Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Also Finally... A Book Sale

Well, Faithful Readers, it's been a while since my publisher had a sale, but here it is!

Your chance to get my how-to book, Alice Through the Proscenium: more scenic set design, at a discount.  Woohoo! huh?

You can learn more about Alice at its (her?) website HERE or on Lulu's page for her HERE.  Or, if you need the e-version, she's available for NOOK  HERE.  (Though I recommend the dead-tree version, where the glossary works better.)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Film Fest - Finally - Oblivion and The Hobbit

There's been a dearth of film crit here lately... mostly because there have been few movies I wanted to see.  But here are the recent viewings:

Oblivion - An absolutely gorgeous film!  The visuals - production design, costumes, photography - are reason enough to see it.

The story?  Well, without Spoiling, there is one enormous logic hole: why do these invading aliens... No.  That would spoil it.  Rephrase: why is Tom Cruise alive?  An explanation is given in the film, but after a minute's consideration the viewer has to conclude, "Bunk."  Nonsense.  Okay, second hole.  Why (assuming Tom Cruise lives), why does his maintenance-man character get such deluxe digs? That gorgeous pool?

Every maintenance man lives like this.  Oblivion.

But the real flaw to the film, for me, the real Invasion, is not by scripted evil aliens, but by Hollywood Star Power.  Used for evil.

The Tom-Cruise-is-a-Star thing invades every aspect of what could have been an effective sci-fi film.  Cruise (barely his character) is built up in every possible way: he gets not one but two adoring and beautiful women who hang from his arm and his every word, lips trembling, tears glistening; before the end you see Cruise getting the obligatory adoring child too.  Of course he earns the respect of the doubting Rambo-style second-in-command cliche' and even of Morgan Freeman (who once played God, remember?).  Freeman's rebel leader calls Cruise "our best," our referring to the entire Earth, naturally.  The plan to save Earth that Freeman's character begins can, of course, only be completed by Our Hero Cruise through heroic self-sacrifice.  He's the Star.  Also, he's Such A Darn Hero that he actually performs a coupla miracles along the way: one, a small miracle of handymanhood with a stick of gum ('cause he's our all-American Joe at heart), the other in showing up for end credits.

And did I mention the women?  The attraction of Cruise's aw-shucks heroic sheer manliness is such that, in the most tasteful way, both women throw themselves at him.  The pool comes in handy.  Plus there is an I-kid-you-not actual crotch-shot of Cruise with a sleeping woman in the background.  I haven't seen such a HINT OF SEX since Captain Kirk put his boots back on.  So shameless and corny I had to choke on my popcorn in the theater.

But I'll watch Oblivion again on DVD for the gorgeous world created.  Plus, at home I can point and laugh.

Phew!  After that the story-telling and ensemble of The Hobbit make a refreshing change.  Loved watching this in the theater, loved  rewatching it on DVD.  I'll buy the expanded version that's due out in the fall.  But even if you're not a rabid Lord of the Rings fan, as I am, the film is old-fashioned in the right way - it builds a beautiful fictional world in which to tell a good story in an entertaining way.  Unencumbered by Star Power.

My earlier post on The Hobbit HERE.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


I'm going to a seminar on set design in New York City this year.

Broadway designers talking about their work...  Should be very very interesting.  (Plus I get to see NYC again, always a plus.)  I'll be seeing the show Matilda for sure - not sure yet what else.

Public domain image from Wikimedia

Saturday, April 27, 2013


It's always interesting for a designer to see what the actors are up to.

Last night was an early run-through (hence "stumble-through") for Se Llama Christina.  The actors were almost off-book, the first blocking had been established on the taped-out floor plan of my set, and rehearsal furniture had been pulled.  (Including a sofa I think we'll use for real.)  With a little imagination - much less needed than when reading the script! - I could begin to see what the final production will be like.  I'm excited about it!

Such run-throughs are helpful for the lighting designer too, who can begin to see where what will happen and for the costume designer, who can assess how physical the actors will be in their costumes.  For the set designer, it's a matter of making sure nothing is required of the set that you hadn't anticipated and making sure the set isn't somehow getting in the way of the performance.

