Friday, September 30, 2011

Set Designer's Day - Reading Scripts

An important - Critical! - part of a set designer's work is Reading the Script.

It's the basis for the entire production.

At the moment I have several scripts for future shows backlogged on the corner of my board (The Official READ THIS! Pile).  Eventually I get to feeling guilty enough and do, in fact, read them.

A designer reads a text in a strange way.  I like to read the play the first time as if reading a novel just for fun: following the plot, enjoying the talk, feeling the mood.  The second reading is for practicalities: doors, windows, intently looking for requirements (and problems) I'll need to meet with my set on this particular stage.

Then I like to let it rest at the back of my mind for a while - percolating - until it's time to design.

On top of my READ THIS! pile (printed out specially for this weekend when I intend to READ THESE!) is Seven in One Blow, an English style panto for Circle Theatre and Christmas.  I'm a little late starting this.  Just under that is Anne Frank for WaterTower Theatre.

Two scripts a little different in... um, every possible way.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Film Fest - Rango

Rango is a terrific film!

Notice I don't write "animated film"?  Animation has now evolved to a point where, well, it's pointless to use it as a category in much discussion.  I love hand-drawn animation, but that is - has to be - 2D illustration and seems to fall naturally into a category of its own, with different concerns and criteria than a live-action film.  The apparently 3D animation computers make possible is now so good that the audience forgets it's drawn at all.  (Or never knows.)  Mingling of CG animation into photographed "reality" in films like Avatar or Lord of the Rings has begun to make "real" versus "animated" a quibble.

For instance, I think Rango is one of Johnny Depp's best performances.  It's convenient to credit Depp, and his voice (and, I suspect, in-house-film-example physical performance) makes the character "his", yet Depp needs to share the accomplishment with who-knows-how-many talented animators, story board artists etc...?  Frankly, I don't care.  Rango is an ensemble character.  He's wonderful.  'Nuf said.

Image borrowed from Digital Trends, film by Paramount Pictures, directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Johnny Depp.

The whole film is clever, funny, imaginative, true, and, I think, brilliant.  Go watch Rango!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


In my recent post on Terry Pratchett's novels I suggested starting to read with Men at Arms, saying it was the first of the novels featuring watchman Sam Vimes.  Wrong!  How could I confuse that?  Obviously the FIRST Vimes book was Guards! Guards!  Silly me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Set Designer's Weekend

Theoretically last weekend was Off...

Actually there was an opening Saturday night (The Fantasticks) and a First Read Through (The Frequency of Death! my black and white).  Really for truly, there was most of the two days preparing the design sketches for F of D so I could show them Sunday evening.

A very pleasant occasion.  Food, meeting new people and old friends, and the excitement of hearing the play aloud.  One actor did a nifty Jack Nicholson imitation (that won't be on-stage, sadly).  There was a film crew recording the occasion...  seems there's going to be a documentary.

public domain photo, courtesy of Totally Free Images!

On a Terry Pratchett Tear

I'm a BIG fan of Terry Pratchett's work.  So I'm excited that he has a new Disc World book coming out in October...  Being also impatient, until then I'm rereading earlier novels like Carpe Jugulum, Thud, and now Unseen Academicals.

It's hard to describe a Pratchett book to the uninitiated.

Pratchett is English, first of all, with a sense of humor somewhere between Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and P. G. Wodehouse... plus the astringency of one of the fierier Old Testament prophets.  Oscar Wilde-ishness with quips.  (No other author would admit to his puns.)  He's also very very very bright - interested in everything including, increasingly, philosophy.

Disc World's cosmology depends on four elephants and a giant turtle swimming through space.  Hard to explain.  The (flat) world of Pratchett's stories started as fantasy.  As in Tolkien - to whom he is indebted - there are dwarves, men, and other Grimm Bro.s creatures, but it's characteristic of Pratchett that one of his best characters is Death.  The anthropomorphic representation.  Who speaks in ALL CAPS, rides a pale horse named Binky, and has both a granddaughter and a sidekick who is Death of Rats (also gerbils etc.).

Pratchett's world started as fantasy, whimsy, and humor, but it's not the silly sword-N-sandals stuff people sometimes expect.  Even the earliest books are satirical and they've gotten stranger and deeper over the years, blending plot lines, continuing characters, and genres until now Disc World is social commentary and... who knows what?

I suggest starting at Men At Arms, the first book in the sequence featuring Watchman Sam Vimes.  Sam may show up in the new book, as he's on the cover.

* CORRECTION: the first Vimes book is Guards! Guards! Start there.  (Silly me.)

Image borrowed from WWW.PJSMPRINTS.COM

Monday, September 26, 2011


In the Next Room at Kitchen Dog in Dallas is still running.  Catch it if you can - I'm really proud of this one.

The Fantasticks has now opened at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth.  A lovely show.

The sale on Alice Through the Proscenium at ends today - here's the Secret Code.

Don't miss 'em!  Life flies by...

Film Fest - Critters with Teeth

I walked into the room to catch the last part of Piranha!

Amazingly silly.

It's totally unfair to evaluate a movie when you haven't seen the whole thing: I missed the setup that made this a logical and gripping drama, deeply symbolic of something or other.  Maybe.  As it was, I watched the snap and flash of teeth, gagged at gallons of fake blood (Girrls-N-Gore!), and wondered... why not just get out of the water?

