... sorta

Read enough fiction, eventually you get interested in the writing of fiction. Here are my favorite writers-on-writing books:

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster

Close cousins to these - also enjoyable in the writerly mood - are:
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon (for her riff on writer-built The City of Invention) and
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Follow with the funny just-finished-writing-the-novel book:
The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I was at Kitchen Dog for a few hours of Build...

Kitchen Dog Theater (for those who don't know) is resident company at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, a fascinating, quirky blue building that houses art galleries and theater spaces. Kitchen Dog fills the theaters with mostly new works, plus a few classics. It is Macbeth being built.

The whole company - actors, designers, directors, stage managers, playwrights, and all - are called in. So the work is punctuated pleasantly with a lot of "Hey! How've you been?" as friends catch up with each other.

My share yesterday was to lug big galvanized pipes from the semi-basement to the big space, then help Tinker-Toy them together into supports for audience seating. Kinda fun. We tightened the twisting "lock" rings by whacking them with a hammer: cloying! cloooying!! cloooying!!!

Fun. Therapeutic too, I bet, good for working off aggression.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Progress...

You know those moments when you're caught up in a creative project - obsessed with it - and in that wonderful headlong rush to finish...? Well, that's me right now. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Form Follows... Legislation

A lunch seminar yesterday: "Understanding the 2010 Standards of Accessible Design."

It's now 2011, but changes in the law don't come into effect until March 15th or become mandatory until March 15, 2012. Then federal law may clash with Texas'.

That dizzy feeling? It's the disorientation-zone of where Legislation meets Design.

Most people don't realize the HUGE effect law has on their environment: from the number of accessible parking spaces, to the number of inches of toe room under the waste pipe under the bathroom sink. Why don't your bosses add a cooktop in the breakroom? Because law would require them to rebuild the sink. An accessible sink (lower, shallower, knee space under it, accessible faucet etc.) must be installed if there's a cooktop. No cooking? Old sink's fine.

Laws have unintended effects. Why did drinking fountains disappear? When remodeling old buildings water fountains get updated, but nowadays it has to be two fountains - one high, one low. Two may not easily fit, so it's cheapest to rip out the old fountain. The public is thirsty, but the building is legal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act helps people who would otherwise be shut-ins. In Europe - with lots of old buildings and cities - you rarely see a wheel chair in public, seldom a walker, and the old lady with a cane is helped around the grocery by two generations of female relatives. Sometimes America IS the land of the free.

But the rules can be daunting. Will I, in March of 2012, remember that the Feds say the sides of the little curb ramp from parking lot to sidewalk has to slope at 1:12 not 1:10 and the ramp has to have a 36" clear, flat (2% max slope) "landing"? That it doesn't have to have warning bumps any more or be painted bright red? Unless, of course, Texas law still says it has to...

Under-the-sink-toe-room is 6", by the way. But I can now design more than 1 1/2" between a handrail and a wall if I want to. And - wahoo! - that 1 1/2" diameter handrail may now also be... oval! I forget the permitted dimensions, gotta look those up...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Exact Words

"Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté." ~Margaret Atwood


Collage – As in brainstorming, give your Unconscious a chance, this time by running amok with old magazines. Rip and tear! Free associate. Make unexpected connections. Clip out pictures suggesting objects, characters, or ideas in the play, evocative colors or textures, and overlap, hide, reveal, contrast, play. “Why is a raven like a writing desk? Juxtapose ideas. Make weird collisions, like hard and furry or luxurious and icy. Use serendipity. Don’t worry about creating art anyone else will understand – or that you will. Stir the depths.

(Part of an on-going series of design tools sampled from my up-coming set design ebook Alice Through the Proscenium.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Architecture Rant

I see in today's paper that the Wyly Theatre won an AIA design award.


The American Institute of Architects' design jury is quoted as saying: [The Wyly] "redefines theater in a way that is unique -- curtains open, light comes in." Exactly the sort of nonsense I'd expect.

Now, you have to understand that the jury selects from photos and a design statement, without visiting nominated buildings.* 2D photography is a poor way to evaluate a 3D artifact. There's no input from a building's users, so no reality-check on how it functions. Buildings are self-nominated by their designers and there are high costs for entry and photography, creating a defacto bias towards successful architectural firms. And the AIA was founded to promote modern design, so naturally prefers that style.

The Wyly, with its jet-set architect, prominent civic/cultural function and site, and strict European modernism is exactly the sort of project these awards love.

So? It could be a great building anyway. Except for that crack about "light comes in"...

The Wyly has walls of glass.

Did the jury understand that light is one of the great tools today in designing a production? That (reality alert!) an evening performance would get streetlight through that glass, but matinees would get daylight? Lighting designers are passionate control-freaks, so the Wyly's glass is shrouded with layers of blinds to block light. To my knowledge, bare glass and natural light has been used only once, in the inaugural production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream, and then only at the end of the show.

I'm sure the design statement read all cool and revolutionary, but glass in a performance space makes no functional sense. (And cost a fortune too.)

This ignorance or indifference or contempt for real fundamental functions of a building make the modernist slogan, "Form follows function," well, a lie. A big fat one too.

The Wyly (which does have virtues and is pretty nifty in some ways) shows many examples of modernist contempt for reality. Elevators, for instance, have such a big unweather-proofed gap between building and cab that they are effectively unheated or cooled. Reality-defying in our climate, besides being un-green. Elevators are also slow and there's only one stair between performance space and lobby. Poor crowd control. Restroom floor plans also ignore real human movement - there is always a traffic jam. The sloping entry "hill" is unkind to older patrons and the tiny storm drain at its bottom shows ignorance of Texas gully-washers (the lobby has flooded) . No covered bad-weather entry either. Ask any patron about the comfort offered ticket-holders (those green seats?) and you'll get an earful. Back to the elevators... they're on the building's exterior to articulate the building's circulation, but you notice they're not glass walled to let passengers enjoy the view?**

So the Wyly looks great in a photo and wins awards...