The production meeting afterward is time to confirm agreement on, for instance, using that rehearsal sofa in the final production and agreeing that the "found" crib, though different from the first design thought, is okay.  Adding window mullions instead of using glass.  Adding a certain cool effect (through carpenterly means) upstage.  Thinking through the requirements of lighting and projections as they affect the set.

The normal tug and adjustments of developing a show.

Public domain image from Karen'sWhimsy

Meanwhile... gotta finish construction drawings for Miracle on South Division Street!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Reading Playscripts

Lately I've been helping read new play submissions.

For those who plan on submitting your work to any theater company for any competition, here are a few suggestions - just personally, from me to you, as a help - but let's call 'em "Rules" because that sounds so much more important:

1)  Follow competition rules: the deadline is the deadline.  And if the theater says they recycle rather than return submissions, don't include a SASE.  (Stamped And Self-addressed Envelope.)
2)  Don't print in funny-color ink.  Just black.  No hard-to-read-fonts.  Go for neat and legible.
3)  Even if it sounds cool, don't publish your playscript in magazine or book form or as a music video.  Or illustrate it.  A plain ol' paper script is best (or a PDF if that's requested or whatever).

Public domain images messed with.

4)  Weirdness might hurt you.  Not that you can't submit a good, weird play - please do!  But naming characters all numbers makes a hard read.  Dressing a character as a toaster had better, you know, work.  Your MS is being pulled from a pile of weird-and-terrible competition - you see the danger?
5)  Don't bore.
6)  Or disgust.  This play could be performed by real people for real people.  Impossible-to-perform or impossible-to-watch scenes of sex, violence, or nastiness makes your script impossible.  Like treating puppies or little children badly.  (Real kid, remember?)  Not that you can't be edgy...  But edgy theatre is different from icky theatre.
7)  The merely physically impossible might be... possible.  But easy to stage is a plus.
8)  My personal corollary to Rule # 6: don't try to shock the reader.  By the time they get to your MS, the reader has read pretty much everything you can think of (and then some!) and is no longer shockable.
9)  It's nice if you write a play.  You know, maybe a plot, dialogue, action, a beginning, a middle, an end... and a point.  Characters.  (Nice if these differ from each other and are, perhaps, something like real people.)  Extra points if it's more like a stage play than a movie.
10)  Write a good play.

All rules can be bent to accomplish Rule # 10.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Play Writing

Yesterday  I took part in a play-writing workshop led by Vicki Cheatwood at the MAC.  (The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, for those of you who haven't yet visited its art galleries or theatrical performances.  Whatcha waiting for?)

This was my first writing workshop.

I've been part of writers' groups before, including the Dallas Screenwriters' Association - a great group, truly helpful and welcoming, with good speakers and resources.  (Alas, I decided I'd never develop a thick enough skin for the movie biz.)  But yesterday was my first time actually writing in the same room with other writers.  Fun.  Educational.  Oddly comforting to see others trying to do similar things.  Vicki's voice-of-experience was useful.  She had good advice especially on the utility of using writing prompts which, till now, I'd always ignored just like the questions at the back of the chapter - you know the ones.

Vicki gave us a series of suggestions to kick-start short writing exercises.  My favorite was probably the one where each of us wrote a sentence about ourselves; from these sentences, we each chose someone else's to spark a monologue.  (I'll stick my result on at the end of this post in case you're curious.)

Writing from any (fairly random) suggestion gets the creative brain in gear.  By the time I left I was bubbling with ideas!  As soon as I got home I had to sit at my desk.

Mind you, what I actually created there was drawing and architecture, rather than progress on The Big Writing Project...

Believed public domain image.  If it's yours, please let me know!

But that's a personal problem.

There are more play-writing sessions coming up - join in!  Info HERE.  My best-of-session writing?  (Please keep in mind, this was written quickly and I'm not tidying it up.) (Much.)


143, 144... Boring, boring. Boring. Copying. What's the copier say? 147, 148... Of 300. And that's just the fourth page. Of 25. Oh what a...

No. Not boring. Glorious. Outside this soulless white(ish) copy room it is a glorious spring morning. Wouldn't you think there could be a window in here? But no... 

Yet it is a wonderful morning.

(Begins to sing.)"Oh!What a wonderful morning!
Oh! What a wonderful day!
I've got a wonderful feeeeeling...  
(Begins to dance.) Everything's going my..."

