Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tech Weekend and Scenic Painting

Things are getting busy, scenic-ly.

Yesterday I helped finish base painting on Broadway Our Way.  Theoretically set designers have a scenic artist to "finish" paint their sets (meaning the cool techniques, faux finishes, and/or fool-the-eye stuff) plus painters or carpenters to do the base painting before that.

In the real world of real theaters, base painting tends to be a carpenter job and scenic painting is done by - flip a coin - either a scenic painter or the designer, depending on what talent and money is available.  I paint my own sets about half the time and almost always paint something, if only some furniture.  Since Broadway is coming up on Tech and there's still raw wood, I pitched in...  which means my "real" painting hasn't happened yet.  I'm not too panicked though, as panels are finally going up on the framework and beads have been found, so the set may actually (touch wood) get finished before Thursday's first audience.  More painting today - Tech tomorrow.

Friday night Date Night?  A production meeting on Marvin's Room.  Sigh.

The Traveling Lady closes Sunday!  Catch it fast.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Set Design Day

The last few days have been full of hands-on set design stuff.

Wednesday I was at Broadway Our Way's theater, painting giant circles on a curved wall, using the old trick of chalk tied on a string taped to the wall: pivot that chalk and - voila! - perfect(ish) circle.  I pogo-ed up and down with the lift to reach the tops of the circles.  Painting them took time as did setting locations for hanging a few more cut-out versions, which meant sitting way back in the auditorium shouting, "Six inches toward centerstage!" to the poor guy then in the lift, as he tied knots.

Yesterday my Apprentice came over.  We looked over his latest project and upholstered a bench seat for Marvin's Room and traced out flamingos on bright pink felt.  (I love the weird jobs theater hands out.)  We also made an emergency bead-curtain-run.  After Broadway's TD searched much of town, the beads came from a funny Mom-n-Pop dollar store near me.  I had to take what they had in stock, rather than my first choice color, but we'll spray paint 'em, so that's okay.
flamingo image by Audubon, public domain I believe

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where Are the Books?

I'm going through a reading drought.  The library is being remodeled so large parts are shut off and what's left is over-crowded with people, under-crowded with books.  Plus, as I chose my books, I had one of those days when no book pleased me and the few I did pick faded when I got them home.  Ever have that happen?  The jacket blurb sounds promising, the first page or two reads well, but when you really start reading... you lose interest.  This time it was a slim novel that had been a runner up for a National Book Award; the first 30 pages were well written, obviously, with an interesting main character and situation... until the curse of literary fiction set in.  Nothing happened.  Nothing continued to happen for the next 100 pages.  After that, well, I got interrupted and set the book down, it sat on the bathroom counter for a week...  Eventually even I took the hint that I'd never go back to it.

Instead I'm rereading old Terry Pratchett's for the 100th time.  (Mort at the moment - about Death's apprentice.)

Film Fest - Disturbing

I think that's the best single word description of the film Never Let Me Go: disturbing.

It starts out all British boarding school and grows slowly... mysterious... then slowly, creepingly, gets horrifying and sad and disturbing.  This one may haunt me a little.  A subtle love story set in not-quite-our-world.  One that's wind-swept, rumor-filled, and very very cold.  Scariest quote, "We had the answer to a question no one was asking."

I strongly recommend this film - but whether you'll like it?  I'm not sure I do.  But I'm glad I saw it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Panel Discussion

Last night I was in the McKinney Arts Center for a panel discussion on technical theater.  Talking to a group of  mostly teen-aged theater enthusiasts, the aim was to make sure they knew that Acting was not the only way - or the "best" way - to do theater.  That the tech world has at least as much importance and, well, fun, as the acting world.

Certainly the discussion was fun.  We all talked in a lively back-and-forth way - with a jump start from some well thought-out questions from both the moderator and the audience.  Afterwards we talked with those folks with particular interest or questions.  I took a couple models and others brought drawings which we showed to those interested after the talk.  I showed off Alice.  Met some really nice, and interested folks.

The we got a tour of the building.  The Arts Center was originally the county courthouse built, I'd guess, in the late 1800s as a Victorian French pile (mansard roofs etc.), remodeled in the 1920s (scrape off the mansards!), then empty for decades before being refreshed in the late 1990s or thereabouts.  Now the old courtroom on the second floor, with its original wood witness and jury boxes etc, is still an occasional night court, but there is also a stage (quite high, it fits over some of those boxes) which is home to a orchestra and to theater productions, who all have to get out of each others' way.  A challenging venue!  But a fascinating historic room with some interesting detail - including a U shaped balcony and some handsome plaster work.

