Monday, December 31, 2012

Start the New Year Right...

If you're interested in theater (you are reading this!), maybe this is the year to really get involved?  If a designer, then to Design; if an actor, to Act; if a theater buff, then to Do Theatre.  

If you like New Year's Resolutions, here are few respectful suggestions:

1)  Go to a theater.  Go on - you know those folks loooove an audience!  Buy a ticket.  Have fun.  
2)  Help a local theater.

This last suggestion can be as easy as buying tickets to a local performance and, if you enjoy it, telling your friends.  Get the word out!  Tweet, text, email, smoke-signals, whatever it takes.  Help make theater a important part of Our Time.  

Helping can be as simple as buying tickets or donating a little money - theater troupes always, always, always need cash.  And it's that time o' year, right? 

But helping can also be as life-enriching as donating a few hours to help somehow - to send out mailers or to build or strike a set.  But beware! because you may accidentally make a few friends... gradually become part of a theater company as crew, cast, staff, or volunteer... discover your own talents... and expand into an art form that slowly, insidiously, lets your own creative, playful, intellectual self Out of Its Box.  

(You know that Box.)  

This year, set yourself free...

image courtesy of

Sunday, December 30, 2012

(What to) Coloring Book!

One of my favorite theatrical/architectural presents this season is a book:

PANTONE: The Twentieth Century in Color

Photo from Felt & Wire's interview with the authors

Authors Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker lead the Reader through the changing color schemes of the just-past century, explaining some of the influences, reasons, and technical developments behind changes in color preferences.  Beautifully illustrated.  And always, on the right-hand edge of the page, there's a palette of PANTONE colors keyed to the illustrations and period under discussion.

Incredibly helpful for designers.

PANTONE takes us decade by decade through the colors of fashion and design, from the gentle pastels of ladies' dresses circa 1900, through the psychedelic brights of the 1960s and the dreaded Avocado Green era of the 1970s, and on to the end of the millennium.  What I found most fascinating was the many contradictory color palettes of the 1990s: the Martha Stewart somehow-nostalgic shades; the Anime-bright-pastels; the Zen-like greens and neutrals; the African and Latin inspired hues; and the look-at-me-I'm-conspicuously-consuming! rich tones of the '90s.

I wish they'd go back and make a matching book for the 1800s.

Then for the 1700s.

If you're a designer who ever deals with historic periods - or someone inspired by color - you're going to enjoy this book!  It's a must-have for theater designers I think.

HERE's a good interview with the authors at the bookish website Felt & Wire.  And HERE's an interview with the publisher about the design and making of the book.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Into the New Year

Time to get ready.

Time to fill in play-opening dates in my 2013 calendar.  Time to clear off my desk (there's wrapping paper scraps on it and... is that a recipe for beef brisket?).  Time to reorganize my whole work area, to put the colored pencils back in their drawers, to send up-date emails, to clear the decks for the new shows of the coming New Year.

Among my preparations...

Research for Aphra Behn's play The Lucky Chance for Echo Theatre.  Because we're changing the play's setting to the Swinging London of the 1960s.

Image from "Andy Warhol Pop Politics" at the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

White Christmas!

Believed public domain photo

Theater may not pause long for the Christmas holiday, but in Dallas (where we're not much used to freezing weather) it may sometimes reschedule for snow.  This a.m.'s meeting - 50 miles away - was postponed until tomorrow when the roads should be clearer.

Wahoo!  Snow day today!


The snow started in the afternoon.  And it gave us a Perfect Christmas Moment: all the gathered friends looking out over our table - laden with wine glasses, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, Southern greens - as outside the dining room window we watched dusk gently settling and fat, white Christmas snowflakes fluttering... turning the everyday world glowingly, sparklingly, Magical.

A Merry Holiday Season to you too, Gentle Reader!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Imperfect Studios

Sitting here in my studio-in-exile (a temporary move due to house guests and cold weather), I've been mulling over what makes a good working space, a great studio...

