Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rethinking a Design

My present project is an opportunity to redesign a show for a different stage.  If both were prosceniums, there might need to be few changes, but these performance spaces are quirkier.  (I think prosceniums are kinda dull.)

I first designed Boeing, Boeing - a farce with several gorgeous what were called "stewardesses" in the 1960s - for Circle Theatre in Fort Worth.  This has a small thrust stage with a low ceiling (8') and a not over-large proscenium wall to squeeze seven required doors into.  Yesterday's POST included an elevation sketch.

Now I'm redesigning the show for WaterTower Theater in Addison, Texas, a space with a somewhat wider stage that will be configured like a proscenium this time.  The stage is much taller (30').  Sorta changes things!

Here are plans for comparison.  (Click a pic to see better.  I'm hoping these look about the same scale to you - judge by the doors, about the same size?)

Boeing, Boeing at Circle Theatre 2011

Preliminary (may change, WILL change!) plan for Boeing, Boeing at WaterTower Theater 2012

You'll notice that the later, WaterTower, set has only six doors - not seven.  That's because in staging the show at Circle the director (same director) and I discovered only six doors were needed.  But you'll also notice that, in spite of the larger stage the second time round, most of those doors remain pretty close together.  That's because timing is crucial for a farce; those doors need to be closely spaced (translate as "fast" for acting).  The main entry and the exit to the kitchen were able to shift downstage to the stage-right and stage-left corners, not an option on the previous thrust stage.

Other differences are to do with filling a larger space...  This set needs more size, bulk, presence! in order to be in proportion with this venue and audience size.

I'm meeting the director today, so I'll let you know whether this latest design flies.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nice News

I just found out that my set design for Boeing, Boeing at Circle Theatre won a Column Award!  Pretty cool.

Boeing, Boeing at Circle Theatre, set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

(Click on the pic to see it better.)  It's always very heartening to learn that people like your work.  

This show was a bit tricky to design, mainly because Circle's stage is quite small and the script called for seven (7) doors - the design challenge was to make it NOT look like a wall of doors!  And then to make it look French and '60s. The time period mainly through the Pop Art and details, French through architectural detail and views o' Paris.

Earlier posts on Boeing, Boeing: Shopping, Approaching Opening, Incomparable Theater, and Critics.


I love the weird little projects a set designer gets (or creates for themselves).  Today - along with serious design for a serious show - I'm also scribbling funny ideas for a min-golf course for Kitchen Dog's legendary fund-raiser:
Magic Carpet Golf, Galveston TX - my fav!

Hooch & Pooch 2012

saturday, march 10 ~ 8p-11p

Don't miss the party of the year!

(Or my mini-golf experience.  I think I'm gonna call it: Cap'n Bart's Golf Coast.)

UPDATE: No mini-golf for liability sorta reasons.  Sigh.  Those stick-yer-head-thru-for-the-photo things though.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Sales

Here at Author Headquarters we are feeling all thrilled by a little flurry of paperback sales for that how-to set design guide, Alice Through the Proscenium.  Wahoo!

Maybe it's time to remind y'all that Alice is also available through Barnes and Noble as a light-weight epub-edition for your NOOK.

Idea Juicing

I've been doing research on creativity and the design process.  And, as the number of posts and webpages I've written increased, it seemed time to pull them together on a blog page of their own...

Idea Juicing!  Check it out HERE.

New(ish) on Squidoo

A Squidoo page I forgot to mention: The Creative Process

Check it out for some good books on creativity.  (Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit is really useful for any working creative type.  Earlier post HERE.)

And BTW here's a first Squidoo page by my buddy Joseph, for his greeting cards, HERE.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Film Fest - Quick Thought

What is WITH this weird rite-of-film-passage?  Why, if an actress can survive being an Ingenue and can still get work afterwards, why must she then graduate through the phase of Dying Mother?

Just finished watching the couple year old movie In The Land of Women (it's OK) with Meg Ryan as D-M.  I can vividly remember Meryl Streep also dying through this same phase.  It's as much of a cliche as the Ugly-or-Drag Role that wins the Oscar!  (Glen Close is the latest to pass through that particular gauntlet with Albert Nobbs.  Earlier POST.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Helping Out

Recently I got to help a friend paint on his hurry-it-opens-soon! theater set.  (We help each other out.)

