Sunday, July 31, 2011

Not a Review - The Wiz

Went to see the Dallas Theater Center's production of The Wiz.

A lot of fun!  I enjoyed the colors, the costumes, the singing, and especially the terrific dancing by Dallas Black Dance Theatre, who even pulled off "tornado" dancing.  The sets worked well... though they felt very traditionally proscenium style to me... considering that the big deal with this staging is the way audience seating pods move around.  I think they moved around too much - half as often would have been plenty - but it was great to see the seating change radically in this changeable space.  All in all a good production.

Minor quibble: more attention should have been taken in shielding the light booth from neighboring seats; the glow was distracting and it hurt sight-lines too.
Tornado sketch from my version of The Wiz, for WaterTower Theatre's summer kids' camp

Not a Review - Becky's New Car

Well, Becky's New Car opened last night to a full house and an enthusiastic audience.  (Always nice when folks like the show.)  As an added bonus, Charlie and Benita Staadecker, who commissioned this play, were in the audience - they try to make it to every opening.  What a great idea!  To commission a play, then to travel around the country watching it open.  Coolest hobby ever!

Come see what the fuss is about at Circle Theatre, Fort Worth.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Film Fest - My Brilliant Career

I'd heard about this quintessential Australian film for years.  Really good.  Nice to see a young Judy Davis and Sam Neill in these strong roles.

This 1901 story shows the plight of a young woman with ambitions besides "having a baby a year," as our fore-mothers so often did, in Australia or elsewhere, until worn out.  The good old days of hearty pioneer women!  Or, at least, of many children sometimes by several mothers, as each wife was replaced.

Tempting to blame husbands of the time, but really, how much choice did men have?  Men needed household labor!  But sex and even love, family affection, and companionship were also kind of nice things in a hard pioneer life.  Besides, the link between sex and pregnancy was not always understood - at least by women - certainly never discussed; birth control was crude, hard to come by, and considered immoral or irreligious; but human nature was then what it is now... a baby a year was almost inevitable.  As for serial wives?  Once a man had three or six kids what could he do when his wife died except replace her fast! with someone else to change diapers and feed and wash for them all?  And probably produce kid # seven?

Recently, a board of American health experts studying low-cost interventions to improve women's health recommended that birth control be paid for by health insurance.  Wait for that fuss!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Film Fest - Captain America

I enjoyed this movie a lot!  I liked Captain America much more than the lukewarm local review led me to expect.

You just have to go with it, ride along with the story on its own retro terms...  This is an old-fashioned, corn-fed, American hero with the straight-forward goodness and bravery that belongs on the front of a box of Wheaties.  Thank goodness the filmmakers had the good sense to take him seriously - no nudges, winks, or cynicism - and make this adventure an honest period piece.
Captain America is, of course, copyrighted by Marvel Comics.  I believe this is fair-use.

(Minor spoiler)  At the very end, Captain America finds himself in present day Times Square...  Frankly I'm looking forward to seeing him cope with modern America in the up-coming Avengers movie.  Seeing the aw-shucks modest Captain America dealing with the Old-Norse bragging of Thor ought to be fun too.  Now, even if Joss Whedon weren't directing that film, I'd be looking forward to it.

Fun with Colored Pencils

I can't reveal the final design yet (ticket buyers have to have perks, right?) , but I've just finished coloring my elevation drawing for In the Other Room: the Vibrator Play.  Coloring is fun, whatever your age, and I kinda like the way this show is looking.  After a few more minutes of lunch-munching and typing, I'm off to the copy place, then to meet the director... to see what he thinks of this.

I have to put in a good word for ink and colored pencil as rendering media:  ink lines give crisp definition, detail, and copy well, while colored pencil is fast, colorful - bold or subtle as desired - and wonderfully erasable when you goof.  More forgiving than theater-traditional gouche or watercolor!

Here's a different ink/pencil rendering for a kids' Easter show at Casa Manana a few years back - a fast-fast-fast sketch.  Try it yourself.
Like crayons, the bigger the box of colors, the more fun!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alice Through the Proscenium Sweeps Europe!

Not to brag, but I now have European SaleS... as in more than one!  A giddy feeling.
You can join this mad rush to book ownership at or, for the e-version at Barnes &
Whoo...  feeling all breathless.  Think it's jet lag?

Film Fest - True Blood Binge

I'm having a bit of a TV-athon here, catching up on the latest True Blood DVDs.  I'm enjoying them, but think I like the books better.  Comparing the two fascinates me!

