Thursday, August 25, 2011

Set Designer's Life - Drafting

It's weird, but after only thirty years...  I'm kinda bored with drafting.

If I can get started, I'm okay.  Force myself to my board and get involved with the design...  Because there's always more design!  You figure out details: how to build this?  What would be the cheapest or most straightforward assembly of materials?  What's critical to visual effect or use and what isn't?  In architecture,  materials and connections have to be substantial, but theater lasts five weeks - which allows a little cheating.  Make that joint Gaf tape!  (Love Gaf tape.)  I rather love the ability to cheat; sometimes it's easier to get the look you want working with cardboard and Gaf, than with granite and stainless steel.

There's no end to design.  After construction drawings are done you talk with the builder, who has a better idea.  Together you develop a third - even better - way.  You scribble details in your sketchbook or on scrap plywood.  Think slow and thorough at your board - then fast and collaboratively at the build site.

I've been busy at my drafting board, working on The Fantasticks for Circle Theatre.

A simple plan, yet mine own... or...  No, actually it's a redesign of Ed Wittstein's original scenic ideas for the first production of The Fantasticks, in Greenwich Village.  This is the longest running  show ever in the U. S. at 42 years.  Here's an amazing Wikipedia quote:

"The producers spent $900 on the set and $541 on costumes, at a time when major Broadway shows would cost $250,000. The original set designer, costumer, prop master, and lighting designer was Ed Wittstein, who performed all four jobs for a total of only $480 plus $24.48 a week."

Amazing?  For two reasons:  Wittstein's  ideas are still perfect for the show (I don't use "perfect" lightly); and both set budget and  designer's pay haven't changed much in forty years.  Circle's budget for both is bigger (thank goodness!), but I'd bet every designer in the DFW area (or elsewhere) has had less to spend and has been paid less on some show or other.  

Be honest.

Okay - I did the math.  According to one estimate, $ 1.00 in 1960 would equal $ 7.46 in 2011 dollars. So...  Wittstein had the equivalent of a present day $ 6714 to spend on his set and was paid (ignore the weekly) $ 4036 as a base fee... for, count 'em, four jobs... so let's say $ 1000-1200 for wearing the set designer hat.

Times haven't changed at all!  In fact, set budgets may have declined, while pay is... still pathetic.  Ouch.

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