Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holiday Hiatus

What with Thanksgiving and this and that, it's been hard to even get to my computer during the last week, much less to write anything.  I hope you all, Dear Readers, had a wonderful Day of Thanks.

(This is one of my top favorite holidays - so purely family, friends, and food.  A very happy Thanksgiving here, this year.)

So I've been busy outside the theater - here's the Recap:

FILMS: Skyfall, the latest Bond... and a very good one.  I loved M, Q, the actually frightening villain, and have now Officially Designated Daniel Craig as best Bond ever.

MUSEUMS:  The traveling exhibit of art from the Phillips Collection now at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth is full of  goodies - wonderful art - that and the Kimbell's permanent collection (of which I've written before HERE) are well worth the drive.  Construction on Renzo Piano's addition to Louis Kahn's building is advancing: right now the poured concrete walls have tidy little plastic pup-tents on top to keep rain off of them.  There are models and an interesting film in the Kimbell's lobby about these buildings.  * Extra bonus: visit the KAWS sculpture outside the Modern Art Museum... a sort of giant, cartoon, heart-breaking, tragicomic figure that just appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a giant balloon.

(Existential Angst in the Holidays?  That is traditional for many.)

A compare-n-contrast moment with the happy Mickey Mouse who followed him certainly.

KAWS Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float - believed public domain

While in Fort Worth, don't forget to order the enchilada plate at Joe T. Garcia's .  And, if the fall weather and leaves remain as beautiful as today's, consider eating on Joe T.'s patio.  Or visit the Fort Worth Arboretum - its Japanese Garden is lovely now.

In Dallas, the new Perot Science and Natural History Museum opens soon.  It's designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne.  It looks fantastic so far - I'm looking forward to visiting.  HERE's the Dallas Morning News article.  I looked at it again while exploring...

PARKS:  I finally! got to walk through the new Bridge Park (Klyde Warren Park), built over Woodall Rogers Freeway, connecting the Dallas Arts District with Uptown.   I liked its small, even domestic, scale and variety of areas.  Cool playground.  Oddly, there seems no design emphasis on the "bridge" part of the park's function; everything seems oriented lengthwise, ignoring the symbolically important across-the-park-n-across-parts-'o-town-ness that is its reason for being.  Puzzling.  But there were plenty of people enjoying the park on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  The street cars serving it were standing room only.  Maybe it's a hit!  More park info HERE.

THEATER:  Don't forget to buy tickets to Kitchen Dog's (and my own!) The Beauty Queen of Leenane which is gathering rave reviews.  To totally rip off the best quip about it: "Come see the family in Beauty Queen... then love your own family so much better!"  This is truly a holiday special.

Compare and Contrast, kiddies, Compare and Contrast.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Film Fest - Lincoln

This new film about Abraham Lincoln will be most interesting to people with a little understanding of and interest in history, but anyone who's just survived the most recent American election process ought to find the back-room, bare-knuckle politikin' fascinating.  I loath politics... and found myself riveted.

Lincoln is a good film.

The amazing part is not so much the story or situation - which is pretty compelling, being the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which outlaws slavery - or the fascinating collection of characters, but the real amazement is your utter conviction that you're sitting there in the dark watching Lincoln - Lincoln himself - pacing the screen.  Mesmerizing.  Actor Daniel Day Lewis is... well, he doesn't seem to be there at all.

The movie feels talky (this IS politics) and there are no car chases or even the Civil War cavalry charge equivalent; it's closest in feeling to a courtroom drama, where the interest comes from what's said and what the final vote will be.  Not a film everyone will find fun - but history and/or acting buffs may want to own it on DVD as soon as they can.

There are many outstanding performances, including that of Tommy Lee Jones, and I'm just more and more impressed by Steven Spielberg's career...  I'd say the guy will need a monument eventually, except that he's creating it with every film.

Now I've got to get my hands on the book this film is based on!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Holidays Approaching (the Studio)

This week has been spent mostly in temporarily moving my studio in order to create room for house guests.

I can heartily recommend designing your own studio using easy to move furniture because, over the years, you'd be amazed at just how often it's been useful to move or rearrange my working-quarters.  Sometimes its been because the weather out in my converted porch has been too arctic or Saharan; sometimes it's been to make room for house guests or house plants or visiting other-people's-cats; sometimes its been due to repainting or...

In a weird way, the moves are fun.  Working in a slightly different environment shakes up old habits - I kinda enjoy it - and when I move back into my usual space and configuration I always have a few improvements... plus it's tidier!

My studio, looking a little messy and November bleak.

More discussion of studio organization HERE.

As you can guess from the black box in the foreground, I am an advocate of the "Box" school of storage - everything for one project goes in one box, in strict chronological order with most recently utilized on top.  (File folders?  Phoo!)  I was heartened to discover that the famous choreographer Twila Tharp uses the same method, just with bigger boxes.  I like 'em flat-n-shallow for drawings - I started with pizza boxes.

More on office environments HERE.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Get yer tickets HERE!

Kitchen Dog Theater's production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane is getting rave reviews.  Check 'em out: The Dallas Morning News and PegasusNews.

Tickets are sellin' fast...
And here's another rave at EdgeDallas.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Film Fest and Catch-Up

It's been busy here at Set Design Central...

But I took this weekend OFF.  (For the first time in six? eight? weeks.)

So - Film Fest!