The two forms of the stories run parallel, not identical - the general direction of the plot is shaped by the Charlainne Harris's books, but with substantial differences.  (The TV show includes one great character killed off in the first book.)  The TV show is an ensemble, with multiple characters and interlocking plots, while the books follow Sookie Stackhouse.

The show AS a show?  Stylishly done with appealing actors and constant surprises...  but "gory" just doesn't describe it.  The gore has reached such sticky depth it distracts me, pulling me out of the story.  Vampires die in a messy way that has me calculating clean-up and how many buckets of faux blood the prop master mixed - how many gallons of corn syrup? of Hershey's?  In one episode, no two episodes!, when non-vamps were all blood-smeared and biting and worrying at other characters' necks with wimpy civilian teeth...  I found myself wondering what that rubbery bit was meant to be... a vein?  This during what was, I assume, meant to be a horrifying and dramatic moment.

I don't think this is because I'm involved with theater.  I'm not professionally involved with any of that stuff on-stage and am the easiest target for the simplest effect or illusion - the first of an audience to gasp, sniffle, wince, or wipe my eye.  No.  I think True Blood jumped some bloody shark somewhere.

Reynard Parish was always a gory, campy, vampy, Grand Guignol of an alternate Louisiana - now it's sunk into kinda silly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Architecture and Cardboard Architecture

While in Rotterdam I visited its contemporary art museum, the Kunsthal, designed by Rem Koolhaas.  (Rotterdam hired a local architect!  Dallas take note.)

The Kunsthal is an interesting and successful design, I think.

The architecture - form, materials, circulation - works with the building's function - in this case, exhibition space, auditorium, museum shop, offices etc, and a walk-through to a park beyond.  I don't think Dallas' Wylie Theatre, by Koolhaas and Prince-Ramus,  is nearly as happy a collaboration of form and function.  But the Kunsthal works: public spaces are gracious;  circulation seems to flow (except for the client-afterthought? that makes visitors double-back to check umbrellas); gallery facilities seem accommodating, with good lighting; and the building's playful attitude and materials are exactly in the spirit of contemporary art.

I enjoyed and admired the building - my new favorite Koolhaas.
Within this museum was a sprawling exhibit of work by artist Ayako Rokkaku, who takes humble materials like cardboard and adds brilliant color in a child-like, Anime-tinged style to create sophisticated images.  

My favorite was probably her playhouse/sculpture built of cardboard.

Theater Job Opening - Costume & Make-Up

This is a little out of my normal bloggy corner, but I've just been asked to pass on the news that the Collin College Theatre Dept. is looking for a "Coordinator for Costume/Makeup"  It sounds a good job for somebody: to learn more, contact Collin College.

Set Designer's Life - Changes

Nice to think that as a designer you could sit at your board (drafting board: archaic technology for the hand drafting of construction documents on paper)...

Where was I?  Ahem.  ...sit at your board, dreaming up design ideas to be realized in the real world exactly as you imagine.

Wake up!  It'll never happen.

Sometimes, as I found with my recent photo mural problem, there will be a technical glitch that makes your idea impossible.  Sometimes it will be budget or logistics.  Sometimes someone else has an idea to improve yours.  There will always be changes between what you first envision and what ultimately gets built.

And this is okay.  Designs can grow stronger as they travel from your board to the stage.

In the photo to hand-painted mural change forced upon this particular design of mine...  Well, it went from Not-Working to Working which, I suppose, has to be considered "stronger."  My actual painting, though not as lovely as I'd wish, seems effective.  So I hope!  Let me know what you think.

Becky's New Car opens Saturday.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't You Wish You Were at the Beach?

It's official, we've reached that part of the summer when the pavement is as hot as the hinges of Hell and all I can think is...  
"I wish I were at the beach."

This beach is the coast of Zeeland - on a surprisingly (to me) hot day.  The water was warmer than I expected too, but still cool enough to be refreshing  - not like our pool, whose temperature has reached bring-your-own-tea-bag.

Some of the best times ever are on the shady porch of a beach-side rental cottage, the warm breeze off the Gulf tugging at drying beach towels, drinking cold sweaty-bottled beer, listening to gulls.

Right now I hear lawn-mowers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Research - Earlier Designers

Due to a teeny tiny little hiccup in my design for my ought-to-be-finished set, the photo mural of Pacific northwest pine forests which I chose specifically so I would not need to try to paint Pacific northwest pine forests because I'm not that strong a painter... has been CUT.