In this photo, the old mansards came to the horizontal stone string course just below the parapet - which was added in the '20s (the brick doesn't quite match).
McKinney Arts Center image courtesy of Scrappin' Bunnies / Young Actors Guild

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I've been experimenting with Squidoo (a hosting site I guess you'd call it?).  Anyway, I just had an article there ranked 100% which is kinda cool.  Since my Mom's 'fridge is too far away, I thought I'd tape it up here for y'all to see:

"3 Ways to Improve Your Theater Set"
Next Coke you get out of the 'fridge, take a look.

Anyone interested in trying out Squidoo?

Set Designer's Life

A nutsy day today.

I'll leave soon to go paint the floor of the revolve at the Kalita Humpreys.  My knees are stiff today unfortunately - considering I need to stand and paint for four hours or so - but it's a real thrill to work on a Frank Lloyd Wright stage.  Though, come to think of it, the revolve wasn't there originally nor, really, much of the present stage and FLW never even saw the building completed...  nevertheless there are funny 30 degree twisted stairs he definitely designed and there's a feeling of FLW looking over your shoulder now and then.  (When there's more time I'll tell the FLW elevator stories.)  It's a cool but, honestly, a confusing building - a rat's maze backstage.

After that, a race northward to be part of a theatrical panel discussion for the Young Actors' Guild in McKinney.  Carrying models and drawings with me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Movie Mania

The Film Fest gets busy.

At the movie theater I just saw The Conspirator.  Good, griping historical drama about the Civil War trial (not a fair trial, but a trial) of Mrs.Surratt as a conspirator in the plot to assassinate Lincoln.  Full of good actors, it's worth seeing.

At home I re-watched Deep Impact, the apocalyptic-crashing-asteroid flick with a very young Elijah Wood.  My favorite of this genre, because it seems to care more about people than special effects destruction - though when that does come, it's impressive.  Also at the home theater recently, the next couple installments of Battlestar Galactica - which often confuses me, but always fascinates.  And The Fabulous Baker Boys, one of my all-time favorite films.  Beautifully written and directed by Steve Kloves, really well acted (the Bridges brothers as brothers: "Do that again and I'll hit you..."  "You hit me!"  "I told you I'd hit you.").  Beautifully filmed with moody, jazzy, sultry music...  Worth seeing just for Michelle Pfeiffer singing "Making Whoopie."  But it's "My Funny Valentine" at the end that gets me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Film Fest Monsters

Last night I watched the 2010 film Monsters.  The storyline: a NASA probe crashed into northern Mexico, now a Contaminated Zone where alien monsters run amok.. . Our heroes, a male journalist and a female tourist, have to travel through this to return to the U.S.  There's a pretty obvious metaphor.

I liked the film.  It's done on a modest budget, but it's wonderfully gritty and authentic (with one quibble) and beautifully photographed.  Good performances, I thought.  The story is logical, the escalating problems caused by the journalist's idiocy (ya wanna smack him).  I especially liked the - for once! - intelligent attention paid to alien biology.  A credible life-cycle is presented with reasonable explanation of the aliens' violent outbursts.  Even the attraction to light, especially flickery light like a TV's, had a suggested reason.  I love intelligent science fiction.  Aliens are filmed with effective restraint, which works so much better than the look!-another-special-effect! style of some Big films.  Monsters is good.  Late in the film comes the first, last, and rather beautiful image of the monsters.

The quibble?  It was shot in Costa Rico, Mexico, and Galveston, Texas - after it was devastated by hurricane Ike.  After getting such a good grade in Xenobiology (at least surface-believable - give it an A), Monsters totally flunked North American Geography.  Sorry, no jungles or mesoamerican pyramids near the Mexico/U.S. border.  Even if there were, topography wouldn't so suddenly switch to coastal sand flat, just steps beyond the protecto-wall.  Nevertheless, it was a personal thrill to see Ike-damaged Galveston.  Good to see that mess useful to somebody: it made very convincing alien damage.

Somehow that seems to sum up this film for me - the clever use of difficult circumstances to create something rather special.
Monsters film still courtesy of The Brag

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mystery Model

I've had very glue-y fingers lately, first with Shakespearian trees, then with Broadway teeny tiny sticks.

Film Fest

Love and Other Drugs...  It felt like two movies: a pretty funny comedy with Jake Gyllenhaal as a pharmaceutical rep and a tragedy-coming-later romance with Anne Hathaway.  But it wasn't until about half way that the two themes separated and the tone suddenly turned gloomy.  There was even a sort of filmic pause - a long-held view of a winter field - when you could feel the film gather itself to change natures.  Not really successful - a strangely schizophrenic movie.  But the actors actually made an attractive couple and there were some genuinely charming or funny or heart-wrenching moments and a few scenes, like the pharmaceutical convention - were biting and hilarious.  Worth seeing maybe, but an oddly constructed film.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Designing in Model

Recently I tripped over an unexpected hazard in designing a set first in model, then drawing from that to create the construction drawings needed to build it.