I also recently re-watched Tremors.  THIS is a B movie!  The premise - giant toothy-earthworm monsters track folks by vibrations of footsteps, then pop out of the ground to eat 'em - is far-fetched, but not illogical.  The dialogue wouldn't make Shakespeare give up his quill pen (maybe snap it?) but it's cheesy fun.  The film romps along with such verve and humor (and such helping of young Kevin Bacon) that you can't help but enjoy the whole lunatic thing.

I recommend Tremors with an extra-large non-buttered popcorn.  ('cause, if you throw popcorn at the TV, butter smears the screen.)  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not A Review - The Fantasticks

Why "not a review"?

Because I can't be impartial - whether I was involved in a particular show or not, I usually know someone who was.  And because I can't pretend to judge: to decree that This was better than That, or this was Worthy or Unworthy.  I'm incapable of making any sort of a "Top Ten" list!  I just know what I like* (or don't) at the moment and usually (not always) why.

I can recommend a show... but it's up to You to decide whether you're likely to agree with me.

The Fantasticks?  Like it.  A good rendition - close to the original show's spirit - with real talent and nice voices.  Sweetness shines through.  I really really like the text.  The songs are still fresh and clever; I love "September."  In this production, everyone on stage does well (talented youth and experience), but my especial favorites have to be the Mime and the two clownish, side-kick characters - the guy who (mis)quotes Shakespeare and the guy who dies.  Funny, funny death scenes.

Buy a ticket to Circle Theatre's show.  See if you agree with me.
Commedia dell'Arte charcters - believed public domain

* "I know what I like" is the classic definition of the non-Art Critic, I believe.  Sigh

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Designer's Life -The Secret

This! is the reason artists accept serious underpayment, that inventors keep tinkering in their basements, or guys who work in commercial laundries go home to their own laundry rooms to type novels...

The  joy! when things fall into place, the plot thickens, the painting coalesces, the inspired metaphor falls from... the air?... the muse?... from who-knows-where? onto blank paper.

Frabjious Days.

Progress on my project.  (I'll tell you what it is later - don't want to jinx it.)  Meanwhile: Callooh!  Callay!

(The guy in the commercial laundry?  Stephen King in the early days.  Read his On Writing.  "Frabjous"?  Read Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Time Management versus Procrastination

Stomping out other project's fires, email, dishes, other deadlines, procrastination, phone calls, chores, and just plan ol' foot-dragging (perhaps because of those crispy fire-stompin' feet?) have been BIG problems in this studio lately.

Do you ever have this problem?

There's an important, long-term project that you want - you need! - to be working on... and yet... somehow... you neeeever do.

Well, I've listened to all the excuses I can stand.

So I'm experimenting with time-management.  The new deal is: breakfast, then turn on the dreaded treadmill and tread it while reading yesterday's notes and completed pages.  1/2 hour of concentrated attention on the project.  No distractions.  Then straight from the dreaded treadmill to the computer keyboard to write for 1 hour.  NO INTERNET.  No excuses.  Until the timer buzzes.

Then I can fritter my life away at email or whatever other time-gobbling, brain-rotting activity I choose.  Well, that and deal with the business of the day and those deadlines.  But for 1 1/2 hours it's just thinking, then doing, On The Project.

This seems to be working.

It's easier than expected to concentrate on the dreaded treadmill.   (Though hard to write notes!)  

It's not much time, but I can see movement.  Knowing myself, once I get into the project I'll  start stealing extra time to devote to it and then...

Real Progress!

Book Sale Extended!

The publisher of Alice Through the Proscenium has extended their Oktoberfest sale a few more days:

For any Kind Reader who has forgotten why this is important...

This means you can get a deal on THE how-to set design book!

In case you'd like to kick the book's (metaphorical) tires first, you can find sample chapters and reviews at; more info at Alice's Squidoo page; and snippets from the "Design Methods" chapter here at Snippet Central.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I love this vintage illustration of a decorator at work... 
and it gives me an excuse to plug the blog of my buddy Joseph at  A bit like my blog, it's the on-going experiences of a theater set designer - currently "decorating" a production of Pillowtalk.

Designer's Life - Finishing and Reading the omens

There's a tendency for a theater set to Never Be Done!

I'm off to Fort Worth again today to - I hope - finish finishing the Fantasticks set that I thought I finished Monday.  This time it's to age and tweak the big "Fantasticks" banner.  Sigh.  This is pretty normal.  Like most art projects, a theater show is never so much "finished" as "you open anyway."

The Fantasticks opens Saturday!  (Come see the New! Improved! Banner...  and the show too.)

Image borrowed from Circle Theatre

Besides, any day when the staid NPR station wakes you with Kurt Cobain in your left ear is not a day for peaceful rest-itude, or so the omens suggest.  (I liked the song, it just startled me is all.)  Speaking of public radio: here's another couple art critiques from Our Reporter in the Midwest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Insulting Your Audience

Frankly, I bought my copy of Virginia Woolf's The Common Reader for its title.  "Common reader" sounded like, well, me.  Not a scholar or a critic, just an ordinary reader, reading for pleasure and information.  I do a LOT of reading.  So I thought I might enjoy Woolf's essays on this subject.