(It hangs too far downstage so that stage lights in that low space accentuate every flaw and wrinkle etc. etc. etc.  Upstage murals have worked before, but not this critical one.  And, of course, we could only see this under stage lights at Tech.)

So I'll be painting Pacific northwest pine forests tomorrow.


At this moment, my only design-friend in a cruelly forested world is the long-dead Arts and Crafts artist Addison Le Boutillier who - to my aid - designed very beautiful abstracted pine forests.  

Maybe I can attempt something like that?

This illustration is borrowed from Motawi Art Tile

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Designer's Life - First Drafts

When the audience sees the sleekly finished design - of a set, building, pastry, or sneaker design - they never realize just how horrid the very first version was.  The awful early scribble.

Well, just to give you an idea, here are a couple nasty first drafts of a plan for The Vibrator Play... which will look nothing like this!
My first(ish) idea: well, that didn't work.  See the stair at center stage?  Doesn't fit.  Can't get up or down fast enough to get out of the way of, among other things, actor entrances or an existing building stair and ramp.  Plus lots of other problems.
Second(ish) try... fumbling attempts to move that stair.

The biggest difficulty for me yesterday in getting a working plan was the stage's exit ramp, which obtrudes deep into stage left.  With its necessary landing/entry area, it eats up a chunk of prime space in Kitchen Dog's black box theater.  That big arrow on the left?  The audience entrance - right through the set!  This is a tricky - though exciting - space.  And I think I've now got it licked.  Come to the show to see my sleight-of-hand plan solution!

Film Fest - Galactica

*Spoiler Alert*

They reached Earth!

And it worked out about like I expected.

(This is not news to the umpty-million viewers of Battlestar Galactica, but it's news to me.  Who was it who said, "Any book I haven't read is a new book?")

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Better Example - Mark Twain's House

Less Gothic, more Stick Style, kinda Queen Anne... this looser style might suit the show.  Love the porch and gable end "sticks."  Mark Twain House and Museum

Designer's Life - Research

Research is one of the great joys.

I'm working on first sketches for In the Next Room: the Vibrator Play, by Sarah Ruhl, which starts Kitchen Dog Theater's new season.  It opens September 9th, so I better hurry!

But this morning I'm going back through my research for 1880.  The director and I are tempted by Craftsman Style, but that's a bit late, especially since a character would rarely live in a house built at their play's period; most of us live in houses a few or many years old.  So I'm leafing through a foot-high stack of architecture, interior design, and building detail books...

I refuse to design generic stage Victorian. (If I see another corner block...!)
But maybe Gothic Revival?  The sorta pick-up-stick Carpenter Gothic version?
image borrowed from Art History Housewife

Considered a very "moral" style in its day, it might set up a nice flutter of symbols with "modern" technology... and our contemporary attitudes.  We marvel at the characters' ignorance, but they saw this situation as a medical condition, not sex-life.  Sex, as we think of it, was not something... nice women thought about then, or admitted to thinking about anyway, or something.  Ignorance is very muddling.

The prop designer is finding fascinating early vibrators as part of her research.  Research is fun!  But not getting me closer to solving my technical problem at the end of the show...
Research?  Procrastination?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Film Fest - With MY Film!

I just found out that Ciao, the film I production-designed (directed by Yen Tan) was at the Aruba Film Festival.  Cool.
A kind of quiet, sensitive film about loss... that happens to have gay main characters.  Filmed here in Dallas.  One of those rare indie films that actually gets distribution and a real cineplex run - plus lots of festival time.  It's on DVD - at Amazon and Netflix.  

Incoming! "Becky's New Car" Opens Next Week

Circle Theatre.  Fort Worth.  Saturday.
Just sayin'

(My car is filled with automobile dealership desk.  Could be worse, I'm not holding the sofa on my hood.)

Books in the Car

I love CDs of books in the car.  They have to be UNABRIDGED (very important) and the reader has to have a good voice.

Right now I'm listening to the classic The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  I have to say, it was a little odd to be driving through the sweltering Texas heat, car air conditioner blasting, while listening to the English Mole and Rat slog through the snow of the Christmas chapter.  Odd but nice - in the same way as wearing sandals to the movies in the summer - your toes icing over as, you just KNOW, outside the sun is melting the asphalt on the cinema's roof.  A perverse pleasure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Follow-Up Criticism at Metropolis Magazine

One of my biggest complaints with most architectural criticism and the evaluation of new buildings is that this happens when a building is brand-new, not a few years later when its users have lived with it and can, more fairly, judge its character.