Loved the wild graphics!

Copyright by Joseph Cummings

Friday, February 24, 2012

Writer Michael Chabon

I've been enjoying his work for some time, but was prompted to write this post after rereading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

A good book (its Pulitzer is a hint in that direction maybe), but I'll admit it didn't really "get" me on first reading.  Or, more truthfully (because I did race through its pages doing nothing else until I finished it), I didn't really "get" it.

There is a lot in The Amazing Adventures, more levels, more sediment of... I hardly know what all, more than I expected or even wanted at that first reading.  I anticipated a sort of swashbuckler with comic book heroes, I think.  Comic book heroes are a major component, yes, but that's like saying flour determines the nature of cake - or pancakes - and then you're handed a plate of layer-flaky pastry, sticky with honey, rich with nuts, with a name that hints at ancient places and camel-caravans of spices through the Mysterious East and, at the same time, of the Mom-n-Pop convenience store down the street where there is a sticky tinfoil plate with stickier plastic wrap pulled tight over homemade squares of sweetness on sale for the PTA.


Chabon's writing has that effect on me: afterwards the mundane is edged with an aura of the extraordinary.  He can write a novel with a comix title that somehow mixes bland '50s suburban marriage, super heroes, secret lives, magic and escapist skills, the south pole, the Holocaust, the love of a boy for his dad, surrealism, scholarship, closeted sexuality... into a silt as evocative as that formed into the Golem of Prague.

Cover for The Amazing Adventures, borrowed

All Chabon's work has this evocative, nostalgic quality.  His grocery lists must be interesting to read -  everything else he writes is.  Look for his essays and short stories, as well as his novels.  My favorite is probably Summerland, a "young-adult" novel of the sort you return to all your life.  (If you find an audio version read aloud by the author, grab it!)

Last words:  I'm teased by a relationship between Chabon's writing and Neil Gaiman's... still puzzling that out.  Oh, and HERE's an earlier post on Chabon's essay collection Maps & Legends.   Another about Chabon's Summerland, Gaiman's Neverwhere, and other stories HERE.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lugging Stuff

I have to be away from my desk today.

The amount of stuff I need to drag with me because of that absence is just amazing: a copy of my drawings for Whipping Man (in case of builder questions) plus paper & pencils (in case of spontaneous sketching), the script of the next show after that, Mistakes Were Made, (in case I have to wait around and can read it), and (in case of loooong waits) a base floor plan for WaterTower Theatre so I can sketch on Boeing Boeing, whose sketches are due Monday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Sneak Peak

...At the next Circle Theatre show, The Whipping Man.

Circle Theatre production of The Whipping Man, set design Clare Floyd DeVries


Some mornings you're up at dawn, drawing fast to finish before the meeting...

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Sale on Alice

Here's a chance to buy my how-to set design book, Alice Through the Proscenium, at a discount.  Read more about it HERE:

Not a Review - Giant

The Dallas Theater Center and (I don't have my program in front of me) producers from New York have collaborated on bringing Edna Ferber's sweeping Texas novel to the musical stage.  (There is, of course, a classic film version.)

The sprawling story almoooost fit.  It's a lot of plot and a lot of characters, so Giant's run time naturally stretched a bit past the amount of time an audience can sit comfortably on the DTC's newly padded seats... but only just.

I have mixed feelings about this production.

On the one hand, I'm rootin' for DTC to create new works and for this Texas story in particular.  I loved and was touched by the scene and song at the beginning of the first act.  I liked most of the cast, and enjoyed the songs.  The production values were great, of course (a couple quibbles).  Loved the very clever and effective set and lighting.

Image of the Dallas Theater Center's Giant, borrowed from Arts & Culture

But on the other hand...  (Isn't there always a but?)