Virginia Woolf - photo believed public domain

Start reading her Intro, written in that inimitable, mellow, English-literary way...

"There is a sentence in Dr Johnson's Life of Gray which might well be written up in all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people."

Lovely sentence.  That's my room - she's talking about me.  Woolf quotes Johnson saying that it is the "common reader" who decides the claim of authors to honor.  Common readers rule!  Then she goes on...

"The common reader, as Dr Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar.  He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously."


It's painful to quote the entire passage that spells out Virginia Woolf's opinion of "common readers" - anyone not a critic or scholar - so I'll just give you adjectives and phrases: "odds and ends, rickety, ramshackle, temporary, sufficiently like, hasty, inaccurate, superficial, snatching, scrap, without caring, deficiencies..."

It's a little unclear whether Ms. Woolf considers herself a common reader (on a third reading, I believe she does), but it's clear I'm one.  And that she holds a lower opinion of me than Dr Johnson's.

Having bought the book already, shall I read on past the insults?

I read on.  There's an essay on Jane Austen that makes the book worth buying.  And I persist in loving Woolf's A Room of One's Own, that feminist plea to give women true opportunity in writing and, by extension, in any of the arts.

(I can almost hear Woolf reacting to female-architect Jeanne Gang's MacArthur Grant with, "You go girl!"  No - too vulgar - but perhaps, "Oh, well done.")

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf indeed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Architect Wins "Genius" Grant

Back in July I was pleased to hear that a prominent Chicago theater chose a prominent local architecture firm, Studio Gang, to design their new theater. ("Shop Local for Architects")

Now their lead architect, Jeanne Gang, has won a MacArthur "Genius" Grant!

See what a little appreciation at home can do for you?

(More at Fast Company)

The Kimbell Art Museum

This weekend I got a chance to spend a little time at Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Louis Kahn's masterpiece is being added on to... sorta.  

After an earlier attempt to expand the Kahn building was quashed by public outrage (more at CultureGrrl), this addition will not, in fact, touch the existing building except by a secret staff tunnel.  Once the new building opens, visitors will park underground, enter the new building - with its newer, bigger toilets etc. - then walk processionally outdoors to Kahn's museum... approaching the building as its architect always intended, from the west, not from its sunken, eastern parking lot.  (Finding the "real" entry on a Kahn building can be puzzling.)  

My standing grumble: in building this addition, a much loved public lawn was destroyed.  As a sop to us lawn-lovers and tree-huggers (it was ringed by great trees) part of the new building will get a sod roof.  And, a block away, another lot will eventually become a lawn.

I suppose it's about the best compromise possible.  If it were not Renzo Piano designing the new building, I'd be quite unhappy about the whole idea, but he has a sensitive hand with museums and a real respect, I believe, for Kahn's legacy, and, well, I guess the Kimbell needs the space.  Certainly it'll be good to see the whole permanent collection out where I can visit it!

My visit included a fast "hello" to several favorite paintings: Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun's self portrait, Matisse's L'Asie, and  Mabuse's portrait of Hendrik III, among others.  

I saw the new Poussin there's been such a fuss about, his "Ordination."  (More at the NY Times)  I have to admit to a tepid interest in "Academic" painters... the formality and high seriousness of the style just doesn't do much for me.  But this is obviously (even to me) a very fine example.  

The costume colors are surprisingly vital against the burnt summer/fall of the countryside.  The theatrical expressiveness of the figures is effective - Judas skulks.  Is it just me, or did Poussin use the same model for most of the disciples?  The deep-set eyes and shadowing brows are awfully similar and two feet seem identical.  (Ah!  high-toned art criticism here!)  This is just one of those works I'm going to have to revisit and warm to as I learn to appreciate it.

The building construction?  On-going.  At the moment it's mainly a shockingly big pit.  Here are a few photos:

Kimbell Art Museum, west facade @ center, looking south (public domain)

Kimbell Art Museum, north porch looking SW (public domain)

Kimbell Art Museum, new addition looking south (public domain)

Kimbell Art Museum, new addition, looking north

More progress photos will appear here occasionally, so check back.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Sale on Alice Through the Proscenium!

(Well on a few other books too)  But here's Alice...

Designer's Day - Speed Teching

The Tech for The Fantasticks at Circle Theatre was incredibly efficient yesterday: I dropped by to drop-off the ribbon-curtain for the "Glen" scene and spent a whopping twenty minutes trimming this to fit and discussing with the director what's left to be finished on the set.  Tech is mostly a lighting and sound day.  So the lighting designer was busy as was the music director.  Things were happening!  The mood was purposeful and efficient (not true of all Techs I've seen) and progress was, um, progressing.  Actors were arriving as I was leaving, which is how it tends to go with set designers and actors.

Today I'll head back to do finishing touches - mostly stapling up fabric strips and adding decorative painting to the prop box.

The ribbon-curtain is a fun thing...  At one point in the musical, the lovers are in the woods.  To suggest this, the original production used a "curtain" made from strips of silk.  My version of this was fun to make, in a wrestling-with-an-octopus way.