Well, Christopher Hawthorne's recent article"Starchitect High"  for Metropolis fixes that: he evaluates L.A.'s controversial downtown High School # 9 after two years of use.  Very interesting.  More publications should follow this lead.
This photo, however, is borrowed from Dezeen where you can see more.  I include a link to Metropolis on-line, but the article seems only to be in the print version.  (How... retro.)  Yet Metropolis is one of the few actually interesting architectural mags.

Film Fest - Guy Flicks

We really need to come up with a name for the masculine equivalent to the "Chick Flick."

Last night I saw She's Out of My League... a remarkably silly, yet strangely watchable guy-flick.  Basic premise: gorgeous, hot, blonde ("A hard 10") dates an ordinary guy ("A 5... and you can only jump 2 points, man!).  That's pretty much the plot.  Characters were all stereotypes.  But the supposed-to-be appealing actors were more appealing than this film deserved and the appalling relatives and friends so appalling that they held your eye... so kinda watchable.

Set Designer's Life - Documenting the Work

One of the hardest parts of being a theater designer, in the rush of getting shows designed and realized, is remembering to document the finished design!

Usually this means photographing the show.

There are all sorts of technical problems in photographing a set.  For one thing, it's usually high and/or wide and an ordinary camera lens can't catch it all easily.  For another, sets look best under stage lighting, but those light levels are rather dim for the camera.
Today I hand over to the lighting designer - months late! - my photos of my The Traveling Lady set.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Designer's Life - Lists

What on earth would a designer do without lists?

Furniture lists.  Material lists.  Gimme lists and gotta-find lists.  To-Do lists...  At the moment my To-Do list is - horrifying.  Way up at the top is "find alternate sofa" and we all know how aggravating sofas  can be (previous post).  Jostling for top spot on the list is "sort out old car title" for the trade in of the old Scenic Ride designer pedal car...  I can only guess how aggravating the Motor Vehicle place will be... from the on-line forms.  Yeesh.

But I gotta love the lists.  Without 'em I couldn't remember to find my own head.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Holland Pictures!

My computer tech. people have spoken to my photographer... and we now have Holland photos!

A Riff on Creativity and Blogs, Tweets, etc.

Musings by musician John Mayer about the siphon-off-the-talent effect that blogging and tweeting can have.  Cautionary.  And, ya know, I think he's gotta point...
public domain image courtesy of wpclipart, by Tenniel I believe

I'm struggling with momentum on the next book myself - one on creativity and the design process, meant to replace the hoary standard text used in many architecture and other design studios.  Blogging isn't helping!  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter!

Not to spoiler this (for the one person on the planet who hasn't yet finished reading the books), this last film is great!  I haven't heard an entire filled movie auditorium fall completely silent in a loooong time.  Except for the tell-tale throat clearings and sniffs.  Excellent movie!

The screenwriter and director had to condense many aspects of the book in order to fit the story into just two films, but though details differ, the heart of the story remains.  Excellently done!

Finding the Design's Clue

Talking with other theater designers lately - looking for a handle on their design problems - and grappling with starting a few problems of my own... made clearer to me this one fact of design -
The seed of a solution is within the problem itself.

A perfect example: one young designer needs to design a prop "machine."  Doesn't much matter what this machine does as long as it looks cool and generates stage "business."  Well!  That's not much to start from in generating ideas.  In talking about the play, however, we realized this show was set pre-electricity.  So flashing colored lights were out.  But...  How about approaching the machine in a steampunk way?  Design it to accomplish some modern goal, but with old fashioned - in this case candlelight - technology.  Sudden excitement!  Ideas!

The seed of a solution.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Alice Through the AACT Bookstore

Thrilled that my set design book Alice Through the Proscenium is listed in AACT's newsletter (American Association of Community Theatre).  And in their online bookstore "Current Recommendations" HERE.

Harry Potter Finis and Other Film Fest Fare

The last Harry Potter film opens today.  I'm eager to see it.

Still watching Battlestar Galactica: a favorite character has gone out an airlock and religious wars seem to be starting up...  Also saw the first of the new Torchwood (the second installment comes on tonight).  Started watching season three of True Blood - still entertaining.  Obviously my taste runs toward imaginative fare like science fiction and fantasy.