Ya gotta rip the model to shreds.

I found myself, gently, delicately, holding-my-breath carefully cutting apart the model so that I could trace out all the (too many!) trees.  Then just as delicately trying to glue it all back together.  Next time - I vowed - I'll photocopy each piece just before I glue it in.

I learn something every day.
As You Like It - Trinity Shakespeare Festival

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Intellectual property rights...  On the internet that can be e-borrowing the neighbor's lawn mower, then wondering if you ever have to take it back.  It's just so darn easy to, um, "borrow" an image or a phrase - or a whole term paper.  But taking it back?  Giving credit?  Paying for it?  Get real.

I try.  For this blog or websites I try to either: create the image (a sketch, as I'm a stinky photographer); find an image in the public domain; or, if those fail and I'm desperate, then I choose one whose re-use isn't forbidden (creative commons licenses get real picky), then, if it seems okay, I credit the image to its creator and link to its source.  I figure that's an ad for the original site & artist, but, of course, I'd remove it instantly if asked.

I'm sensitive to the idea of plagiarism, since I've had one architectural design stolen, over the years, and maybe-possibly-65%? of a design for a musical.  So I try to be careful about copyright.


A public domain photo I'd used, um, wasn't.  Luckily, I figured that out and could track its photographer.  Tara Bradford was very kind and allowed me to use the image after all.  Check out her blog or her website.  Gorgeous photos.  Tempting to steal more of them!  But don't.

ADDENDUM: I have permission from photographer Tara Bradford to use this photo.   But it's STILL copyrighted!
DO NOT Pin this image or copy it or any o' that stuff without her permission.   If you're looking for a cute alphabet, look HERE instead.

Or checkout my website (the one that I oopsied), basically a link-page to favorite arts sites called Parsnip Pie.

ADDENDUM:  Go ahead and check out that site, but the photo has been replaced there by my own sketch.  Just simpler.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Set Designer's Life

Actors take one show at a time - it's hard to show up at more than one rehearsal.  Lighting designers overlap shows, but, again, can only show up at one Tech at a time.  Costume designers, since much of their work is done outside the theater, are more able to almoooost be in two places at once.  Set designers have the further advantages that their design and time-consuming drawing/modeling are done early and that shop and stage visits must be done when actors won't be inconvenienced ("are out of the way" is the other way to phrase that!).  Tech is less important since by then the set ought to be on course - plus, it just doesn't take all day Saturday to see that light leaks through that flat or that the floor squeaks.  So we can overlap shows.

Since we can, we do.  Fees are low.  If you need income, you need to take as many shows as you can handle.  But this means weeks like this one, with meetings and deadlines on four different, over-lapping shows.

Two deadlines down, two to go.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Death as a Character

I just finished reading Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job, about a man who discovers he has a new job he describes as like being one of Santa's Helpers...  only it's not Santa he's helping out.

Very funny.  Lively writing.  There is a description I just love of a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.  Here's a snippet (not the best part, the last sentence is the real kicker):  "...and a 325 horsepower V8 with such appallingly bad fuel efficiency that you could hear it trying to slurp liquefied dinosaurs out of the ground when it passed..."  The book has equally entertaining and outrageous monsters (especially the chicken-feet ones), but also many insights into dying and grieving.

Here's the art - by Monique Motil - that inspired the book's good-guy monsters:
"Sartorial Creature" image courtesy of artist Monique Motil's webpage

Death as a subject fascinates us. Death also makes a fascinating character himself (or herself, see Neil Gaiman's Sandman series).  In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Death is a recurring character, along with his sidekick Death of Rats, Death's Granddaughter, Susan, plus Death's faithful pale-horse, Binky.  The guy is one of my favorite characters.  He can show up in any Pratchett book (as death does), possibly carrying a folding chair and a book so as not to, you know, rush anybody.  You have to like the guy - he likes kittens.

Some Pratchett books where Death is the leading character and my latest recommended  read, by Moore :

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cool Coffeehouses

Ever since they were invented in the 1700s, an artist needs a cool coffeehouse to hang out in.

If forced by circumstance a chain coffee-unit can be made to do, but a coffeehouse ought to be quirky, individual, and filled with both character and artsy types.  (Sorry Starbucks.)  One of the best I've seen was down the street from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.  Chicago has it's share.  But I'm pleased to say that Garland, TX is not wanting: right on the downtown square is The Generator, our local answer to left-bank Paris cafes and London coffeehouses.  Restored to its original brick storefront, with more brick exposed inside, it's simple but comfortable.  Notable are its free Wifi, its occasional music, and its cozy, squashy, orange-y '70s-fakey-colonial-y sofas.