Photo borrowed from Meridian Jacobs Weblog on weaving

The Fantasticks opens Saturday!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Perfect Word and Project Gutenberg

I was saddened to read that Michael Hart, eBook inventor and founder of the visionary literary quest Project Gutenberg, has died.

One obituary called him "an unreasonable man" after George Bernard Shaw's definition: "Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world.  Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves.  All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."

I have great respect for Project Gutenberg's goal to make public domain books available on the internet for anyone - for free.  Thanks to Mr. Hart, everywhere I go, I can take Michel de Montaigne and the White Rabbit with me.  I'm grateful.

Images are public domain - the White Rabbit courtesy of Project Gutenberg

(Read more at Boing Boing and at Project Gutenberg's obituary of Michael Hart.)

Film Fest - A Walk on the Moon

This film was made in 1999, before The Lord of the Rings, so it's a younger Viggo Mortensen, Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber, and very young Anna Paquin who people A Walk on the Moon.

Set during the 1969 moon landing, this is a film about walking on the wild side... Woodstock, actually.  A wife - married and a mother very young - suddenly longs for freedom and excitement.  F & E well represented by Viggo Mortensen.  Duh.  Any woman watching this film will instantly understand why this loving wife-N-mother behaves badly.  And there's a couple of scenes guaranteed to speed up feminine pulses.

Discounting all that though, I still like this film very much: it's really well written, I think; understanding and sympathetic of all its characters, male and female (the husband is particularly well played); these characters are all real and basically good people, wonderfully unusual that!; the film has a beautifully realized Jewish summer camp setting; and delicious touches of humor.  This is a coming of age film x 2 as both mother and teen daughter grow-up.  Highly recommended.

Image borrowed from AllPosters

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Newspaper Clippings...

I'm going to miss newspapers.

Besides losing the depth of reporting of full-time, dedicated reporters and health-of-the-republic issues, besides even the pleasant crunchiness of newspaper in my hands and the way it takes ink when doing the Sudoku, I like the randomness of a newspaper...

Sure you can find ANY information online - but do you?  Mostly you find only what you look for.  As websites and blogs become more and more "targeted" to their readerships, we get less and less information we aren't prepared to find.  Conspiracy theorists, for example, can visit only conspiracy-friendly sites.  Ditto Republicans.  Democrats.  Vegans.  You can spiral tighter and tighter into your own worldview - until you forget there IS any other world.  But an old-fashioned newspaper, designed to have something to please anyone, is guaranteed to have something to surprise or annoy everyone too.  Useful thing, outrage.

How are we going to replace newsprint's random assault on our personal Ivory Towers in the digital age?

Today's paper didn't annoy me more than usual (death, bad behavior, heroism, weather...) but it did surprise  me with two tidbits:

1)  Yarn Bombers have attacked the Arts District!  By invitation, to coordinate with Hair at the Winspear.  Seen yarn-bombing?  I love it.  Knitting Ninjas wrap yarn around everyday public items - a lamp post, a bike-stand, a tree - and suddenly the mundane is colorful! crazily patterned! wooly!  It's the cuddly side of anarchy.  I saw it several times in Europe; around here, there's a Michaels (on Greenville?) where the entry has been yarn-bombed.  Fun and fuzzy stuff.
Photo borrowed from TacticalAssalt's post on Knitta, the Houston art group

2)  A Highland Park middle school student wrote a novel.  (Cheers!   Literacy is not dead.)  Except... the numb-nut used names of real students and faculty in his book.  Apparently these characters-with-real-people-names, you know, Do Stuff.  Stuff you wouldn't want your real name on.  A few copies got out and now lawsuits are flying.

After my woohoo! Middle Schoolers want to write novels! fist-pumping reaction, comes the head-smacking, "But not enough sense to change names?!"

A  Highland Park family cannot possibly be so naive not to have heard of libel or lawsuits.  Even a kid ought to have more sense, certainly his parents should.  It's the first (most instinctive) law of writing fiction: write about your mother, lover, or enemy, but disguise them.  Exaggerate - it IS fiction - make them funnier or more horrible, but different looking and with a new name.  

Why is this camouflage instinctive?  Because no one wants a punch in the nose, that's why!

In her great writing book, Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott talks about this.  (Not to freak Internet-hall-monitor filters I'll substitute the letter P for one anatomical label; you might figure out the quote anyway):

"The best solution is not only to disguise and change as many characteristics as you can but also to make the fictional person a composite.  Then throw in the little tiny P and anti-Semitic leanings, and I think you'll be Okay."

Funny and wise.  Good writing/design advice too.  I love her book.

And don't you love this yarn-bombed bus?  Lets have Art Buses!  Ridership would go through the (decorated) roof if we could choose to ride the knitted bus or wait for the 5:15 that's decorated with Billy Big Mouth Bass and singing Lobsters.  There's an Art Car decorated with them called "The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir" - they sing multi-part harmony.  Kid you not.  Let's do it!  Art Buses.  Art Buses Now.

Photo of yarn-bombed bus borrowed from Fritinancy

Earlier posts on Bird by Bird here and here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Re-Viewing a Show

As a set designer, I tend to see a production several times during rehearsal - First Read-Through perhaps, then a Designer-Run and another Tech-Run or Dress Rehearsal.  I almost always see Opening Night.  However, that might be the last time I see a show; I'm usually off busy on the next show at some other theater.

