Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Scenic Master Class Speakers: David Gallo and Ben Heller

Tony-winning scenic designer David Gallo (Drowsy Chaperone) and production manager Ben Heller of Aurora Productions spoke about the collaboration between their two roles; how this works on Broadway and off, and for union and non-union productions.  Their recent show together, Stickfly, was used as an example... which gave us, the audience, great photos and stories of how-things-really-get-done.

This was particularly interesting to me, because the conditions are so different from what I'm used to in my own design practice.  For instance, David Gallo was pleased to get the chance to lay a Pergo floor and to create a faux sand dune for this show actually in the theater (rare to do on Broadway) with just a handy carpenter, some canvas tarp, sand, and faux weeds to plant.  The carpenter, he said, had a good eye for things like "weeding".  I, on the other hand, would have had exactly the same thrill - it IS fun - but would have gotten to (AKA would have had to) plant those weeds myself... plus probably the added thrill of lugging the sand.

(Earlier post on "Weeding" HERE.)

There was a fascinating discussion of the show Mountaintop, about Martin Luther King's last night, for which Gallo recreated the hotel room where King stayed.  Talk about research (more fun!) and of mechanizing the "trick" this set performs late in the show.  I don't want to Spoil this, so let's just say it takes a Big Honkin' Motor to create this effect.  A famous piece of stage machinery, actually, used for a big scenic effect in Sunset Boulevard and therefore called "the mansion lift."  Such machinery, I learned, is not bought as the scenery is, but is only rented to a production and goes back to that shop after the show closes.  (In my experience, such things usually get borrowed: I once borrowed a small scissor lift to raise Desdemona's deathbed.)  The full effect with all the built scenery was teched at the scene shop before it was loaded into the venue.  A wild video!  Like roller-coaster building.

The two speakers carefully explained the who's-who and what's-what of Broadway: the unions and free-lancers, the work-forces of the venue and the production, the house crew and running crew etc.  More complex than in even big regional houses and with different players and responsibilities.  For instance, the TD or Technical Director - the set designer's bestest buddy ever (or they need to be!) - the vital TD who is in every other kind of theater... doesn't exist on Broadway.  The production manager takes over some of that role, while doing many other things.

All the roles seem different on Broadway.

This is just a quick look at the many topics covered.  I enjoyed the nuts-and-bolt quality of this talk and the insight into decision making for both design and construction issues.

That evening, David Gallo kindly invited us all to a cocktail party at his studio.

Sketch plan of David Gallo's Scenic Design Studio

This was just a block off Broadway.  A very pleasant, high, almost cubic room with a couple tall windows and a cool custom-designed glass and steel table.  For NYC it was pretty spacious - certainly a well laid-out studio, though it must get crowded when several assistants start model building.  (A messy, space-filling business, model making.)

Talking with one of Gallo's assistants, I got the impression that some out of town seminar folks find it small, but since his studio was at least four times bigger than my studio, I liked it.  I didn't envy it - I like my wall of glass and bit of greenhouse roof too well - but I will admit to a little envy of those framed posters of Broadway shows he's designed, hung up high near the chandelier... with room for more.  Sigh.  Glad to see the same max-storage attitude in it however: shelves, files, flat files for drawings, Tupperwares TM for misc. crud, though all the usual studio clutter was beautifully tamed in honor of the party.

He had a real old-fashioned oak drafting table! with a computer on it - which says everything about the current state of the art in theater set design, doesn't it?

No comments:

Post a Comment