Go early - grab the sofa.
image courtesy of Friends of Olde Downtown Garland

Film Fest Continues

Last night it was The Next Three Days with Russell Crow.  Okay.  I think it might have been improved by trimming the length - it seemed draggy for a suspense/prison break movie - but there were nice moments, notably when Crow's character has to decide whether to abandon his child or to risk all.  Face acting, that was, just an actor hanging onto a car's steering wheel, thinking.

If you want a really good Russell Crow film, go watch Master and Commander.  A fine book (start of Patrick O'Brian's great long naval series set during the Napoleonic Wars).  And - with added material from another book in the series - a wonderful film.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Film Fest

Watched The Queen with Helen Mirrin.  I'd seen this when it first came out.  Some subtle acting going on  and an intriguing dynamic between the characters of Queen Elizabeth and P.M. Tony Blair.  Both actors in top form.  I love the part about the stag... a nice metaphor that was easier to see on second viewing.

As half English I rather root for the Queen - what an impossible job to be born into.

image borrowed from Free Stamp Catalogue Online

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Exploring Downtown Dallas

For the first time in a long time, I walked around downtown, just seeing what there was to see.

Starting near City Hall and the main library, I walked north to Pegasus Park, passing and admiring the old Federal Reserve with its neoclassical columns, noticing how blank the ATA&T buildings are, though the trees and fountains of their park (where there was once a street) are lovely.  A beautiful, cool morning.  A surprising number of people around, mostly young, often with children or dogs.  I stuck my head in the Adolphus Hotel (est. 1911, 100 years old) to enjoy the dark paneling, secluded bar, and the French Room's frolicking putti and lady-like nymphs (no slipshod, slippery drapery for them!).

Adolphus Hotel image courtesy of The Portal to Texas History
(if any objection to this use, please ask and it will be removed)

Pegasus park is nice, with trees and big rocks; small girls in spangly outfits were hopping up and over them.  If you tip your head way, way back you can see Pegasus atop the Magnolia Building.  Some of the new condos around here must have a fantastic view of its red neon at night.  Many old buildings in this part of town have good details if you look up.  The Kirby building, for instance, is faux gothic with big faces staring back at you.  And a charming lobby.

Wandering into Neiman Marcus, I took the '50-'60s elevators to the Zodiac Room.  Quite a few casual chic young matrons with strollers there.  Old money, Neiman Marcus - with that shabby elegance of old money with nothing to prove.  Some beautiful things in the "decorative stuff" department.  I walked on to the newest downtown park, a big lawn with romping kids and dogs and overlooked by the old Dallas Hilton, a vintage '50s modern building that is due to be (well we hope) refurbished.  A lot of character.  After that, a stop in the Urban Market grocery, which, honestly, looked a bit wilted, though their cafe seemed livelier and their alley/courtyard green and pleasant.

Returning to the car, I drove to the Farmers' Market to walk around the vegetable booths - buying yellow squash, green beans, and corn on the cob.  I surveyed Mexican pots and glazed lizards and sun faces at the pottery place and smelled spring flowers and herbs at the landscape nursery.  Lunch was a huge corned beef sandwich.

A successful survey.  I should do this more often.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Compare and Contrast

Here is an interesting comparison between the same show - Phantom of the Opera - produced at a mega-high budget and at a pittance of that (though still quite high for a High School musical). Photos on the Stage Design by Joseph blog.


Ha!  I've been pep-talking someone on completing their project - urging efficiency!  Ironic.  I, myself, only manage efficiency in micro bursts.  But it IS a shining virtue, the ability to streamline.

Practice what I've been preaching?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Squid Page

The hosting site? collective? commune? e-department-storage? place called Squidoo is addictive: here's another page I'm putting together, an assortment of sites and blogs I find useful, called Parsnip Pie.  (Why?  I liked the picture.  Go see for yourself.)
Not this picture, silly, this is a Turnip.

Film Fest Flickers

Weak entries to the Film Fest lately: last night's was The Informant with Matt Damon.

I like the actor and I'd heard a radio interview with the book's author which was fascinating, but somehow the film version was sorta lame - mildly funny, mostly weird.  In desperation, I think, the music got wackier as the film didn't get wacky enough.  Maybe one of those good ideas that just... doesn't quite work.  I'm constantly amazed in theater at the gap between good script, good director, good designers, good cast and an actual good production.  Easy to see why theater folk get superstitious: all your hard work and good intentions, then the luck or the fairies' blessing is just fickle.