Perfection ain't it.

I just happened across a lovely expression of this sentiment in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones :

"If you want a room to write in, just get a room. Don't make a big production out of it. If it doesn't leak, has a window, heat in the winter, then put in your desk, bookshelves, a soft chair, and start writing... It's hard to sit in an exquisite space and rub across our imperfections which writing brings up."

She continues with, "It is natural in our studios to find," then goes on a lovely rift about the detritus of creation in her own writing room - including cold cups of black tea and open books.  In my own temp. studio at this moment there is: her book, open; a used-up check book; a bottle of Elmer's glue; filled sketchbooks; and a cardboard fan of the kind that southern funeral parlors used to give out, except this one is courtesy of a golf tournament and has an insurance gecko's green, big-eyed face on it.

Believed public domain gecko.

Writing Down the Bones is worthwhile, an excellent writing and creativity book.  I recommend it.  Possibly a good present for writer-type friends?  (More writerly gift-book suggestions HERE.  Or theater/architecture/designer gift suggestions HERE.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Prep

What with cookies, cards, present wrapping, house guests, and holiday parties there hasn't been much blogging going on...

But fear not!  Theater is still happening.

Currently I'm reading the script for The Lucky Chance by Aphra Behn for Echo Theatre (first design meeting this evening) and designing for The God of Carnage at Circle Theatre (drawings due Friday, first meeting with builders bright and early on the day after Christmas).  And last night I had two simultaneous parties for two simultaneous theaters!  (Good training for the important set designer skill of Omnipresence.)

Tenniel's illustration (public domain) mightily messed with

Monday, December 17, 2012

Film Fest - The Hobbit

This is a film I've been waiting for...

Really, really enjoyed it!

But the reviews I've seen (the other reviews, you know, the professional reviews) are kind of strange. Most of them talk about how much money the film is making (tons, but who cares?) or about its new filming technology (more frames per minute, do I care?) or about its length (three hours or just-long-enough), but few are talking about the actual, you know, storytelling.

I approach this film as a loooong-time fan of J.R. R. Tolkien's work, as someone who read the Lord of the Rings every year at about this time of year for many years and read The Hobbit many times; heck!  I've read LotR out-loud twice.  I've watched the films oooooh... a couple times maybe.  (Cough, cough.)  Anyway, it's difficult for me to imagine meeting Middle Earth for the very first time by way of this Hobbit film.  Best guess?  I expect that for first-timers Peter Jackson's The Hobbit would be a fair intro: "fair" in that it has a beautifully rendered Middle Earth atmosphere and characters - casting and performances are great - and the story is well told, enriched by judicious borrowings from the appendixes of LotR which gives it a more adult tone than the book and helps to yoke it to the established film-world of its sequel.  I cannot imagine how anyone could do a better job of a Hobbit movie.  And Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo.

I still think having The Hobbit read aloud to you as a little kid has to be the very best introduction.  After that, I'd suggest, in due time, reading The Lord of the Rings silently to yourself.  Then see the films in order.

This may be the film that separates the sheep from the goats as far as the film audience goes.

Those who merely liked the Lord of the Rings films, or who loved them only for an appealing actor or for the cinematography or the battle scenes or something, but did not fall in love with Middle Earth itself... well, this Hobbit (while having charming actors) doesn't have the rising-star power of the first installment of LotR.  And The Hobbit, like the book it comes from, has a more episodic structure which - plus filling in of the background for the later Lord of the Rings films - makes this film slower paced.

Middle Earth fans will love this.  Casual movie-goers maybe not so much.

Personally?  I loved this movie and can't wait to see the next installments.  Or to see it again.

This great map of Middle Earth is public domain - courtesy of one wiki to rule them all

Favorite parts for me (Spoiler free) were seeing Hobbiton again; meeting Radigast the Brown; the dwarves' dinner party at Bag End; Bilbo's riddle game with Gollum; seeing Rivendell and Galadrial again; the ending...  Revisiting Middle Earth!

