Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hare Brain versus Tortoise Brain

John Cleese on creativity HERE.

(Procrastination can be a virtue!)

e-Book Advantage

I've just discovered a new advantage to e-readers that I never expected.

A favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold, has a new book coming out, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.  In November.

Long wait!  Like any devoted fan, I've been ticking off days in my calendar until I could get my hands on a copy.  But now the author and publisher, Baen Books, have had a brain wave: let eager readers buy the electronic Advanced Readers Copy...


Having devoured the book at (almost) one sitting yesterday, I can safely say this is a very fan-satisfying novel. It wraps up all kinds of loose ends for the title character, long a favorite, and in way I at least never expected.

For new readers, I would probably not recommend starting Bujold's award-winning science fiction series about the planet Barrayar and the Vorkosigan family with this book; better to start with Cordelia's Honor (or Shards of Honor), then work through the books in internal chronological order.  This new novel fits in the series time-frame just after Diplomatic Immunity.  But read in publication order, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance makes a very good capstone to the series so far.

One of the things I like about Bujold's Barrayar series is that each book has a distinct character - space opera, adventure, romance, mystery, or in this case, a sort of heist caper with (this is Ivan!) romantic and humorous overtones.

All Bujold's novels develop the classic S-F "what-if?" where some scientific and/or social development is expanded to its logical conclusions. (Speculation that is exactly what I love about S-F.)  Bujold's books all contain humor, often of a comedy-of-manners style, and can have elements of romance.  But an amusing tone and the biological sciences she speculates upon - rather than rocketry or ray guns - can fool a reader into overlooking how "hard" her science is and how ruthlessly she spins out its social effects.  Her books discuss exactly the scientific, medical, ethical, social, and legal issues our present day society grapples with: life extension, genetic manipulation, cloning.

But while Bujold's fictional science and time-frame are futuristic, she keeps her human characters very... human.  Even her evolving-super-race, the Centagandan Hauts, have recognizably human motives like revenge and spite (as this novel illustrates).  

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen Books

I don't want to spoil Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, so I'll just say that Bujold's new book lives up to her usual high standards of writing and invention with some particularly comic moments.  As a long-time series fan, I enjoyed the tidbits about other characters sidelined in this plot and was very satisfied with this resolution to the Idiot-Ivan dilemma - great fun to read a book with his viewpoint! I really enjoyed this book's ride.  

Thank you Ms. Bujold.  I'll start re-reading immediately.

You!  Go buy a copy of either Captain Vorpatril's Alliance HERE or, if you're a newbie, buy or check out Cordelia's Honor and get to reading!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sunburnt Garden

This morning's Dallas Morning News had another article about the continuing negotiations between the Nasher Sculpture Center and Museum Tower, the ultra-lux high-rise condo project that is reflecting sunlight into the Nasher's galleries and garden.  (Earlier post HERE.)

It seems one of the lawyers has written a "combative" letter.  (What other kind do lawyers write?)  The letter is part of an attempt to keep the paper from gaining public access to notes, emails, etc. regarding the negotiations.  (If talks are ongoing, a little privacy might be helpful?)

Legal and PR wrangles aside, it seems to me that the only possible solution will be to add some sort of solar screen or bris soleil to the western face of Museum Tower to reflect sunlight away from the Nasher... and incidentally save condo owners fortunes in air conditioning bills.

I'm amazed there wasn't some solar protection on the tower from the beginning anyway, but since there isn't it can be designed to focus sunlight elsewhere.

A bris soleil on the Times building - image from architechnophilia illustrating an interesting article on architecture and unintended consequences

The catch to this solution, obviously, is that someone has to pay for it.  Luckily, the condo owners will be  rich people.

This situation is not very different from when any new building diverts rainwater to flood a neighbor: what wasn't a problem before, suddenly IS because of the new construction.  The law is clear on the responsibility for site drainage, intruding trees, or wandering cattle - ancient legal squabbles- but not so clear on reflected sunlight - there having been little reflective glass in antiquity, I suppose.  But there have been modern precedents, like Frank Gehry's Disney concert hall in L.A., whose reflective skin cooked neighboring condos.  I'm sure there are others.

But whatever the legal responsibility or cost, Museum Tower - which takes its name and importance from its location in Dallas' Arts District - needs to be a good neighbor.  I think they are trying to fix the problem graciously...  Just my opinion, but I think gracious is the way to go.

Not like the Nasher could erect a forty-story spite-fence, is it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Book Sale

I love these guys at - they have lots of sales!

Here's another chance to save 20% on my theater set design how-to book Alice Through the Proscenium:

Just hop over to and find the Secret Code, then to Alice's page HERE for a bargain on its already reasonable price.  (I believe in value-packed books, don't you?)

For a sneak peak at the set design methods chapter look here at Snippet Central.

(Sidenote: for eReaders, there's a NOOK version available at Barnes and Noble HERE, not on sale, but cheaper anyway.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day of Rest? In Theater?


Today was the strike for Ruth at Kitchen Dog.

