I was excited to hear designer Anna Louizos speak. I've admired several of her sets - the traveling version of Avenue Q and her enormous dollhouse for the Dallas Theater Center's production of Arsenic and Old Lace.
Her topic was the importance of the ground plan in developing a scenic design... particularly in making logistical decisions about scene changes and scenery storage etc. How scenery arrives onstage is, she explained, very important. You can "use scenery to tell the story." Especially in scene changes. The ground plan creates the flow of movement onstage - for scenery and actors.
Talking about the role of scenery on stage, she listed things it does: helps tell the story; makes the actors "safe" on stage (physically, of course, but also in their performances); locates the setting, naturally; and turns that setting into a character in its own right. (Both her shows I'd seen did that extremely well.) But... the set can be a negative, particularly if scene changes are not handled deftly and it ruins the show's pace.
(Very true, very true. I found myself nodding a lot.)
Ms. Louizos talked about Avenue Q - her Broadway break-out design. Her first version had assumed that this would track, revolve, open... all sorts of fun. But a tight budget made her rethink. The resulting set became stronger as a design due to budget constraints - a seemingly simple row of city buildings that opened in simpler ways to tell the story. Charming. Designs, she reminded us, are "often better after a budget."
(I nodded again: budgets require the designer to simplify, and simpler is almost always better.)
We watched some amazing videos of the workings of her mechanized set for High Fidelity. Looked like a beautiful show. It was easy to see that Louizos really enjoyed figuring out the complex choreography of the mechanisms and scene changes. (This enjoy-the-complexity is something I need to learn.) But, later in her talk, she admitted that on another show she was actually advocating cutting scenery, especially moving stuff, because this was one of those scripts too common at present, where the playwright thinks they're writing a movie. Waaaay too many settings and fast, fast scenes and cuts.
The next day, master scenic designer Douglas Schmidt would echo this feeling: his new show at San Francisco's A.C.T. has, I think he told us, 57 scenes and 32 different locations. (In, what, a bit under two hours? That's a scene change every two minutes! Insanity!)
Louizos's session ended with a lively Q & A. We spent quite a while discussing copyright issues... but that's a topic too long for today.
(Sorry, no images for this post as I can't find any that aren't obviously copyrighted. Darn ol' copyright! But you can see lotso pics on Ms. Louizos's site HERE.)