A highly detailed review HERE.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

New Toy!

My recent birthday/early-Christmas/Easter/4th-of-July present is a brand new computer drawing tablet!

Eventually, you, Faithful Reader, will get to see examples of my computer-drawing prowess...

Maybe on July 4th?

Until then, I'm practicing!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Color Schemes

In yesterday's first meeting between the director and the set designer (me) for The God of Carnage, one of the things we discussed was color of the scenery.

(This was after thrashing through the basic approach to the text and determining the best floor plan, including actor entrances, placement of major furniture, and even locating the tulip vase that has to take a dive.)

For thematic reasons and because there are multiple references to Africa in the text - one character is writing a book on the topic - some visual reference seems appropriate... and the director (also a costume designer) just happened to have a piece of fabric with a Kente cloth pattern...

Public domain image of Kente cloth courtesy of Wikipedia

Thus giving me the most important colors for the set!  

(This photo is an approximation - the actual cloth has some green and blue in it too.)  This fabric will be the brightest, boldest, most important source of color on the set; other materials will pick up a few of these colors in more muted shades or, like the floor, will be more neutral wood tones that sympathize with it.

For more on African Kente cloth, read HERE for a brief overview or HERE for a longer discussion that includes color symbolism.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"It's Like Sand-Painting Isn't It?"

That's what an actor remarked to me as we watched a bunch of volunteers sweeping up the last of the sawdust.

The strike for The Beauty Queen of Leenane was almost over.  We were waiting on the sweepers before repainting the bare stage floor black.  Watching those push-brooms make the last pass I reflected: theater IS like sand-painting.

You put all this work, all this care into a production... and then it's over.  It's swept away.  It's gone.

It took me a couple years to reconcile myself to this fact.  But I'm mostly okay with transience now.  I do think it may be a little braver than usual that theater people can be so open about and at peace with the idea that you throw your work out there and then it disappears like a soap bubble.  Because the human urge to create a monument is strong.  But, in the long run, nothing much really lasts does it?   Even the pyramids aren't what they once were.  Even they,  from a planetary viewpoint, are temporary phenomenon.  From a galactic view, so is the Earth.

Everything is a soap bubble.

Soap bubble - public domain image

Today?  My first meeting on a new show, The God of Carnage for Circle Theatre.

Where's my bubble wand?

Early posts on the Beauty Queen strike HERE or on this idea of transience HERE.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Film Fest - Anna Karenina

I saw the new version of Anna Karenina - screenplay written by noted playwright Tom Stoppard.  Perhaps this helps explain the decision to set this retelling on a stage...

An interesting way to handle the story.  It facilitates fast and stylish scene changes and gorgeous visuals, but I'm not sure that, ultimately, it adds to the storytelling.  Stylish though!  It reminded me of Moulin Rouge - where, I think, the theatricality was a much better fit.

That said, the acting and production values were very fine - costume design especially.  But did Anna really, really need to change clothes so often?  Gorgeous outfits.

I enjoyed the film, but wasn't completely convinced.  Partly, of course, this is because I never could quite finish the book: I always got to the famous race scene, read as Anna disgraces herself; threw the book against the wall; ranted, "Idiot!  Idiot!" for a few minutes; then, panting, picked up the book to skip ahead to make very sure (SPOILER!) that dopey Anna gets hit by the train; then quit reading in disgust.  I tried the novel several times, but I do hate wasting 300 pages on idiots.  Anna's heart-throb, Count Vronsky, is another idiot and a weakling too, not worth throwing her life away over.


I'm happy to report that this film version is much easier to finish.  (I liked the visual ending).  Anna, however, remains an idiot and Vronsky still not worth her time.  Both good performances, plus Jude Law's as Anna's saintly husband.  (I feel for the husband - he gets a rough deal.)

So - classic story interestingly translated to the screen, where you don't have to endure idiocy so long.

As Dorothy Parker once said, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force."