A large number of Dogs were there to dismantle the set - which went pretty quickly.  As a set designer it always amazes me how much faster a set comes down than it goes up.  Poof!  and you're back in a blank black theater - as if the show never happened or hasn't happened yet or, given the word-haunted nature of theaters, is continually happening in some invisible, inaudible time-loop.

But there was a certain amount of resting today too: Movie Day!

Don't you love an ice-cold movie theater on a hot day?

Today's feature was the quirky time-travel-romance Safety Not Guaranteed.  Definitely an off-beat, not-high-budget film... which I really enjoyed.  Much more about the people than the sci-fi, though that was there too.  Another recent satisfyingly quirky feel-good flick was Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.  Frankly, I have never gotten his humor before this, but because of its young protagonists, this film was more accessible (at least for me) and I really liked it.

Of my "bigger" movie viewings lately, I enjoyed Men in Black III - much better than a sequel should be - and The Avengers - still fun on a second viewing.

And just to catch up on months of TV while I'm at it: I've enjoyed the (now canceled) eccentric spin-off from Bones called The Finder; the forensic procedural show Bones itself; the writer-n-cop show Castle; catching up on 30 Rock (I'm still way behind); and Vampire Diaries (also a season behind).  I've enjoyed several British shows: Doctor Who of course, the grumpy doctor show Doc Martin, and another quirky time-travel story, a police show called Life on Mars.

Time travel - it's everywhere.

Believed public domain image.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Catching Up

It's been a busy couple weeks here at Scenic Central, what with a beach vacation and a rather frantic catch-up week.

This week included last night's opening for Crimes of the Heart at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas (check it out) which was a LOT of last minute work (thanks visitor/volunteers!); scrambling to get back up to date on the builds for the up-coming Divine Sister at Uptown Players and Smokey Joe's Cafe at WaterTower Theater; plus reading the new script See How They Run for Circle Theatre... starting the design process for that set.

The very beginning of set design, for me, starts with reading and rereading the text and mulling over it in the chinks of time between other projects - thinking it over in the car or the shower, looking idly through books about the period, keeping my eyes open as I go through the day for ideas and images.  You can become amazingly aware of hints and fragments of ideas all around you.  It can feel as if your design problem is following you around, constantly manifesting itself.  (Just as a pregnant woman suddenly notices crowds of other pregnancies and babies and children that she'd never ever noticed before.)

Blog posts will start appearing here again as I catch up with myself... and catch you up on what I've seen while I wasn't blogging!

Public domain photo from

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beachy Break

More substantive posts comin' later, but for now I'm only reviewing sand (brown) and sea (salty).

Oh, and a classic pirate novel by Rafael Sabatini from 1922, Captain Blood.

A wonderfully old-fashioned swashbuckler!  The wronged and noble hero - a doctor - makes the mistake of tending the wounds of a rebel, is wrongly condemned for treason, sold into slavery in the Caribbean, rebels in his own turn, and escapes... into a life of piracy.  Turns out he's really really good at it.  Though secretly he's still darn noble, all for the love of a Good Woman.  Sea battles, intrigue, romance.  And all ends well.  Classic fun!

HERE's a Wikipedia article.

Early novel cover for Captain Blood, public domain  Wikipedia

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pictures in the Paper

Part of the set designer's career is to keep track of what "the papers" - nowadays mostly blogs - have to say about your shows. Luckily, reviews for my now-on-stage productions have been pretty good, which is always a relief.

(Many theater people say they never read reviews... yet somehow they always know.  Psychic, you think?  Me, I read the reviews.)

Here's a sampling:

Boeing, Boeing at WaterTower Theater

Sketch for Boeing, Boeing at WaterTower Theater

HERE's a pretty detailed review of WaterTower's Boeing, Boeing at

Ruth at Kitchen Dog Theater

And a review of Kitchen Dog's Ruth HERE at The Observer.

Next up - Circle Theatre's Mistakes Were Made.  I thought the show and the chief actor were electrifying in rehearsal!  Guess we'll see what the critics have to say soon... opens Friday.  Tomorrow!

Or, better still, buy a ticket to one or all of these fine shows and form your own opinion.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Not a Review: God of Carnage

I saw the Dallas Theater Center's latest show, God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza.

God of Carnage poster from the Dallas Theater Center

A good production, as you'd expect, with good performances by four actors (three with strong ties to my home theater Kitchen Dog).

The play itself?  Not a big fan.

I mean it was OKAY.  Held my interest and was intermittently funny.

But the idea of two well-off couples meeting in a drawing room - until  politeness descends to mankind's innate savagery and that drawing room is trashed - is not exactly a new idea.  In fact, I'm sick of it.  Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf or The Goat (which I got to design) have the same veneer-of-civilization-cracking, but dialogue is sharper, emotions more visceral and savage, and there's a specificity and point to the conflict that God of Carnage's scuffling school boy story just doesn't generate.