I can't remember the other earlier lame film entries.

I have been drawing though, and making models, and having fun over in Squidoo-land.  My primo property there is an article called "3 Ways to Improve Your Theater Set."  Squidoo is fun, but this creating-an-author-platform jazz is, like, a full time job.  Easier to write the book than to promote it.  An Interesting Adventure, that's what this all is.  (The book being Alice, of course, in case you forgot.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The last sample from the "Design Methods" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium:

Creativity –  When trying to be more creative - act more creative.  Wear that goofy French artist hat, 4.22 recklessly drink caffeinated coffee late at night, read foreign films, eat a new food, walk down a new street, learn Russian or bowling…  Pretend you don’t care what others think.  Free-wheel.  If you feel creative you’re freer to be creative. 

 “-it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me!”

Your friends and loved-ones may wonder that too.  The old saying that genius is next door to insanity?  Well, significant others will wonder now and then if you’ve changed your mailing address. 

Design is a silly, anarchic, crazy playtime.  Serious play.

4.22 Silly advice.  No Frenchified chapeau will improve design; the idea is either na├»ve or an affectation.  But then, lots of people wouldn’t take up tennis without an official tennis outfit.  We’ll just hope you grow out of the “artiste” stage quickly.4.23
4.33 Don’t get carried away with your genius, eh?  No friends as groupies.  No spouses as handmaids-to-genius, please!  A surprising number are willing, but most loved-ones are wise enough to still love you though you’re nuts - a much saner attitude.  

Held Captive By Deliveries!

Ever notice how waiting for deliveries or repairmen kinda, um,  takes over your day?  Today and tomorrow are waiting around days for me.

So maybe I'll get lots of drawing and model building done?
Place bets on it?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Now THIS Is What I Call A Model!

One of the "miniatures" (Ha!) for the film Metropolis.

Model Building

I'm at the very sticky-fingered stage of building a model for Broadway Our Way.  I turned in the construction drawings at last week's production meeting and construction has begun, but because it's mounted on a turntable and my Mondrian-ish design has levels and layers, it's a little hard to grasp from drawings alone.  So I'm model-building.

A teeny, teeny little 3D grid from slivers of cardboard.

Hence the sticky fingers.  It's starting to look interesting... so, naturally, I need to leave it part-built to drive to Fort Worth with fabric for Marvin's Room which is a'building at real life size.  Sigh.  Still I'll get a lunch in Fort Worth, always good.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Books Gone Wild!

Oh! I wish I had a video clip thingie here!  Watch this terrific "Organizing the Bookcase" video.

Classic Mysteries

I've been rereading the golden-age British mysteries of Josephine Tey.  Much better written novels than Agatha Christie's and less high-falutin' than Dorothy Sayers's can get, though I love her Lord Peter Whimsey.  Tey wrote beautiful books - with the cleverest slip-in-the-backstory I've seen in Bratt Farrar.

My all-time top favorite - Bratt Farrar.  A tale of impersonation and mystery...  Is there a murder?  Which is the evil twin?  Very English.  With horses.  A wonderful novel.  Next in my affections come the other stand-alones: Miss Pym Disposes, The Franchise Affair, then any with her regular detective.  Her theory was that real evil-doers (not the exasperated spouse who bops their beloved with a bottle, but real evil) are motivated - or freed perhaps? unchained? - by a grossly swollen vanity, a no-one-matters-but-me ego.  The definition of a sociopath.  Having read the horrifying real-crime detection book The Murder Room, I suspect she has a point.

Readers interested in the controversy of Richard III will find The Daughter of Time fascinating.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fantastic Images

I've found a new, wonderful site for public domain images  Public Domain Images Online.  How about this one?
woodcut (1472) by Roberto Valturio, Library of Congress

New Play Festival

Kitchen Dog is one of the rare theater companies that has a new play competition - and a festival afterwards to celebrate the winners with readings and a main stage production.  Very successful.  Each year we get more and more submittals: at this point it's hundreds of scripts.  The whole company reads in the first round, helping to short-list to a more manageable number of manuscripts for further consideration.

It's been very interesting, reading my share.  (A very small sample this year, I feel guilty, just too many other deadlines.)  Good plays can be very good, bad ones pretty amazingly bad.  Actually, I learn a lot as a writer from the not so great ones...  I've closed several scripts over the last few years thinking, hmmmm, that thing I was trying on page 3?  Bad idea.  But that prize goes to the one that left me thinking, "Wow! What a libel suit that'd be!"