I watched Argo and Cloud Atlas.  I can recommend both:

Argo is a very satisfying edge-of-your-seat will-they-make-it? flick.  Good characters, good acting, great based-on-truth story (though I understand our friends the Canadians deserve even more credit).  I have to admit that, at the time, I was head-down in architecture school and not following news as much as I should have been, but I do remember the dread and horrified sympathy I felt for the hostages.  A terrifying ordeal.  This story, of the six who escaped captivity, I missed entirely.  Worthwhile film version!

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, was a book that completely caught my imagination... one of those books you ponder long afterwards.  When I heard about this film version, I had to see it, though I didn't understand how anyone could possibly make a movie from it.  But it works!  My companion had not read the book, but was still able to follow the complicated, inter-locking, multiple plots.  In fact, I think the changes in sequence, using the same actors for multiple roles, and the cinematic/visual links of the film may actually tie the stories together even more.

Really good performances by a sterling cast that includes Tom Hanks.  Excellent... everything.

The story?  Hard to explain.  Impossible.  Go see the film and read the book please.

The only point I'd make first is that, this is not a time-travel story, but a series of stories set at different times - with different characters - which interlock.  Themes twist and continue throughout, also a few characters, objects, or visuals repeat in new ways in the different periods.  I was fascinated by the book.  Its subtle, often inexplicable, linkages create a satisfying whole.

Cloud Atlas is one of those rare books that you finish, close, and just hold for a minute as it settles into you.

Other than movie-going, I've been reading a lot of history.  (These movies are history too, aren't they?)

Oh!  And there's an historic sale on at my printer's if you'd like to stock up on Alice Through the Proscenium (my how-to on set design)... Stocking Stuffers!

Find on Alice HERE or just more on Alice in general HERE.  As always, Alice is also available as an epub virtual all-digital electro-book HERE at Barnes and Noble.

And in stage news: I've read the first review (I've seen) for The Beauty Queen of Leenane - terrific!  Rightly pointing out the excellent acting, particularly in the lead role of the daughter.  

(But ignoring the set - typical.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tweaky, Tweaky

With set builds there are only two ways to time completion:

1 Too Late - You worry that it will, in fact, be finished.  The set designer and builder suffer ulcers and/or sleep deprivation as the deadline approaches.  Somehow though, the set is nearly always done for Opening ("How?  I don't know, it's a mystery").  The audience smells wet paint.


2 Too Early - This means that you did in fact get 98% of your design built onstage looking 98% like you, the designer, hoped... but this gives everyone else in the production time to stare at the set and suggest tweaks.  The audience smells wet paint.

Tonight is the opening for The Beauty Queen of Leenane.  Great show - come out and see!

(And what do you think you may smell?)

sketch by Clare Floyd DeVries - copyrighted, for once

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Ah!  The Golden Rectangle.  The Golden Triangle.  All the classic - and intensely elegant - proportions designers have used since Antiquity... and before then even.

Da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man - public domain

Leonado Da Vinci made that famous sketch of Man Justifying the Square and Circle - good ol' classics of composition.  There's something very satisfying and complete about a square or a circle.

But of these theories about proportion, all these guides to beauty in composition, one of the most fractally lovely is the Fibonacci Series, that spiraling shape that Nature uses as Design Guideline for Nautilus shells and, yes, hurricanes...

Creative Commons image by Jim Leftwich, from Boing Boing 

In this overlay of the Fibonacci diagram over a satellite photo, you can see the beauty of nature... even in the destructiveness of Hurricane Sandy.  

(Thank you Jim Leftwich for sharing this image.  Creative Commons and Public Domain are gifts to us all.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Little Details

Well, the Beauty Queen set is inching closer to finished.  In a minute I'll head out once more in my paintin' pants (a pair of jeans so stiff with paint they stand on their own) to do touch-up painting on the set.

But, on the way, I need to do some errands to:

1)  The copy place, for an enlargement of an Irish newspaper header page, to top my stacks of Dallas Morning Newses with.  (Even onstage newspapers get costumes.)
2)  The dollar store, for cheap mats-of-plastic-foliage to put in rain troughs to "tune" the sound of falling water into a proper "rain" sound instead of the present water-on-water splash that's more like "pee."
3)  Also more moss - to make more fake "peat" for this Irish fire.
4)  The art/craft store, for spray wood-stain to "age" my '50s fabric sink-skirt, which is looking too pale under the stage lights, plus, if I can find any, fake spider webs left over from Halloween to show that these characters don't dust much.
5)  My grocery store, for plastic "butcher-block" stickem paper for a kitchen counter top and also a mouse trap to put under the refrigerator.

The audience notices details...

public domain image courtesy of

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Sugar Trade

In the course of some research I've been doing lately into that rascally architect/pirate Barthelemy Lafon, I've been slowly learning the extent and (economic, historic, social) importance of the sugar (and allied slave) trade at the end of the 1700s until the Civil War.

It turns out that sugar - and slaves - built the new world to an even greater extent than I'd imagined.

believed public domain image

In the course of learning all this, I've found a couple fascinating things: the book Orders from France by Roger G. Kennedy, which is the beautifully written, entertaining story of French architects bringing neoclassicism to this side of the Atlantic (including a chapter on Lafon) and the sugar-mural Cargo by the artist Shelly Miller, which you can see HERE or on her blog HERE.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Opens Friday!

Come see The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Kitchen Dog Theater (and, incidently, my set).

photo by Matt Mrozek

I promise the paint will be dry... and the acting and the story darn good!  My typing hands are too tired, scraped, cut, painted, and sore for more details on the set finishing just yet, but more details on the production and getting a ticket HERE.