And I watched a very interesting documentary on Disney animation from about 1984-94 called Waking Sleeping Beauty.  It's about the films, of course, Disney's second flowering - The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King - but even more about the management and egos and managing or ill-managing those egos.  Fascinating.  The film probably ought to be required watching for anyone trying to run a creative business.
(The image above is, of course, borrowed from Disney, who hold the copyright.  I believe its use here in a discussion Disney and its films is "fair use," but if requested, I'll take it down.  Here's a nice discussion of Disney, copyright, fair use, and similar at Professor Damien's Public Domain Treasure Chest.)

Dreaded Sofa Follow-Up

As soon as I showed the Becky's New Car production meeting that last photo of the wall-climbing settee, one of the staff cried, "A prop designer friend of mine built that!"  Or a one just like it, apparently.  Parallel design - happens all the time.  Sounds like a pretty good prop maker!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Dreaded Sofa

Looked for a sofa today.  One of the hardest things to find for a theater set is a sofa.

If a theater has a warehouse, they don't like to waste space storing sofas.  If they don't... where would they?  Chairs, tables, even beds can stack, hang, come apart for storage... but not a couch.  So there are few stock sofas.  Borrowing a davenport from civilians is also iffy - people miss their sofa if they loan it out.  Besides, what if you ruin it onstage or in transit, and have to replace it?  A sofa is bulky, awkward, and, inevitably, has to be carried downstairs.  And turns out to be a sofa bed - built of concrete and cast iron.

But sofas are specific in style.  They matter!  A designer can't use any old thing.  Yet loaners are rare, rentals are expensive, and reupholstering one to fit your scenic design is a major and expensive chore requiring Advanced Skills.


Hate 'em.
Except for this one, the "Climbing Settee" by Lila Lang.  See it here at Decorfair.  So cool  I have to love it.

Set Designer's Day - Hangin' Round

I have two meetings in Fort Worth one (eep!) at 10:00 a.m.  (Better jump in the new Scenic Ride - I'm liking this new car.  It starts for one thing.)  The other meeting is at 6:00 p.m.

Since Fort Worth can be an hour and a half drive each way, depending on traffic, I decided it wasn't worth going home between meetings.  And probably the same cost to eat there as to eat cheaply at home and pay for gas... so I'll be hangin' out in Fort Worth today, reading scripts.  It's a cool town - it'll be fun!

Shop Local (for Architects)

I'm on an architecture riff, but I promise there's a point you theater folk will like.

Refreshing to read this article in Stage Directions that Chicago's Writers' Theater, after a world-wide search, chose a local architecture firm to design their new North Shore performance space.  Studio Gang Architects is award-winning etc.  and Chicago-local.
public domain image courtesy of  Balaban Katz Foundation

"Good Designers Here at Home," is a slogan I  wish Dallas would embrace instead of our so-not-proving-the-point "World Class City."  Do you see Paris saying that?  "Ville de classe du monde!"  I think not.  Nor New York City nor London nor Tokoyo nor Santa Fe.  World class?  If you is, you don't gotta say it.

And right here at home we have award-winning architects...  How many have gotten to design theater facilities for our Arts District?

Dallas!  Pull up your socks, stand up straight, and be the very best Dallas you can be!  Nurture and hire local talent.

PS  I've just been asked to consult on a small local theater's digs.  Could be fun.  I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Architects As Writers

Most architects and many others writing on architecture are unreadable.

In this month's Architectural Record article by Martin Fuller (who also writes for the New York Review of Books) grouses about a book on Postmodernism: "...or at least those portions of it [the book] that are intelligible, since about every fifth sentence stubbornly resists parsing."

Yes!  (I pound the table.) That is the trouble - or one of them.  The density, obscurity, and pomposity of architectural writing can stagger you.

The ordinary architect, writing the infrequent article, just lacks literary skill.  He stopped learning to write in high school, but this condition is aggravated by hyper-seriousness, a bad case of prolixity (big-word-itis), and that sad anemia caused by lack of novel-reading.

Of architects whom you'd hope could write...  Theorists range from dull (Vitruvius, who writes specifications), to polemical (Le Corbusier, who liked manifestos), to mystical (Kahn, who... knows what he's rambling about?).  Indigestible text.