I think, though the team has done miracles in compressing this story, that they need to cut the length further.  The songs are all good, but no one song stands out as the hum-on-the-way-home number or stands alone.  Maybe the storyline of the Mexican cowboy off to war ought to be cut to improve the show's length, but I see exactly why it's still in - it strengthens the Hispanic theme greatly and has the snappiest song, sung by one of the most appealing actors, and the scene has both needed emotion and verve.  The second act gets a bit bogged in too many settings and plot points.  Even the set gets cluttered in the second act, until the beautiful spareness of the desert scene.

I wanted to like Giant more than, honestly, I did.  But I think there's a great show in there somewhere.

The quibbles?

1) A show about Texas at the Dallas Theater Center with almost no Texans in it?  When I saw it, the (Texas) understudy played the role of the Uncle.  Played it well.  But otherwise, very few locals.  And this, perhaps, contributed to the occasionally shaky Texas accents.  Also, when a character is meant to be a young Texas country stud of menacing (hetero)sexuality... sorry, but to me he sounded NY and (metro)sexual.  The inflection on certain words I think. Great pipes and energy though and looked the part.
2) The beautiful clarity and simplicity of the set (not to mention the plot) gets a bit lost as the second acts hops from place to place.  I know that's in the text, but simplicity would be better here, I think, if it can be found.
3)  I've heard complaints that the Stetsun hats' shapes/creases are not period correct.  I'm not expert enough to know about that, but I did catch the out-of-period Neiman Marcus bags.  Really guys?  You're the DTC with, like, a gadjillion dollar budget and a props staff of thousands (okay, more than one).  Couldn't you make the right bags?  There were only two.

Like I said, quibbles.  The bigger problem is that, though all together a just fine production... for me it's just... fine.  Not yet great.  But it can be!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Film Fest - Spy Movies

I recently watched two new spy movies at completely different ends of the spy-movie experience:  Safe House and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Safe House is a very American take on the spy genre.  It's a star vehicle for Denzel Washington and the young up-comer Ryan Reynolds, with a who's who of supporting players.  Nice acting.  Full of car chases, shoot-outs, and violence, this version of the spy game is light on sophisticated plotting or subtle clues, but heavy on adrenalin.  I'm surprised it's not a summer flick.  It's also a lot of fun.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is very British in feeling, based on the Le Carre Smiley book, and starring Gary Oldman and an all-star supporting cast.  There's a dreary, bureaucratic grayness to this setting that feels like what I've heard of post-WWII England.  There is violence - visceral (literally) scenes - but often we see only aftermath and even on-screen violence seems to have less... verve to it.  This is a story of subtle deceit and slow-motion betrayal.  This spying is a mental game, where violence is only one move.  A love-it-or-hate-it film for most people - the pace is so slow and the drama so subtle that for some this film will be a snoozer, but if you follow the flicks of an actor's eye, the tiny reactions, it can get to be fascinating.

Depending on your mood, either film is worth watching.

Believed public domain image

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Happens at a Production Meeting?

This week we had the first production meeting for a new show: The Whipping Man.

The director and I had already met to talk about the set, so I showed up with sketches about 95% approved.  My first business - before the meeting - was to explain our idea to the producer for their approval.

A first production meeting always starts with a "This is our quest" speech by the director, explaining his or her approach to the text and this production.  Sometimes the producer will speak, but often that happens (if you'll forgive the expression) off stage, between director and producer.  Sometimes the stage manager will have contracts to sign.

The next speaker is often the set designer.

At this point you explain your design concept to the rest of the production team.  The set tends to lead the visual tone of a show, effecting the other designers' work.   These "others" include costume, lighting, prop, and sound designers and other specialists like choreographers, fight designers etc.  A interesting crowd.

The Mad Hatter's production meeting - public domain image

The actual set builder tends not to be at the production meeting.  Set designer, producer, and maybe director, usually talk to the technical director (TD) and/or head carpenter separately...  mostly so set doesn't monopolize the production meeting.  Costumes, props, light, and sound all need discussion too!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Girlie LEGOs

I read about the new "Friends" LEGO sets aimed at girls and was all set to get huffy at their pinkness and girlie-ness.

Now that I've looked at them (though I wish the mini-figs hadn't been redesigned), I actually like the subjects of the sets: a veterinarian's clinic, a bakery, houses...  There's still a perfume-y stench of condescending pink girlie-tude... but, heck!, maybe a few girls whose mom's only buy pink stuff for 'em will get to love LEGOs.