About those school boys.  I understand the playwright's point is that we're all selfish creatures at heart - making even mother-love a shallow thing - but I don't buy that either mother could be so unfocused on her kid.  Despite the actresses' best efforts, the script doesn't allow much depth of feeling or motherly defensiveness.  The fathers are worse.  Now, if the playwright wanted to prove parental selfishness, what I would believe is the classic version, where the parent is protective in a tribal rather than affection-for-that-individual-kid way and narcissism shows in the self-congratulatory martyrdom many mothers are famous for.  That I'd believe.  This?  No.

It's an awful fast decent into savagery too.

And really?  Must one actress vomit on stage?  We live in a crude age (just look at popular comedy movies) and the vomit scene does make a huge impact onstage... but it's a cheap thrill.  So is coarse language.  Writers who want to be seen as "edgy" seem to feel it's obligatory.  But no one is shocked anymore.  Really.  The laughs coarse language gets are cheap laughs.  (Just as the garter belt in my own Boeing, Boeing gets cheap laughs.  Have playwrights, directors, and producers so little pride?  Silly question.)

So.  Not a big fan of the play.

The set?  The set showcases the obligatory African art - Africa is mentioned in the text and it underlines the primitive emotions.  I'm not sure about the color scheme: bright reds and sky blues, plus earthy browns and oranges.  An early set sketch of John Arnone's was printed in the program (great idea!  thanks).  I preferred that version, where the reds and oranges were more integrated, rather than contrasted as in the finished set.  I'm not sure if this was a deliberate change in focus - to emphasize conflict - or an unfortunate change made for pragmatic reasons, since the revised version is a simpler and thus a cheaper build.  For me, the bright red commanding fireplace - crowned by African art and ivory tusks - is another stage-y cheap thrill.  Which makes me wonder whether Mr. Arnone wasn't sending-up his own show a bit, creating a satirically cartoonish setting for this cartoonish story.

I'd have been tempted.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment, after hearing that this was a Tony-winning play by a "hot" playwright etc., was that I didn't hear any memorable, quotable, or clever lines.  The hamster story is worth repeating, but otherwise, zip.

Lady Bracknell (who knew her way around a drawing room) would have had something politely savage to say about that lack.  Since I can't remember a line from God of Carnage, here's one from The Importance of Being Earnest:

"To be born, or at any rate bred in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life which reminds one of the worst excesses of the French revolution, and I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?" 

Behind the Scenes Note: The unfortunate digestive movement onstage has led, I'm told, to a plague of gnats in the theater.  Attracted by the moisture and... well, by whatever the heck else was "vomited" and not well enough cleaned up.

The exterminator had to be called in.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


There's something brave about the theater arts.

It's not the willingness of actors to stand up and pretend in front of strangers (though that is brave), but the knowledge that whatever you do - acting, costumes, sets, directing, lighting, props, or a hundred other aspects - is doomed.

Most artists write or paint or create in the hope of immortality.  They build their sandcastles hoping, knowing, that there's a faint chance it may last.  In a hundred years their novel may still be read or their music sung.  Playwrights share this hope.

But the rest of theater?  Nah.


The actor's performance dies as the echo in the theater fades.  The set ends in the trash.

A few important shows linger, faintly, as a couple photos, a few sketches, or a cast recording.  A show or performer's reputation may last.  But mostly it's only in the theater audience's memory that the work may linger a little while... if it effected them strongly.  I think it takes a certain strength of character to throw so much energy and talent and life into a short-lived art.  (Not that I'm biased, of course.)

Usually short-lived.

I was fascinated to read an article in Live Design recently (HERE) about the recreation of the famous set for Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, by Jo Melziner, the legendary Broadway scenic designer.  Modern-day NY designer Brian Webb has admired Melziner's work for years... and he and the production team saw the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman as a chance to recreate this iconic scenery.

Believed public domain image

I'm impressed on several accounts: at the lasting legend, importance, and sheer strength of Melziner's work of course... but also by the knowledge and modesty of Brian Webb, who ceded this big opportunity to Melziner - to refresh that master's fame - instead of grabbing onto it to become more famous himself.

That's rare and memorable.

A great illustrated blog post of Melziner's work HERE at

Monday, June 4, 2012

Back to the Land of the Living...

Or the breathing world anyway...

 I've just FINALLY finished paper mache'ing a huge 3D rainbow construction in the garage for the Big local theater's summer kid program.  So... I get to breath again.  I've been incredibly busy and battered by many deadlines (the shows Ruth, Boeing Boeing, and now Mistakes Were Made have Teched) and I really feel like I haven't taken a break in weeks.  

This morning is my first deeeeep breath.


But it will take time to soak the gluey colored paper off my hands.  I kind of love big messy projects (gluey feet included).   I've been sitting in my garage every morning for the last two weeks - when the day is still cool - gluing rainbow colored paper to a big geometric "rainbow" construction and feeling like I was enacting a living garage-tableau for my neighbors of Paper Craft, The Endless Installation.  

Finally done!

Copyright Clare Floyd DeVries and Clint Ray