But is it great architecture?

* Numbers - 700 submissions - and travel distances require this, but it just isn't good enough.
** My theory? Glass elevators would be too fun, too bourgeois. There is a puritan streak to the building. The audience is obviously not supposed to enjoy itself too frivolously: this is High Art dangit!
*** photo from archicentral

Brain (and Heart) Transfers

I saw the traveling Young Frankenstein this weekend. Amusing. The actors were terrific - Igor a favorite. "Putting On The Ritz" was exhilarating, its shadow-play hilarious.

But it was interesting to see how the feeling of the story changed between stage and film: all those dancing villagers and smuttier jokes, the explicitness of "My Boyfriend"were a world away from the occasional melancholy and sweetness of the film. I missed the haunting tune that called the Monster and true-love between the Dr. and Inga.

A side note: the lightening zapper/brain transference machine was pretty cool, but I think we did as well with our Black & White version for Death is No Small Change. I was proud of it before, but considering the difference in budgets... I think now we made miracles.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I'm reading up...

For Christmas I got Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury by Rebecca Dickson, a useful sampler of all-things-Jane. Its text is Janeite -informative and a bit, well, "sweet." In counterpoint I'm reading Jane's Fame by Claire Harmon, who calls the authoress "bloody minded." Closer to how I imagine that tart lady. But the best version I've found is in Fay Weldon's Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen. A wonderful, thoughtful, writer's-eye-view.

Favorite Austen novels?
Pride and Prejudice - the young woman's book
Persuasion - the grownup book

Friday, January 7, 2011

SNIPPETS - From Alice Through the Proscenium

When I started teaching myself set design I jotted notes (mostly, "Well, don't do that again!"). Those notes eventually mutated into a how-to theater design book, Alice Through the Proscenium, which I plan to e-publish soon.

Meanwhile, here's a snippet from the "Design Process" chapter, one suggested design tool. The quote is from Alice in Wonderland (THE definitive guide to theater):

Brainstorming – Scribble every idea that pops into your head. Fast. No editing. No self-consciousness. Go wild. Only later do you go back to winnow out the very silly ideas… which may be the very best ones.

“You may call it ‘nonsense’ if you like,” she said, “but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Signs, Portents

We keep reading about reading - about the migration from paper to electronic screens. Probably as big a culture shift as the move from papyrus scrolls to printed books.

Against all my instincts, I now own a NOOK. Love it. But I will always love "real" books too. I don't think they're dead.

1) Sure some authors announce their future books will be ebooks.
2) Sure some (soon, I suspect, all) scholars release footnote-y info only electronically, as with the new Mark Twain Autobiography. Cheaper than printing a tome for a tiny audience.
3) Okay, lots of new books will go e... 'cause it's cheaper.
4) And ereaders like NOOK or KINDLE let the reader haul more books without a hernia. (I have all of Shakespeare, most of Twain, and a hefty slice of Dickens on mine.) Hail Project Gutenberg!
5) Even the great used book chain Half Price Books is now on-line and planning to sell ebooks.
6) ebooks and ereaders have advantages.


I'm reading As You Like It. From a huuuuge Globe Illustrated Shakespeare because: portentous adds to the fun; I color illustrations as I go, which slows me down; my brother's book is sentimental beyond the charm of crisp paper with dry-leaf smell. But I am also reading it on my NOOK. Easier to carry to the kitchen. I'll carry it to my meeting. And, eventually I'll read the play in a third form: a printout, script, or cheap paperback I can mark-up with scenic notes.

I think e and traditional books will co-exist. Just as Starbucks sells coffee but also rents a public sitting room, so books provide information and ideas, but also other things: a link to an author maybe as a signature, a sentimental gift, an experience... Some uses will be better served by e and others by physical books.

Watching this play out should be interesting...

I look forward to Half Price Books selling the first used ebook. Why not? My library makes you return ebooks. So, when those pixels get shelf-worn, will they sell them? I picture a wasteland of tired Da Vinci Code pixels.

I look forward to the first e pop-up book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Enter, Pursued by a Bear

Well, okay, no actual, real, live bear in pursuit... but at a run, certainly, pursued by deadlines.

This year started New Year's Eve with the opening of Pegasus Theatre's Death Is No Small Change - my first black & white production. Celebrating the B films of the '30s and '40s, these shows feature set, lighting, costumes, and props all in black, white, and gray scale... even the actors wear gray makeup. Then, at the end of the evening the producer walks out in a red dress, to stunning effect. Lots of fun!

Designers book shows early. Starting 2011 I'm already signed on for nine shows: the entire season at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth, starting with Boeing Boeing opening in February; The Traveling Lady, WaterTower Theatre's entry in the Horton Foote Festival, in March; Trinity Shakespeare Festival's As You Like It briskly followed by Five Women Wearing the Same Dress for Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, both opening in June; and my last Circle show is in November, ten months away.

As I figure out this Blog Thing I'll find a way to post up-coming shows here -
just in case you want to buy a ticket, eh?

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year - New Blog

I've been thinking for some time that I'd like to start a blog: to talk about design and the design process... a sort of designer's day-book, filled with influences and ways and means and sometimes a few end results... a culture diary...

Then I found this poem, "Make It Up," by John Siddique:

Walk yourself the world you want.
Each step is breath.
It’s your life. Stamp big-footed.
Walk soft. Dance your way in all the weathers.

And decided now was the time to stomp on out...