But last night I got to watch In the Next Room again.  Fascinating to see how a show subtly changes over time, how actors modulate and deepen their performances...  really fascinating.

Good show.  Go see it!
Image for In the Next Room: the Vibrator Play borrowed from Kitchen Dog Theater

(A reviewer noticed the neckties hidden in the set!  First blog reader to find 'em - and to catch me - gets a free used necktie-prize!)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shout Out! Critics Forum Awards

Congratulations to the theater artists recognized by local critics for outstanding work in this last year - with the Critics' Forum Awards.  Well deserved!

Public domain image, messed with a bit.

Sadly there's no statuette, plaque, certificate or, if you're part of a "design team," even your name in newsprint, but still cool.  It's nice when someone notices your talent and hard work.

From this talented group, here's an individualized shout-out to folks I feel like extra-cheering for this morning:

To Tina Parker for her lovely performance in Charm, an honor to work with you; to Joel Ferrell for Cabaret and Dividing the Estate at, of all places, the Dallas Theater Center (a talented local director let loose at DTC? wahoo!); to all the younger, smaller companies who produce outstanding work (against long odds); to all the established companies who continue to produce outstanding work (against long odds and entropy too); and to the "design team" for Trinity Shakespeare's Macbeth (For whom I happen to have Bios.  Critics didn't?).  The designers were: Brian Clinnin SCENIC, Michael Skinner LIGHTING, Aaron Patrick Turner COSTUME, Toby Algya SOUND, and let's add (as co-conspirators in how things looked on-stage) Eric Domuret FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER and Stephan Fried DIRECTOR.  (Your names in ink-jet print.)

Here's to recognition where it's well deserved!  And to all the other good work done on DFW stages!  You all deserve your names in lights.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beating the Heat with Architecture

Now that Dallas/ Fort Worth has officially beaten the 1980 record for Nastiest-Hottest-Summer, this might be time to make suggestions for how Architecture and Allied Design Disciplines (sounds like a band of super heros!), how these noble arts can help keep you cooler NEXT summer:

Remember Maintenance:
Have your air conditioner checked early next spring - before you need it.  Change or clean air filters.  Try to shade your outdoor A/C unit!  Make sure air can flow around it (clip those bushes.)

Likewise, make sure doors and windows fit snugly and aren't leaking expensive A/C to the outside.  (This will keep out roaches too - a bonus.)  When you replace windows or doors, get the best insulated, best performance new ones you can afford.

Use Fans:
Moving air feels cooler.  With a fan, you can turn up your thermostat and save, since a fan uses less electricity than a compressor.  Ceiling fans are a good idea, but portable ones work too.  (Try an old-fashioned hand-powered fan like Scarlett O'Hara's: relief at hand when trapped in, say, a hot restaurant.  People will stop staring after a while - then ask to borrow it.)

Find Shade:
Plant a deciduous tree on the south or west side of your house - watch your A/C bill drop.    Save trees.  Water trees.  Trees are our friends - go hug one.  Any time you stop the direct rays of the sun striking your home (at 107 degrees it's assault and battery!), you save energy to cool it.  So plant vines on the west wall of your house, or tall shrubs, or a tree.

When you can, add awnings, blinds, patio covers, pergolas, porches (wonderful, traditional porches!), or sun umbrellas to shade your house or the area around it.  Blinds on the outside of a window help more than blinds on the inside.  Either way, shut them when you're not home or in the afternoon, when it's hottest.

Think Light and Cool:
Light colors reflect light and heat better - dark colors absorb it.  One of the best energy saving things you could do would be to climb up and paint your roof white!  So can you?  When you re-roof choose light-colored shingles.  Paint your house a light color.  Buy white blinds.  Light colored pavers stay cooler than dark ones.  Ditto lawn furniture...

Check your attic.  Add insulation.  This is relatively cheap and easy, paying for itself quickly in energy savings.  Walls are harder to insulate after a house is built, but sometimes it's not that tough - worth checking.

Image borrowed from Star Maker Machine where there's a song about a porch

There are a number of tricks our ancestors used to feel cooler... or to think they felt cooler, which works just as well, right?  Fans are a big one.  Moving air!  Also simplify your rooms: put away the knicknacks, take down heavy curtains, give your home the bare style of a lake cabin.  Definitely remove rugs, if you can, because walking bare foot on bare boards or especially on tile, seems and is cooler.  Shade your room by drawing blinds or dimming lights.  Lighten colors - cover the red velvet coach with a white(ish) cotton throw. "Cool" colors like blue and green translate into a few real degrees on the thermostat compared to "hot" ones like red or orange.  I bet one of those desktop fountains with trickling water would help.  Dress coolly.  Drink icy cool drinks with mint in them.  On your porch.  (You know, at dawn, when it's only 90 degrees.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interesting Theater Blog

I've found a good blog called The Playgoer, written by a well-informed and nicely opinionated New York playgoer who... well, seems to go to a LOT of shows.  Some good stuff here: follow the link to Stephen Sondheim's reaction to the big new "reinterpretation" of Porgy and Bess.