Believed public domain image of LEGOs

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Apparently Samuel Johnson said that it takes a hundred years for a writer's reputation to jell, because you have to wait for the writer's influential friends and all their followers to die.  

This makes sense to me.  After a hundred years only the creative work (of any kind) itself is left - it either remains interesting or not.  A hundred years is about three generations, time for a fashion to go out of style, to return in granny-liked-it nostalgia, then for that quaintness to fade and the work at last to stand or fall on real merit.  

Occasionally, in that hundred years a work or artist will be anointed as "classic" or "historically important" and this can disguise for a while the fading of public interest. 

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds - public domain with addition

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Taste in Design

I found an essay on good taste in design - Taste for Makers by Paul Graham.  I agree with much of what he writes... and would love to debate the parts I don't fully agree with.  (A great lunch conversation.)  This is an important but little-discussed subject on which Graham writes eloquently:

"Good Design is Suggestive.  Jane Austen's novels contain almost no description; instead of telling you how everything looks, she tells her story so well that you envision the scene for yourself.  Likewise, a painting that suggests is usually more engaging than one that tells.  Everyone makes up their own story about the Mona Lisa. 
In architecture and design, this principle means that a building or object should let you use it how you want: a good building, for example, will serve as a backdrop for whatever life people want to lead in it, instead of making them live as if they were executing a program written by the architect."

Right on!

Here are Graham's principles:

1)  Good design is simple.
2)  Good design is timeless
3)  Good design solves the right problem.
4)  Good design is suggestive
5)  Good design is often slightly funny.
6)  Good design is hard.
7)  Good design looks easy.
8)  Good design uses symmetry.
9)  Good design resembles nature.
10) Good design is redesign.
11) Good design can copy.
12) Good design is often strange.
13) Good design happens in chunks.
14) Good design is often daring.

Read it the entire essay HERE.

Monday, February 13, 2012

New on Squidoo II

I've been doing research on creativity for a while...  HERE's the Squidoo report on that!

The Creative Process - a Squidoo "lens"

A Book for Book Lovers

Just finished reading a terrific new novel, a debut: The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai.

Never heard of the author.  The title was intriguing, but I knew that was just the halo effect of The Borrowers, a children's book I love (The text later revealed the author does too).  I hate to admit this, but what made me pick it up was the cover.  I'm an architect.  I'm visual.  So sue me.

But what made me check the book out of the library and take it home and read it was that quick flip through the pages that you do - you know the one - letting words and sentences catch your eye.  Mine was caught by a humorous tone and a bookish ambiance.  The narrator is a librarian.  (Of the "good" kind, not the file-this-like-national-secrets-away-from-the-public kind.  A shock to meet my first order-freak librarian after thinking book lovers were the norm, I'll tell you.)  Anyway, the narrator is both a librarian and a reluctant kidnapper of a ten year old library patron.

For me, The Borrower is a stay-up-too-late book, a finish-at-a-rush book.  Pages turned, but this is not a plot-driven book, it's a discovery book.  Like the narrator, the reader has no idea where this road trip will go or how it can end well, but the trip is so interesting, its detail and texture so real, that you ride along.  Story, characters, and tone are often humorous, but in that wry life-well-observed way that can be both funny and sad.  A theme about family history and family stories is still echoing in my head... along with that Australian national anthem that the kid keeps singing.

The Borrower.  Rebecca Makkai.  Borrow it.  Then (like me) buy a copy to reread.

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai More about it HERE

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Film Fest - Albert Nobbs

Terrific acting.  Kinda depressing story.

By now SPOILER everyone has heard the set-up, that in Albert Nobbs Glen Close's character is a woman in 19th century Dublin who dresses as a man, in order to be able to make a decent living.  I understand that this was not, actually, so very uncommon, since the life available to a women then was very circumscribed and, frankly, bleak.