Battlestar Galactica

What a cliff-hanger!  I just finished watching the end of season I and won't be able to get the next episode fast enough.  I'm glad I didn't catch this show on TV because the suspense of waiting from week to week to discover How Things Turn Out would have driven me nuts.
image borrowed from Sci Fi Scoop

Saturday, April 9, 2011


One of the things that struck me when I started hanging out with theater folk was how many talents they have: if they act, they also write or direct, if they build, they also compose music or race cars or knit sweaters or design jewelry or...  It's not uncommon for a scenic painter to be a "fine art" painter as well

One of the scenic painters for Traveling Lady, Tiffany Tucker, has this Red Penguin Gallery.

Friday, April 8, 2011


The latest sample from the "Design Methods" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium:

Criticism   Evaluation is part of the design process.  Just don’t start too early. 
It’s important to work through your ideas in a light-hearted, trusting way.  Only at intervals do you step back to see if the thing actually works.  In fact, recent brain science (brutally simplified here) suggests that it’s the frontal lobe that does the inventing and the temporal lobes that do the editing and that our brain plumbing only allows necessary chemicals to be sent to one area at a time… So you can actually, physically, suck the juice out of your creativity!

Still.  You gotta compare and evaluate. Develop impartial judgment.  You can’t love your work just because it’s your baby: tough love is what it needs.  But none of that it’s-mine-so-it-must-be-awful insecurity either.  Pretend a stranger came up with this stuff.  Only in real doubt, do you ask for outside opinions. 

You may want one before show-N-tell with the director. 

Whose opinion should you listen to?  Find someone you respect who can be somewhat impartial (Mom?  Maybe.).  Someone competent to give an opinion on visual matters.  This does not mean an MFA in scenography, just good eyes and good sense.  But many intelligent people cannot read drawings or understand 3D relationships.  (Half of them seem to be directors.)  Find someone who’ll tell you the blunt truth… then don’t hate them.  If, however, what you really want is loving reassurance, say so.  It’s simpler.  And that’s a legitimate need too.

Want to take criticism better?  Grow a thicker skin.  Evaluate the evaluation to find the kernel of truth.  Remember that opinions from mother, director, or critic are just opinions: right, wrong, half right.  If one person says, “too blue,” don’t be surprised if the next says, “not blue enough.”  This stuff is subjective.  But there is some truth in that old joke: if three people tell you you’re drunk – go lie down.

Want to be a better critic?  The vital parts of good criticism are: intelligence, perception, and an ability to evaluate a design against its own goals, not your prejudices.  Equally important are emotional skills to make a critique palatable: helpfulness, respect, tact.  One writer (who?) advised starting a story critique by saying, “That part with the dog…”  If the advice-seeker answered, “I love the bit with the dog!  I wrote the whole thing for the bit with the dog.”  Then (who was it?) knew what was actually wanted was reassurance.  And supplied that.  But if the answer was, “Yeah, not too sure about that dog…”  Then she (or he) gave actual criticism.  Say what evil needs saying, but add the good stuff too - what is working - and sound hopeful about the outcome!

In theater design you are contractually required to please the director and producers.  You’d sure like to please the audience and the critics.  Pleasing yourself is hardest.  The test?  Ask yourself, “Does this design serve the play?”

Make today’s design the best you have in you today.  As Scarlett O’Hara said, “tomorrow is another day.”  Every new design is a new chance to get it right. 4.21

4.21 The converse is, alas, also true: every new design is a new chance to fall on your face. Still, you can get a useful view from the floor.

Lots o' Horton Foote

Just saw Kitchen Dog's entry in the Horton Foote festival, Three Foote, three of his one act plays.

I hadn't realized that Blind Date was quite so funny.  The Man With One Arm was disturbing.  And The Man Who Climbed Pecan Trees ended much like Ibsen's Ghosts.  All well done.  Seeing the same actors in differing roles added something, I think - certainly reinforced the autobiographical mining for characters that, I'm told, Horton Foote often did...  For instance, a sort of "ghost" of his real-life drunken uncle appeared in the last play.  The women's roles also had recurring character types or perhaps recurring characteristics?

The set was interesting: wall hangings painted as bleak grey skies and gray landscapes populated by faces within the outlines of houses and a few skeletal trees.  In front of that, two suspended windows (with or without lace curtains) and as-needed furniture (all in warm tones) or a cotton bale.  Worked well.  The difficulty, of course, was to find something that would work in tone for all three plays...  The background was, I thought, a little bleak for the first play, Blind Date.  I wished some of the warm color of the floor had been pulled up into the bottom of the wall landscapes - which were perfect for the last play.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

POD Chairs!