Film Fest - Last Night

The film Last Night (with Keira Knightly) is all about romantic temptation.  Two halves of a couple - separated by a business trip - each meet someone...   You can imagine.  This is a quiet, well-acted, oddly elegant film.  It's the movie equivalent of a literary-fiction novel: well-observed and delineated, paced, thoughtful, not a lot happens, and with a mildly unsatisfying, hanging ending.  I enjoyed this, mildly, but won't rush out to buy a copy.

You'll guess I'm not a huge fan of lit-fic, mainly because I like something to happen in a novel or film. I confess to a weakness, not for mindless explosions or car chases, but for derring-do and fights between the good guy (or gal) and the evil pirate/ hoodlum/ Nazi/ criminal-mastermind/ alien/ pick-your-force-of-evil.  Preferably with swords.  Hopelessly, hopelessly old-fashioned taste.

But all swashbuckling aside, art needs more Shape than life - which this film does have.  Giving shape to life is the whole point of art.  Art was invented because life is unsatisfying.

I, personally, also prefer a defined ending.  You know that scene in Amadeus (great film!) when Saliari tells Mozart he should crash cymbals at the end of his music to: a) wake the stupid audience and b) signal the music was over, so they should clap?  I'm not quite that bad.  But it is nice, as a stupid, sleepy audience member, to get a hint a film is over.  Just personal preference.  With this film, the music gave a faint hint, enough so I could start to say, "No, they're not going to..." Credits roll. "...stop here!  Like this?"

believed public domain image

Monday, September 12, 2011

Designer's Life - Up and Down

It's just simple physics - the Conservation of Energy - but after you, the designer, have expended a lot of energy - mental, emotional, physical - in getting a design built and finished, after you've crunched right up to your deadline or Opening... you must rest.  Maybe you crash.

I'm pretty steady in temperament, even-tempered and cheerful most of the time, but I feel my energy and mood dip after the push to finish a big project.  I might be tired and crabby for a couple days.

In olden days (like the 1880s of In the Next Room) I'd have declared myself a bit hysterical and have wrangled myself a nice "cure" at a scenic spa or an amusing Chautauqua... or, if I couldn't get that, at least I'd have had a nice alcoholic swig of Mrs. Lydia Pinkum's Tonic or popped a tasty Liver Pill.

So that famous "artistic temperament"?  The manic-depression (nowadays called bi-polar) nature of many artists?  I get it.  It's perfectly logical.  A little extreme, maybe, but perfectly logical.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Today I had the chance to attend a Texas town's remembrance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Touching.  It's refreshing sometimes to see things done well at a scale a little smaller than Big D's: to get to sit right next to ROTC students as they post the colors; to get to thank the young girl who (very creditably) sang the national anthem; to eat home-made brownies or ladle your own punch; to shake hands with firemen... and to stand right next to a piece of twisted, melted steel that was once part of the north tower of the World Trade Center.  This 2 ton chunk of metal - once a floor beam - is now a relic.  It will become the focus of a memorial park to 9/11 and to the county's first responders.
Public domain image

Out of the pain of 9/11 I'm glad this one good thing has come, this fellow-feeling between firefighters here and now and firefighters then and there, between NYC and a small town in Texas.  As the minster's prayer put it: "We are all brothers and sisters together."  Maybe we're a bit more aware of that today.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Not A Review - In the Next Room

At last.  Kitchen Dog Theater's  In the Next Room: the Vibrator Play opened last night.

A good production.

Everything - set, lights, costumes, acting, direction, sound - jelled.  (Snow fell!)  I'm partial, but I thought it was a really good show.  Love Sarah Ruhl's script.  And I think we did it justice.

Nice after-party with one of the most elegant buffets I've ever seen: rose petals as a tablecloth, clear red Plexiglass TM stands holding meat-n-veg on little sticks, and killer! Killer! cake balls.  Vodka somewhere.

I congratulated folks awhile on successfully pulling this show off... until suddenly exhausted.  Bed.

This morning I feel like I ran a marathon.  In this quiet place before reviews start coming in, I feel satisfied: I think we did good.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Probably the best known "name" in street art (AKA grafitti, related to "tagging" or to "vandalism" et al) is Banksy, the nom de spray can of... well, I think, a really gifted artist.  He's clever, conceptual, a master of his techniques, and he creates memorable images.  Like this one:
Image borrowed from A Brief History About Banksy, all rights are Banksy's, of course

Here's a link to earlier posts on street/grafitti art by Hugo Kaagman.  Completely different style.

Completely different topic: Kitchen Dog Theater's production of In The Next Room: the Vibrator Play OPENS TONIGHT!


That sale mentioned below?  Only good Through Today!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alice Book Sale!

Those guys at Lulu sure like sales!  Here's another chance to pick up my Alice Through the Proscenium:

Set Designer's Day - Full Time

Yesterday was a full day.

Most of the day was at Kitchen Dog finishing up In the Next Room: painting "snow"; stenciling around the doctor's exam room (a Frank Lloyd Wright stencil - uber cool); hanging portraits of famous doctors in the same room; and watching the rest of the team struggle with snow machines.  (Special effects = tricky.)