Writer-writers on architecture?  Other than Jane Jacobs, the best reads seem to come from occasional visitors to architecture like Tom Wolfe or Alain deBotton...   Regular architecture beat writers turn dull or into equally dull raving-partisans.  Something about architecture - it's permanence? civic importance? - infects writers.  Seriousness develops into deadly pomposity and that causes one of two diseases: either it stiffens the writer's hands until he types like chipping granite (dry dusty reading); or pomposity settles in the writer's head, causing pontification, hands madly transcribing the fever in his brain...   into incoherent text.

(Obviously, I am infected with strain #2.  But I'm taking pills.  Pills and injections.)

How to prevent this public health problem?  Because it DOES effect the public health - buildings effect us all and, heaven knows, we need better buildings.  To get 'em, we need to talk about 'em... without deadly boredom.  I prescribe:

1) Ordinary Architects - YOU! reading this - learn to write.  Read Strunk and White's Elements of Style.  Practice writing.  READ.  The good stuff.  You will be happier and more virtuous, I promise.
2)  Architects with influence, with firms or who write anything at all, like I said above.  Plus insist on better writing from everyone in your firm; a better written proposal can only help win that next commission, right?
3)  Writers on Architecture - Set a good example!  At least keep readers awake.  Okay?
4)  Readers on Architecture - praise and patronize the good writers.  Have lively opinions and spread them around.  We can't leave something as important as our environment to these dullards!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Set Design Life

For the next show at Circle Theatre, Becky's New Car, I need a big photo mural... a view of sky, pine trees, road, and a car.

Naturally, it's impossible to find a public domain Use-Me-Free! photo that's perfect, so I've been scrounging the internet, messing with possible photos, trying to digitally add cars etc. etc.  Since I'm a novice digital manipulator... You can imagine the electronic mess.  Yesterday I so overloaded my faithful laptop that it completely froze.

Solid.  Icy.  Frozen.  For loooong arctic minutes.

Scared me.  I called my on-line IT staff.  Waited.

Eventually the machine unfroze.  Who knows why?

Finally I spliced my images convincingly.  After other electronic trials I got email transmission of them to transmiss - abandoning only one email because it wouldn't "attach" and after only one "failure to deliver".  Got the (gulp) printer's price.  Talked with the producer...

And here's where the flexibility needed to set design comes in - in that discussion I discovered the producer was reluctant about the cost mainly because the car made this background less usable for future shows.  Seein' as how he'd be spending so much on it.  Understandable. So we kicked ideas around and decided the car could be a separate image, mounted on board, standing in front of the background all super-hero-cut-out-like.  Plausible for an auto dealership.  This lets the mural get printed faster (important).  And makes the mural a more flexible to re-use investment.  And the free-standing car offers some theatrical possibilities... hmmmm.  Must talk to director...

Flexibility - the designer's friend.

Becky's New Car opening soon!

A Big Sale on THE Set Design Book

It's true!  There's a big publisher's sale on THE book - that's my book, Alice Through the Proscenium, of course.  (Maybe they're selling a few others too.)  Anyway, here's your chance, Oh Faithful Readers, to stock up on Alice.  Dare ya to take advantage of the 25% deal!

(What is this book, you say?  Check it out at

Monday, July 11, 2011

Books on Shakespeare

I've just been introduced to a new (to me) book on Shakespeare...  The clearest, most concise, and most pleasurable such I've come across.  A good starting place for anyone interested in the man behind the words: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson.

I particularly like the sanityof his discussion of much-argued-over aspects of the Bard, like"Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?" (I fought this battle with a relative every Christmas until we agreed to hang up our arguments unresolved.)  There's a great review of Bryson's book at Shakespeare Geek.  Here I'll quote Shakespeare Geek, quoting Bryson: "There's no evidence that Shakespeare owned any books!" is countered with "Then he must not have owned any pants, because there's no evidence of that either!"  There's something wonderfully sensible and funny about that pants rebuttal - sense and humor fill Bryson's Shakespeare.

Other Bard books?   Here's the short stack from my library, filed under "S" for "Swan of Avon":

Shakespeare After All
by Marjorie Garber, which talks about the life-n-times and scholarly arguments, then goes through each play, discussing, among other things, difficulties for directors in interpretation. 

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom.  Bloom is a literary scholarship freight train... plowing his way, heavily laden, through miles literary debate.  I suspect he's a bit old fashioned now in his own interpretations, but tough to argue with the 2:20 Express, ya know?  Interesting, opinionated reading.