POD, or Print on Demand, is the new-wave of book publishing.  It allows niche writers (like me) with too small a public to interest a publishing house (who prefer to make big profits) to publish themselves.  Used to be an author could self-publish... but might be stuck mortgaging their house to afford to... then filling that house's garage with unsold books.  Now each book sold is printed as it's sold.  POD

The writer/artist can afford to publish their own work.

The music industry has been doing something like this, as we see from the recording establishment's profits these days.  (They angered too many "little" musicians in favor of blockbusters.)  The book publishing industry is going the same way: corporate blockbusters or Independents.  And, heck! the film industry invented the phrases "Indie" and "Blockbuster."

Now furniture: here's a POD for chairs Diatom Studio
Exciting times.  I think I'm going to need new chairs soon...

Caring About Characters

One critic wrote of Horton Foote's The Traveling Lady as "old fashioned."  True - compared to Dividing the Estate.  One place this shows is that, while characters in Estate are amusing and life-like, they feel more like performances.  I'm not quibbling actors' technique here (which was excellent) but a presentational quality written into the characters.  Whereas, even with comic exaggeration, characters in Traveling Lady are more life-sized somehow.  Much more sympathetic.  In an age of anti-heroes and cynicism, that makes them very old fashioned indeed!

Proof?  Days after seeing Traveling Lady, my theater companion asked whether, in the 1950s, a respectable lady would go off in a car with a man (the kindly Slim) she'd only known a few days.  We discussed this, deciding that, yes, in Georgette's dire circumstances she would.  Her young daughter would seem a respectable enough chaperon.  We bet Slim would work and save to help pay for Georgette's divorce and they'd marry as soon as the decree arrived.  I think they'll be happy.  Meanwhile, I hope Sitter Mavis doesn't regret not learning to dance too often and that Mr Tillman is speaking to his wife again.

Think anyone left the theater after Estate worrying whether the family's oil well comes in?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pass the Word!

Tomorrow, April 7th, Kitchen Dog Theater has a performance of Three Foote (three one acts by Horton Foote) which will be attended by Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter.

Let's pack the house! Contact Kitchen Dog for tickets.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Review Is In

The Traveling Lady opened last night (a good show, I thought, more on that later).  This morning the first review is online, from the Dallas Morning News.  A good one.

As a designer - anyone in theater - you try to develop a thick hide.  You must.  I'm lucky that I've never been afflicted with terrible nerves, so I can usually sit through Opening Night stolidly, only cringing a little when I spot a gap in the masking or whatever.  (My friend Wade paced the lobby.  I do miss Wade.)  But it IS a relief to have a first review positive, some slight shock absorber for whatever jolt comes next.  Best if the good one is from a major source, though I'm glad to have a good opinion from anyone!  Grateful.  But, say, the Tony committee's opinion would count more, in a worldly way, than my Mom's.  (Sorry Mom.)  Still, the insulative qualities of one good review are sometimes insufficient to cushion the next blow... take my word for this.  So I'm still braced.

The sad part about reviews - once you recover from the elation, hurt feelings, outrage, or delight  - is that it colors all the rest of that show.  If you suffered during the process, that is soothed a bit by the flung roses of a triumph; if you're trashed in review, then however proud you feel of the work, it's roses turning brown.

Reviews mess with your head.

Monday, April 4, 2011


The Traveling Lady opens tonight at WaterTower Theatre.  Sold out - even I don't have a seat.  Even the director doesn't have a seat!  So buy tickets for later in the run - they're selling fast.  It's a good show.

Set Design Field Trip

My apprentice and I are off in the car today (into the wind, rain, and lightning!) off for adventures... a field trip.

First stop the copy place to reproduce drawings (okay, second stop, I'm sure to be low on gas), then WaterTower Theater to look at the environmental set (whose grass, the performance report says, needs re-stapling) for The Traveling Lady, then to Fort Worth to talk about the next set there, Marvin's Room.  Afterwards Mexican food and some educational bumming around.  Possibly fabric stores.  Fun stuff.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Another Not-A-Review

Dividing the Estate at the Dallas Theater Center.  I'm beginning to be glad that I'll never invite Horton Foote to a family picnic - no telling what he'd notice.  What a very observant and quietly, wickedly, funny play Dividing the Estate is.  This cast does well by these characters.  Two I particularly enjoyed: the actress who played the sister who wants the money now! and Mathew Gray's only-sane-man-in-the-room.

Of course, it's the set I come to see.  (Kiddin', kiddin'.)  This one, designed by John Arnone, is straightforward.  A row of tall, classical columns, echoed by matching pilasters further upstage with doors and windows between them on the transparent wall, mark a raised entry hall.  Downstage, in thrust, is a dining room platform with a long table and chandelier, thrust still further downstage is the living room.  Upstage of the hall we see a small curved entry court, dangling leaves of weeping willows, and a sky cyc.  Simple, nicely done.