The evening was in Fort Worth at Circle Theatre at a production meeting and a run-through of The Fantasticks.  (Which will be charming.)  I missed lunch but got a 15 minute dinner.

On the long, late, dark drive home there were two big construction detours that got me lost and the car's CD player ate my parking lot ticket...

Today?  Drive that loop again for final-finishing at KD and meet-the-painter and furniture pull in FW.

Set Designer's (Endless) Day

Some days are looooooooong days.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jane Eyre - Messed Up

Sorry, but that's my reaction to the William Hurt film version.

To turn a book into a film - or a miniseries, opera, or play - there must always be cuts: other forms of story-telling just don't have the leisure or elbow-room a novel has.  Sometimes a few additions to the book are needed to explain things to an audience.  But there's seldom justification to simply up and change things.

This version of Jane Eyre changes waaaay too much.

Like the lightning blasted tree in the story, the novel Jane Eyre has a huge flaw, a ridiculous coincidence, that clefts the middle of the plot: when the destitute Jane just stumbles across her cousins.  It's too pat to be allowed in a modern novel.  Since the book was published in1847 (when coincidence was okay), readers have shrugged and kept reading.

But this film version, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, presumes to correct this flaw.  So Jane's physical suffering evaporates with her starving trek across the moor; her independence dwindles as her school mistress job vanishes; the cousins become cyphers and the family home Jane finds with them is snatched away; and the male cousin, St. John, loses his tortured grandeur (and alternate love-interest status), reduced to moral beggary...

Upon that splintered-oak of a plot "flaw" hangs half the novel.

Zeffirelli made the crippling mistake of trying to substitute logic for emotion... in a masterpiece based on emotion!  I guess it proves you have to understand the heart of an artwork - its basic impulse - and, whatever else you do, not mess with that.
Public domain image.

(Earlier posts on Jane Eyre.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Belated Book Report

It's not that I haven't been reading... it's that I haven't been reading fiction.

Now and then I go on a non-fiction jag, usually with a theme.  This  one was on creativity, which explains rereading Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit (I need to buy this book), Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, Creativity for Life by Eric Maisel PhD, and The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by another PhD, Carol Eikleberry.  Doesn't explain  Cinderella Ate My Daughter... but we'll get to that later.

Tharp's book, The Creative Habit,  is a must-read.  I first found it in June (post) and re-reading confirms its good advice.  Creative types need to establish routines and habits that support their work... a problem I'm struggling with myself.  Stomping-today's-fire keeps getting in the way of progress on my long term projects.  Gotta fix that.  Tharp, on the other hand, seems unflinchingly disciplined.  A little intimidating.

Dillard's The Writing Life is a book I've read about for years.  I finally grabbed a copy at Half Price Books (our jewel of a used bookstore chain).  Parts are pretty writer-specific, others are universal-creative... I liked her explanation of why writers usually ought to throw away their first few hundred pages, while painters have already painted over earlier, wrong-headed versions of their painting.

Eikleberry's Career Guide seems like useful book for anyone trying to figure out what to do with their creative impulses and whether there's a career in them somewhere.  It's supportive and realistic all at the same time.  Maisel's Creativity for Life, on the other hand, is deeply depressing.  (Mostly because so clearly true.)  Reading it, you want to self-medicate this antisocial and depressing "creative" condition...   Gee whiz.  Van Gogh might have found it useful though.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein is an exploration of the pinkification of girlhood (read my take on Architect Barbie here and here.)  Maybe I can throw it into this "creativity" book group because of its discussion of pink Legos TM?  (An abomination: pink girlie sets mean you might as well label all the non-pink ones "Not For Girls.")  An interesting book.

I'd love to hear suggestions of other good design and creativity books.  I'm doing a lot of research on the subject...

Punch List

The run went well last night - ending at 10:00.  So this morning (a day off wahoo!) started with composing a loooong email punch-list of all the set items that still need doing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

Today is Cue-to-Cue for In the Next Room, when the light and sound designers and the stage crew - who move scenery or make it snow - practice all their parts, timing them to the actors' work.  Set Designers (who, inevitably just want to paint stuff) are mostly in the way.

But this evening is Dress Rehearsal, when the actors, in full costume (mostly), run through the entire show without all the morning's interruptions.  It's a chance to see what the whole production looks and sounds like, and what the timing is like.  The set designer needs to be there, taking reams of notes, and making a punch-list of To-Do items... to finally get this sucker finished!

photo believed public domain

Film Fest - Twofer

Two very different films:  One Day and Source Code.

About as different as possible in style, intent, audience... yet these two films share their most basic premise, the longing to rework the past, to have done things differently.

Source Code is a sci-fi jump-back-in-time-to-avert-the-disaster flick.  I'm not sure the logic actually stands up to much scrutiny.  Though the film has pretensions to a "think" piece, it's really just there to blow up the train (a lot).  The film's title is irritatingly pointless.  But the hero is likable and heroic, the girl appealing, the egotistical and ruthless military(ish) superior properly e & r, and the sympathetic-ally dependable... what more do you expect of a summery action movie?