The Friendly Shakespeare
by Norrie Epstein.  All things Bardish in quick, quippy sections with illustrations.  Fun and informative.

Exit Pursued by a Bear by Louise McConnell.  A companion volume where you can look up terms, actors, facts. Handy reference.  (And great title!  Also the a title for a new play Kitchen Dog Theater just Read... earlier post here.)

Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.  Best described as a speculative or fictional biography - in fact, there's so little documented of the real Shakespeare and so much, um, interpolated here,  let's just call it a novel, huh?  A fun read that gives a feel for the period.  As likely to be strictly accurate as the film Shakespeare in Love.  Both are fun though.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Film Fest Outing - Larry Crowne

Larry Crowne is a good new movie with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.  He plays an every-(middleaged)-man who turns his recession damaged life around through community college.  Roberts, his professor, has her own problems...  Nice performances by stars and an ensemble of old navy buddies, neighbors with a perpetual yard sale, and students in a public-speaking class and a scooter-gang.  A quirkier film than you'd expect.

But the audience was entirely over 40.  These folks have followed Hanks and Roberts their whole careers, I'd guess, and could see the lingering boy from Big in Larry's face and the glowing, coltish Pretty Woman in the final moments of Robert's character, adding poignancy.  And it's true this movie's themes are going to resonate most with folks old enough to have been kicked around by life... but if youngsters miss this film they are missing out.

It got me wondering: How, as a movie star, can you introduce yourself to a new generation of moviegoers?

Torchwood Geeky Goodness

Just watched the first episode of the new Torchwood "Miracle Day" miniseries - as the team (what remains of it) are hijacked by the CIA to America.  Nice to see Captain Jack and Gwen again.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

New Car!

The Honda Element in a cool dark red.  Rubber mats (love those), fold-away seats, a boxy good-haulin' sorta vehicle.  Perfect theater set designer car.

I feel excited!

...but poor.  Not even gonna calculate how many shows I need to design to pay this new baby off.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Work Car

My once faithful old companion of a car is getting... unreliable.  So I'm looking at new rides.  Something bare-bones, cheap, but capable of hauling LOTS - everything from armchairs to deer heads to bags of leaves.  I'm leaning toward the Honda Element... mostly because its shoe box on wheels styling, fold-away seats, and rubber floor mats seem perfect for my needs.  (Easier to sweep leaves off rubber than carpet!)

I hate car shopping.  It's especially un-fun right now because the salesmen are especially hungry.  There's a definite feeling of Baby-needs-new-shoes urgency to some of them that makes me uncomfortable.

Tomorrow's the big Tire Kicking Day.

Scale of Landscape

First thing to strike me as I drove around Dallas (two weeks in Europe, never drove - one day in Dallas, hafta drive!)... was how different the scales of Texas and the Netherlands are.

Both are horizontal landscapes (though not even Kansas is as flat as the Netherlands), but even large fields in Holland are defined by lines of tall, graceful, evenly spaced  trees that announce the landscape as human-made, while Texas' fields and range-land are vaster, the thirsty trees naturally scrubbier and lower, seeming more human-hacked-from-the-scrub than the garden of the Netherlands.  It feels like a long time since their land was wild... Texas could revert in a week.  (Dikes, however, suggest that Holland could be underwater any minute.)

Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland seem designed around walking distances, while Texas is designed around the car... more between-things distance and wide, wide streets.  Heck!  In front of my neighborhood is six lanes - I never even saw a Dutch highway that wide - most streets are one narrow lane plus a bike path each side that serves, when you meet another car, as an impromptu and exciting two lanes... add a couple bikes, a parked truck, and a nice brick wall, tree, or steel bollard...!

Amazing to see Dutch villages like Workum where brick house fronts sit on the street, but the rear walls - one room away - sit in pure country.  Corn at the window.  Our towns... straggle... tool-shedding themselves messily into a countryside of out-lying gas stations, wrecking yards, and billboards that straggle on for miles.  The Dutch civic crispness (I'd say European, except Paris definitely straggled) of city/country edge was sometimes breathtaking.

So was the tidiness and up-keep of a whole country.  If I were an antique building, I'd want to be Dutch.  If I lived in a Modern multifamily building I'd want it to be in Holland...  Our highrises could use a few petunias, I tell you.  I lost my heart to the hollyhocks that spring up out of tiny urban 2" plots to stand, floral sentries 6' tall, at doorways of quaint 17th century Zeeland cottages and brand-spanking-modern wharf-side Amsterdam townhouses.
Hollyhock image courtesy of
I wish hollyhocks grew here, but there's not enough water to make that work - it was 104 F yesterday.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Reading

A Squidoo page on books for writers.  You know who you are.