Now, I'm picky, but this is a Tony winning Broadway designer, visiting at SMU, so his design will stand up to a picky question.  Why deliberately flatten the columns?  Detailing made it clear this was a design choice.  Why not make the capitals 3D, since, of course, they were 3D.  Before the show I guessed some metaphor about characters presenting "facades"... but that didn't make sense watching the play.  To point out the artificiality of this as a "set" not a real place?  Puzzling.  Likewise unrealistically-wide painted floor boards - also to underline set-ishness?  I didn't like the spindle-baluster railings each side of the set, but that's a pet peeve of mine.  Hate 'em in real life.  Too widely spaced on-stage versions drive me completely nuts - I'd rather have no railings.

I found a link to Mr. Arnone's webpage.  I found his The Goat set especially interesting, as I've designed that show myself.  I hope I (and my fellow local designers) get a chance to meet this accomplished set designer now that he's in town.


Not a problem I often fall into.  (If you know me, please feel free to snicker.)  But it can be a real problem for artists or designers.  Perfectionism can cripple.  While you, the artist, need to do the best work you can, you must resign yourself to inevitable flaws.

Isn't aiming for perfect a good thing?

High standards and dissatisfaction drive better work.  But focusing on "perfect" backfires: either you never finish (the work never got perfect, what a surprise!); or you focus tight on one tiny aspect that you can perfect, letting the rest wait; or you never begin, knowing how far from ideal any result will be.  Perfectionists, oddly, tend to be underachievers, because they won't risk doing what they aren't sure of doing well, easily.

No, the interesting work gets done by those willing to mess up.  It's the What-the-Hell! folks who make breakthroughs.  It's the Wing-It!-ers who make messy mistakes and big triumphs.  Imperfect-designers do try to tidy up their mess later, to make a good presentation to the world, but that's camouflage and public relations.  I suspect you can learn to enjoy the breezy feeling of hanging over space with no net, just goofing, trying things, experimenting...

Perfection?  Get over it!  Perfection is boring.

What brought on this rant?  I've been rereading favorite books on writing - Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.  She has a great riff on perfectionism.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stilty Coolness

Check out this great art blog "The Best Part" at  Where I found this cool stilts-ville by artist Luke O'Sullivan:


Aaaargh!  Hate doing taxes.  I'm figuring mileage... apparently I did nothing last year but sit in the car (some days did feel like that), because my business miles are way up from the previous year.  Then again, much of my work was in Fort Worth (a 100 mile jaunt) and I had a show in Oklahoma City.

Why am I surprised?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Film Fest Smackdown

Watched Morning Glory last night.  Set in a sad-sack TV morning show it stars Rachel McAdams and the always-welcome Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford.  There is some enjoyment in this flick, but also obvious misses (the running scene?  sheesh - where's a field of daisies when you need 'em?).  I blame writer(s) and director: who else came up with the "daisy" moment?  Some situations and details are funny, the main actress appealing, many of the character actors a hoot, but smarter direction could have toned down the ingenue's yappiness and Harrison Ford's grumpiness as a start.  As for the writers...

Well, just they (and you) should watch Broadcast News.


Another excerpt from the "Design Methods" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium: a short one today because the next section is a bit long to add on...

Experiment  Toss the rules.  The habits.  The ego.  Make a fool of yourself! 

If you’re stuck on large massing, try a big sheet of brown paper and a fat pastel, charcoal, or cattle marker (designed to mark cows, I swear).  If working on detail, try a tight drawing with a fine pen.  Reverse that.  Draw the big idea very tiny on a cocktail napkin to distill it.  You’ll find methods you like, but vary them often.
Get out of a mental rut by learning something new.  Take a hike on a path less traveled.  Pick a random book at the library or bookstore on a topic you know little about: Ancient art, Bangladesh, Collecting cars…  Go through the alphabet.  Flip pictures, skim - you may get hooked.  This also makes a great surreptitious game at parties: exploring other people’s bookcases. 4.20

4.20  Makes you want to hide a few of your books before your next soiree.  No books?  For shame!

A Little News

Reading today's paper I found these interesting tidbits:

Horton Foote Festival information:
There's a good piece about some of the shows (including The Traveling Lady) on page 46 of today's Dallas News Guide magazine.

And a bit in Jacquielynn Floyd's column: visiting star architects (Starchitects) who have work in our spandy-new Arts District sometimes refer to it as "an architectural petting zoo."  Pretty funny.  True too.