First edition of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, from Word Virus

Re: this illustration of the first edition of Anna Karenina, see the blog Word Virus HERE for more photos of first editions of classic novels.  Fascinating!  There's a photo of The Hobbit which makes a nice teaser for the I-can't-wait!-for-it film.

Okay - to be fair - You may love the book.  It's a classic for a reason.  Me?  Not so much.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Back to Black

Today was Strike for The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

What took about four weeks to build... took about four hours to take down.

As a last step, we painted the floor black again.

On the topic of floors, it's nice to report that the builder's idea of putting down tar paper to protect the stage floor from our super-sticky tiles worked beautifully!  And the extra scraps of tar paper put down under our rain effect areas clearly protected the stage floor itself from water damage.  (Earlier post on that HERE.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Gifts

Okay, okay, okay...  I, myself, have barely started my holiday shopping, but for those of you who are more organized than I am, here are a few hints for those theater, architecture, or artsy people on your lists:

Gifts for Architects
Best Gift Books for Architects
Architecture and Building Toys
Gifts for Theater Folk
Virtual Theater Bookshop
Theater and Stage Posters
Theater for Children
Children's Stages and Theaters
Romantic Gifts for Designers

The best part?  Shop on-line!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Woohoo! Arts Funding

Terrific news! Kitchen Dog Theater has been awarded a sizable NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) grant to support its new play festival this coming spring.

One of only four theater grants in Texas.

This is a huge boost.  Thank you NEA!  We'll put your funding money to good use.

Now for something completely different...

My printer,, is having a buy-it-in-time-for-Christmas sale on my how-to theater design book Alice Through the Proscenium.  You can find out more about Alice  HERE at Squidoo or see the page HERE.  Don't forget the secret-santa-saving code word!

And, if you like, you can think of this purchase too as Funding for the Arts... because I'm in the throes of starting a sequel to Alice Through the Proscenium, which is about scenery design, with a new volume about scenery building.  

I've gotten such a great response to my Squidoo page "Theater Set Questions Answered" that it's become obvious to me that there is a throng of desperate readers just waiting for such a book to be written.  Take heart! Gentle Readers, it will (eventualllllly) come.  Meanwhile, there's a lot on set construction and painting in Alice... available in soft covers at or as an epub book for NOOK etc. at Barnes and Noble HERE

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Plaza d'Italia

One New Orleans landmark that most people don't know is architect Charles Moore's post-modern masterpiece the Plaza d'Italia...  Situated in the arts/warehouse district, a block or two out of sight, is Louisiana's answer to the Trevi Fountain.

Plaza d'Italia - photo gifted to the public domain

In plan this fountain plaza is more or less a 3D marble and cobblestone map of Italy, set in concentric circles of paving and embraced by arcs of colonnades, with water spurting out here and there unexpectedly.  (There's an intermittent geyser at Mt. Vesuvius!)  

This park displays all my favorite aspects of the short-lived Post-Modern movement: humor, playfulness, color, and erudition.  Charles Moore and Robert Venturi may have been the only designers able to pull this tricky style off.  I love this place!

Plaza d'Italia colonnades - photo gifted to the public domain

Plaza d'Italia had been in terrible condition - nicknamed "the first post-modern ruin" - but I was glad to see that its renovation of a few years back is still holding (mostly) good.  Charles Moore himself is gone, but his face remains at this space he created... as a fountain which, I'm told, was a surprise from his students.

Charles Moore's face, Plaza d'Italia, New Orleans - photo gifted to the public domain

Monday, December 3, 2012

Last Chance! The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Okay all you procrastinators...  The Beauty Queen of Leenane ends its acclaimed run Saturday.

So get yer tickets!  HERE.

Photo by Matt Mrozeck courtesy of  Kitchen Dog Theater

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Back in Town

After a visit to New Orleans.

I'll bring you more info - and photos - next time, but for now suffice to say a very nice trip, filled with historic architecture and Creole and Cajun seafood!