Five Women Wearing The Same Dress... For Longer

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress has been extended until July 17th.

Tickets?  Selling like hotcakes.  Here at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.


Dumb luck plays a big role in the design biz...

While traveling, I checked email a few times for distant crisis (one, resolved without me, phew!) and back-n-forthed with an artistic director about next season.  So there I happened to be, on my only free morning in Amsterdam, when I got an e-invitation to design Anne Frank's Diary.  What are the odds?

So I visited Anne Frank's hiding place.
Anne Frank (ware)House, Amsterdam, photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The building was her father's business warehouse, two old Amsterdam canal houses set one behind the other.  Two upper floors and the attic of the rear building were hidden from view and therefor easy to forget - the entry to them was hidden behind a bookcase.  Eight people hid there from the Nazi roundup of Jews for about two years.  Until betrayed.

The site is now a historical museum - very well and sensitively done.

I love the Diary which Anne Frank wrote while in hiding but hadn't planned to visit her hiding place...  I didn't want to know too accurately what it was like or to... well... sniffle in public.  Going there as a designer, however, gave me a distance, a more analytical place to stand, which made it easier. The site is very moving.

It must have felt like living in a submarine, I think, with its tight, dark, airless quarters and its constant presence of too many other people.  Claustrophobic.

One unexpected realization, for me, is that while Anne's and the other many many deaths of the Holocaust remain a tragedy of unimaginable size - impossible to realize - by the time I exited the building, the publication of Anne Frank's diary feels like a small victory.  One Anne would appreciate.

This play feels daunting...  It needs to be done well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Back From European Adventures!

If the postings here have seemed a little skimpy, it's because I've left them to my clone, while I went jaunting through the Capitals of Europe!  Paris.  Amsterdam.  London (airport).  (Chicago airport too.)  And off into the hinterlands of Zeeland and Friesland, the Netherlands.

Reports to follow fast upon this post.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Art Blogs

A few art/graphics blogs or sites that I visit when I've been staring at the same walls for too long.  Great visual breaks:

Lines and Colors for a changing on-line gallery show; Punch and Judy for beautiful scratch board illustrations (and theater design too); fun ink illustrations at Mattias Inks; and 50 Watts for killer book illustrations.

And here's a cool history-of-design site:  History of Graphic Design.  Look at the history of the poster section.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reading Apace

Many book reports coming soon.  I'm working on a little stockpile loaded onto my Nook:
Charlaine Harris's newest Dead Reckoning (southern vampires); two (sociology/philosophy?) by Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety and A Week at the Airport; the newest novel by David Mitchell, about an 18th C Dutch merchant in Japan, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; and probably a couple from that endless list of I-ought-to-read-'em books that every reader has.


Wahoo!  The latest sample from the "Design Elements" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium:

Rhythm  Architecture is kin to music because both use rhythm.  Imagine a colonnade: a classical colonnade would have equally spaced columns.  In Baroque architecture, like in Baroque music, things get more complicated.  Why not jazz columns?  Any repeated element sets up rhythms.  Play with them.

Proportion – What if a chair was three times too big?  Or too small?  Proportion is relative size.  Alice was out of proportion with the White Rabbit’s house when she expanded until her arm…  

                        “An arm, you goose!  Who ever saw one that size?
                        Why it fills the whole window!”

Alice was differently out of proportion when she shrank and floated on gallons of her own large scale tears through a crack under a now-enormous door.

Exaggerated or minimized proportion can be used for emphasis or comic effect.  Make the over-sized villain hunch over that mini piano!  Put the thin, tall, leggy wingchair next to the short, squatty toad-green one.  And remember that different stages require different sizes of scenery and furniture – to suit their different sizes, heights, and viewing distances.                             

A more subtle version of proportion is that of size, shape, and style.  If you’re designing an 18th century house, it better have 18th century sized windows in proper proportion for its wall.  Victorian windows are quite different.  Notice the ratio of opening to solid wall – modern architecture may be glassy, medieval is mostly wall. 5.2  Look carefully at sizes and shapes of architectural elements like doors and windows and at the heights of wainscoting or furniture.  In some eras furniture was tall, in others, as low slung as an Art Deco chaise lounge.