I'm currently reading a great biography, Charles Dickens, by Clair Tomalin.  He appears to have been a complicated genius - a driven, past-haunted man with real feeling for the underdogs of society, a passionate nature but no impulse control, both a great and a terrible friend, lover, father...  In the shadow of this great man, the colorless and dependent life of his wife is pathetic.  He treated his wife - mother of eight! - shamefully.
Mrs. Charles (Catherine) Dickens nee' Hogarth - believed public domain

In Albert Nobbs the housemaid who dares live on the wild side - in a way no one would remark on now - is threatened with a dreadful future.  From all I've read, such vengeful treatment of unwed mothers continued in Ireland right up through the 1950s.

If ever there were women that available family planning would have freed - Mrs. Dickens and the Irish housemaid are them.

In the 21st century we women forget how cruel our foremothers' lives could be.  How hard they still are in many parts of the world.  In  Afghanistan today the Irish girl might not just face losing her child and spending life in a prison-like "reform" home... in it might be stoning to death.

Interesting movie.  Interesting book.  Boy I'm glad I don't live in some other times or places!

HERE's a good review of Tomalin's biography of Dickens.  Previous POST on Dickens.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Animated Set Design

It took a while for this idea to sink in with me but, of course, there is also set design - production design - in animated films.  In animation, in "straight" films with computer CGI backgrounds, and in computer games, virtual, animation settings are a big deal!  For games like World of Warcraft the settings are half the fun.

What joggled this little fact home to me recently was almost simultaneously watching Pixar's Cars 2 - of which the settings are the best, most imaginative part - and reading a terrific book Dream Worlds: Production Design in Animation, by Hans Bacher, who was production designer for Mulan.  Gorgeous illustrations and an interesting back-stage kind of text.  Among his other designs is the iconic poster image for The Lion King.

the Lion King poster, designed by Hans Bacher

Friday, February 10, 2012

On the Drawing Board

Funny how projects gang up.  It would seem good statistics that, if a designer has four projects, they'd be in different stages... one being built, another in the design, another in construction drawings, maybe the fourth in early stages of research and schematic design.

Ha!  Guaranteed: they're all being drawn at a rush or all a'building the same week.

Now for me it's drawing board time.  A kitchen remodel/addition and two shows all designed at once.  Luckily, they're different, so I may not get muddled and put the Paris penthouse or the ante-bellum ruin in the kitchen sink .

Keep your projects straight!  Believed public domain images messed with

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New on Squidoo

I just pulled together some information on one of my favorite architects and one of the most influential... ever.  Andrea Palladio.

Haven't heard of him?  Check out The Architecture of Palladio

Palladio's The Villa Rotunda, Vicenza, Italy - public domain image.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chip It!

A fun new app for smart phone or computer - Chip It! - lets you choose an image, then match it to Sherwin Williams paint colors.  Pretty cool!

Monet's Waterlilies as analysed by Sherwin Williams' Chip It!

By either coincidence or sheer, contagious coolitude, I was just minutes ago shown this app at an architects' Lunch-n-Learn, then came back to my studio to find it in my email too.

And here's the last POST on Edwin Drood Chip-It!-isized:

Edwin Drood set by Clare Floyd DeVries, coolo colors by Sherwin Williams Chip It!

Charles Dickens

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.  One of the greatest best-sellers to force his way into English Literature.

From academic or high-brow critics you'll occasionally read whines that Dickens was  too broad in his literary effects, too exuberant and showman-like, too crowd-pleasing with his characters, and sometimes sentimental in his situations.  Translate these complaints as, "too popular to be good."  (The same elitism undervalues modern writers like Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.)

It IS true that Dickens' writing was sometimes sloppy: he wrote fast, for newspaper serials, with no chance to go back and edit things.  By nature, he was not primarily a language stylist.  He was a story-teller.  Terrific, memorable characters!  Some of the sentiment in his work comes from his era - oh! those lace-valentine Victorians! - but much from his own heart.  The young boy who had to glue on labels in a Victorian factory knew the dark side of the Industrial Revolution.

In his own day The Pickwick Papers was smashingly popular comedy (the sisters in Little Women play Pickwick Club).  Nowadays, some of his most popular books are: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations.