One Day, on the other hand is an art house flick.  Nicely photographed, well cast and acted, thoughtful.  Good.  But I think it was actually hurt a bit - at the box office certainly - by its art-house aspirations.  These led the filmmakers to, I think, over-emphasize the unlikable aspects of the hero until, well, you didn't much like him.  Also to take the female lead's character one step too far, to too dark and serious an ending... at least for popular taste.  But the film's ending is lovely and almoooost redeems those choices; though I liked the film quite a lot and find it recurring to me - I wanted to love it.

Maybe it's appropriate to these films' deepest theme - a wish to change what's done - I wish I could go back and tweak both films for the better.  (My better any way!)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dry Tech

Today, being a Saturday, is Dry Tech day for In the Next Room.

This is the day lighting and sound designers work with the director and stage manager - inventing, explaining, experimenting, applying design ideas to the rhythms of the play and... well, seeing what works.  For weeks or longer, these designers have thought through the challenges of the play and assembled ideas, light fixtures, sounds, or music.  They create paperwork - plans locating lighting instruments and notes until they create a Paper Tech - basically taking the script and written charts of what sound or light ought to occur where, then talking through this with the director.  (Simple shows may not have a formal Paper Tech.).

The Dry Tech ("dry" because no actors yet - think "hard" and "soft"-ware, right?  Theater has "wet" and "dry" techs, though it sorta sounds more polite to say Dry Tech and Cue-to-Cue.  No one wants to call actors all wet.)  Where was I?  Ah!  Dry Tech is the time to take those ideas that work on paper and see if they actually work 3D in time and space.  So the lighting designer plays with colored lights and - even more important - with transitions and timing.  The sound designer's job is similar.  Then toss in practicing with the snow machines or moving scenery or whatever other technical fun has to happen on-stage.

Tomorrow will be Cue-to-Cue (Wet Tech!) with actors onstage.  All technical aspects of the show become integrated with the text: actors speak dialogue, open and close doors, walk from one pool of light to another... and spend hours waiting for the next tech moment.  The different parts of a production become a Whole.

Here are links to earlier posts on Tech:  Set Designer's Life - Tech  and an on-line site on Hell Week (AKA Tech).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dino Goodies

The TV studio for Barney (the purple or fuschia dinosaur) is being vacated and Everything Must Go!

I had fun there yesterday, poking through the props and set pieces.  In fact, my carpenters collected one of Barney's trainstation/clubhouse hanging lamps to become our Doctor's office lamp.  I didn't get anything as useful, but I sure had fun!

The sale continues through Saturday - but go soon, they're selling out fast.

Set Designer's Day - Paintin' the Stage

Today - in a couple minutes actually - I dash off to start painting the stage floor for In The Next Room.

The Doctor's office will be wood planks (ably played by slices of plywood), but the rest of the 200 acres or so of stage will be its own warped self with stage makeup by me, painting faux stone slabs.  Ever noticed how huuuuuge a stage is?  Get a bucket of paint and a roller on a pole and I promise you'll notice!

This painting-a-floor pic is borrowed from "How to Paint a Floor" at Young House Love

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Squidoo "Lenses"

These are websites hosted by Squidoo, a well-run place to create small websites about some enthusiasm you have... and maybe make a little money too.   I've had fun making mostly set design and theater pages.  (If you're interested in going on-line, I can recommend this Squid-y community.)

And two of my sites won awards!  Purple Stars.  You betcha cool.
Check out these winners:  Surviving Home Remodeling and Three Ways to Improve Your Theater Set

The Last Brick!

Yesterday I carved and painted the last foam brick!  Wahoo!

Film Fest - Hamlet

David Tennant's Hamlet.  Amazing.

This latest BBC/Royal Shakespeare version of Shakespeare's Hamlet is very good.  I like the restraint and relative lack of Directoral "interpretation": except for paranoid business with video cameras and a vaguely Fascist flavor to the costumes and sets, the play is given to us straight.  (A little judicious snipping of text.)   Settings are somber and simple, making Branagh's version look like a Rococco cream puff.

Good acting all round.  For once, relationships between the Prince and Rosencranz and Guildenstern make sense: you could see Hamlet first glad to see friends, then doubtful, then disgusted.  I actually noticed Horatio and came to like him - the only level headed man at Court, the only one Hamlet trusted.  Ophelia is an actress' nightmare - what do you do with that girl?  Here she seems genuinely frenzied... but I still don't "get" her.  (I don't think costumes helped, she seemed always to be flat footed, bare footed, in a draggled cotton shift... maybe I just missed the usual airy-fairy treatment.)  Pelonius was a miracle of irritating pomposity slipping into senility.  The Queen is as mutton-headed as usual, but her interactions with Hamlet felt real.  This mother/son pair made the 1990 Mel Gibson/Glen Close pairing seem like the Disco version.  (Scenically, the broken mirror in the "rat-behind-the-arras" scene was well used then and later.)  The wicked Uncle, usurper King is very fine.

But the jewel is Tennant's Hamlet.  As an on-screen presence, Tennant has intelligence, a glint of manic humor, and the rubbery face of a great comedian... all making Hamlet's pretense of madness seem a plausible choice for the character and his antics believable.  (Dr. Who maybe helped.)  Hamlet still dithers until you want to smack him 'longside the head, but that's the Bard's doing.

I really loved Tennant's take on the "To be or not to be" soliloquy.  (You Tube clip here.)