There have been countless films made.  On-stage?  I've gotten to design for Edwin Drood, there are famous versions of Nicholas Nickleby, there is the musical, Oliver! and never forget that perennial fund-raiser, upon which so many theaters depend, A Christmas Carol.  Scrooge alone would make Dickens immortal.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, WaterTower Theare, set design Clare Floyd DeVries

Yet... Why still so popular?

Basically, Dickens gets it.  He understands us and our plight.  He could be writing today - as this famous beginning from A Tale of Two Cities shows:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."

Just read today's headlines.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Last night was the premier of a new TV show called Smash, about the creation of a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.  I'd read good reviews.  It really was an interesting show - good situations, characters, voices, and (I no real judge) what seemed like good music and lyrics.  Some of the characters I swear I've met in real life.  And there was one scene, where one of the show's creators was complaining how awful one critic was then - when he liked her work - she suddenly switched to saying how intelligent the critic was.

Been there, heard that.

Heck!  I've said it myself.

Anyone involved with show biz or a fan of it will probably find this show of interest.  On NBC.  (And, probably online somewhere or other.)

Public domain image messed with

And, speaking of TV, did you see the Super Bowl's amazing half time show?  I read that Madonna admitted to being nervous.  No wonder.  I liked the show and it certainly filled the field with spectacle - which is the real trick - but I was amazed once again at the sheer slickness of the setup and take-down of what had to be gadjillions of dollars of sets, lights, costumes, and cast.  Wow.  (HERE's last year's Super Bowl post.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Before It's Gone...

Waaay back before Christmas I visited the Dallas Museum of Art's exhibit of the fashion designs of Jean Paul Gaultier.  Now I see that this show ends on the 12th.  Hurry!  Catch it!

Fashion isn't my usual thing, but this show is breathtaking.  Very dramatic, very theatrical, Gaultier has designed for Madonna and other stage personalities as well as for one of my favorite films, The Fifth Element.  Wild, wild stuff.

Most talked about is probably the exquisite dress with what appears to be a full leopard pelt... until you get closer and see that this "fur" is entirely hand beaded.  Amazing.  All the hand detail throughout the collection is stunning.  I begin to understand why haute couture is pricey.  Gaultier's boudoir fashions are, um, interesting.  (If you take a small child with you, be prepared to explain lots.)  There are several stage costumes and one from that fav film.  But my personal favorite costume (these feel like costumes) is in the first room, the lounging mermaid outfit with the breast-plate-like bodice made of mother of pearl.  Lovely.  Just lovely.

Photo of  a similar Gaultier mermaid - borrowed from Opalescent

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Non-Theater Catch-Up

Inspite of my recent crazy-busy theater schedule, I have been able to read and watch a few other non-theater things:

I rewatched the film Cowboys and Aliens, which stands up well to a second viewing.  (Earlier POST.)

I also watched for the first time the art film Toast, based on an autobiographical novel by food writer Nigel Slater.  A young teen boy, a budding foody, lives in a household where dinner might be - seriously! - three cans heated in a pan of boiling water.  He loves his mother, but she can't cook.  After her death, his unsympathetic and bullying father hires a cleaner (played by Helena Bonham Carter)... who eventually becomes his hated stepmother.  But boy can she cook!

Enjoyed it.  Terrific performances all round and Bonham Carter is just mesmerizing.

On the book front, I finally finished Thinking Fast and Slow (earlier POST) which was fascinating and, I think, important.  It's written in layman's language (barring a few "heuristics" etc.) with the ideas presented from an economist's view (natural, what with that Nobel Prize), but if you can tease out smaller fragments from the dense argument, the facts of how humans make decisions are vitally important to anyone who wants to be persuasive: salesmen, artists, designers of all kinds, writers of prose or poetry... everyone basically.  Read!

As lighter fare, I started rereading the Chalionese series by Lois McMaster Bujold, starting with The Curse of Chalion, which features one of my all-time favorite heroes.  Also rereading an early Georgette Heyer, The Black Moth.  I'm enjoying it (and it's the only Heyer on my NOOK), but my real favorites are her later books like Frederica, Venetia, A Civil Contract, or Friday's Child whose paperback copies I've read to rags.  I'm not usually a ROmance reader, but Heyer is witty, frothy, and seriously researched.

Heyer, Austen, Wodehouse, and Pratchett - Public domain images messed with.

When life gets difficult or harried, Heyer's books are in my short stack of refreshing breaks, along with P. G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett, and Jane Austen.  These disparate writers all share the knack of creating engrossing characters and worlds where there exists a wryly humorous (and sometimes inky-dark) view of human foibles...  Their unembittered laughter can polish up my own smudged perspective.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Day for Set Photos

Just found a new image of WaterTower Theatre's production of The Diary of Anne Frank that gives an wider idea of its set:

The last quiet moment of safety from Anne Frank's diary...

Opening for Collapse

Last night Collapse opened.  A successful (and quite funny) performance to a responsive audience, with the playwright, Allison Moore, in attendance.  The playwright was presented with the yellow roses of Texas at curtain call.  (It's still called "curtain call" even when, in fact, there IS no curtain.)  And there was a particularly lively after party!  (The Dogs can throw a party.)

Collapse, Kitchen Dog Theater production
See that brick wall?  Hand-carved from foam by moi, the set designer, aaand painted.
There's the loaner sofa. ($#%$ sofas!) And the painted tile tabletop.

HERE's the thumbs-up review in the Dallas Morning News.  Come join the party - see the show!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dreaming Up Ideas

This is going to sound incredibly dorky, but my latest design came to me in a dream.

It's not unusual for an artist, designer, or other problem-solver to go to bed thinking about an issue - then wake with the answer.  The subconscious mind keeps working, scrabbling away underground.

Sometimes, frankly, it seems as if the ol' subconscious keeps all the good stuff buried - hidden from you - until an idea feels like a little fresh air and strolls upwards to the light of day.  Often that's when you're busy but mentally idling - driving, washing dishes, showering, walking, or in those moments between sleeping and waking.  Then, if you're not too busy to notice and if you move slowly, not to scare it, you can spot a shy new idea in the underbrush.  And catch it!

Public domain image

Thursday, February 2, 2012


If theater set design requires a lot of driving, sometimes architectural design requires even more.

Off into the Scenic Ride for far, faaaar N. Texas!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alice on Sale

Here's a great chance to get a copy of my how-to set design book Alice Through the Proscenium at a discount.  Check it out at  Shhhhh - use the secret code below:


Some playwrights make it hard to design much of a set.

Either they set their story in yet another default living room - which can be designed well, of course it can - but seriously?  How many good, different, nuanced present-day living rooms does any designer have in them?

Or the playwright picks somewhere so impossibly big, grandiose, or detailed that few performance spaces or budgets can handle it well.  Or too many scene changes ditto.

Or they pick somewhere... visually boring.  Recently it was a soccer field.  Flat.  Green.  Grass.  (Grass if the budget allows anyway.)

Reason for this mini-rant?  A reviewer objected to my giant leaves/clouds as too fanciful for a soccer field.  Because there are (and this is very true) no trees on soccer fields.  Of course the playwright actually describes a soccer field with autumn leaves...


Playwrights.  Please consider setting your stories in locations with both some fresh visual potential and some possibility of a reasonable budget.  Personally, I think these might be interesting settings and some have been used a few times:

A garage, either residential or a repair shop; a retail store (that doesn't need too much stock displayed); a basement rec. room, possibly taken over by the computer game obsessed teen; a tool shed and garden; a fishing cabin; inside a camper; a circus tent or sideshow; inside a warehouse, the kind with tall racks and rolling ladders and dollies; inside a huge storm drain, a la Ninja Turtles' hideout; a computer room with banks of CPUs and lift-up floor and ceiling panels; a steam room; a ship's engine room; a teachers' lounge; a Las Vegas bar; the crawl space under an old house and the kitchen above; maybe an attic room and on top of the roof outside the window; an artist's studio; a space ship; a dorm room; a nursing home bed-sitting room; the bottom of a tenement light-well and/or its communal laundry room...

Public domain image of computer room from

Don't one or two of these locations just cry out for a story to go with them?

Earlier posts on the slandered leaves HERE.