Shit. Hi, Steve. Sure. You can run your copies. 

297, 298, 299, 300.

I talk to myself and sing and dance in the copy room... and I'm usually interrupted.*

*Thanks to the anonymous fellow workshop attendee who wrote this sentence.  I had fun with it.  If I knew who you were, I'd gratefully credit you.  Thanks also to the organizers of this workshop and its leader!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Kinda ironic that my last post was on clearing your design thoughts...  (Last post HERE.)

Because for me that spring-cleaning "fresh idea" thing worked almost too well.

Ever since that refreshing little break I've been completely buried deep into a new design for a project I really just don't have time for right now.  It wasn't on the schedule.  Nevertheless...  I've been drawing like a fiend!   Obsessed.

Now I've exhausted that spurt of creative thought and need to rest again.

Back up on the roof?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Up on the Roof

Spring Cleaning: lets fresh air in... in every way.

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day.  A day to open up the house to the breeze.

A day to clean up the garden.  Mostly pruning.  Clipping low stuff, weeds and escaping vines, pruning middle-height shrubs, and even hacking at the high stuff: out came the tree saw on its long wobbly pole and, inevitably, the ladder.  Soon I was up on the roof for overhanging tree branches, but also vigorously scrubbing at the greenhouse roof over part of my studio with the hose and a broom.  Water everywhere.

I'd forgotten how wonderful it feels to be up on the roof!

Looking down on new-leafy trees; the scent of lime blossoms carried by the spring breeze up over the roof ridge; the bird's perch view!  Seeing the neighborhood - more like toy houses from here - laid out in a secret-map of interlocking yards.  An eagle's view.

Wonderfully refreshing - blows away mental cobwebs.

Need a break in your routine?  Feel stale and need to freshen your designing?  Try up on the roof.

Public domain image from publicdomainpicture.net

James Taylor singing "Up on the Roof  HERE.

It's nice to have a cleaner skylight again.  I get a better view of the sky now  (and also of the under-carriages of birds and squirrels).

(ADDENDUM:  A follow-up post HERE.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Attention Aspiring Playwrights!

Here's a press release with your names on it:

Kitchen Dog Theater, ScriptWorks and TeCo Theatrical Productions,in association with The Dramatists Guild of America, are excited to present the DFW Playwrights' Forum,  a series of quarterly free playwriting workshopsfor the DFW community. This exciting new opportunity will provide aspiring local playwrights a chance to work with local and national luminaries Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, Eugene Lee and Will Power in an informal, intimate setting.  

"The purpose of the forum is primarily to foster a sense of community among DFW playwrights, emerging or otherwise, and to raise awareness about the work of the Dramatists Guild of America", says Teresa Coleman-Wash, Executive Director of TeCo Theatrical Productions and DFW Regional Rep for The Dramatists Guild of North Texas.

"Kitchen Dog Theater, as a founding member of The National New Play Network and long time champion of new work in North Texas, is always looking for more ways to actively engage our local writers", says Co-Artistic Director Tina Parker. "This exciting new partnership provides an accessible avenue for that and we hope will further develop the already high caliber of works/writers generated from DFW".

Workshop with Vicki Caroline Cheatwood  - Sunday, April 21 at 11am at Kitchen Dog Theater at The MAC, located at 3120 McKinney Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75204. 

Workshop with Eugene Lee - Saturday, August 24 at 12pm at Jubilee Theatre, located at 506 Main Street, Ft. Worth, Texas 76102

Workshop with Will Power - Wednesday, October 16 at 6pm at Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, located at 6101 Bishop Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75275

All workshops are FREE and open to the public but advance reservations are required as spaces are limited. To reserve a spot, send an email totwash@dramatistsguild.com .

Friday, April 12, 2013

REALLY Starting Construction Drawings

Making myself sit down to draw the build drawings is... tough.

All my most creative procrastination happens when my board is waiting for me to dimension things.  Of course, the world conspires to help with that too: it's always tax time or guests coming or laundry to wash or grout to scrub with an old toothbrush or the spring garden to work in, out in that pretty sunshine...

Chores never look so fascinating or so vitally-important-duty-must-do-at-once! as when there's a heap o' dull drawing to be done.

Public domain image - SPRING!

Mind you, construction drawings are not completely dull - there's still plenty to figure out - but after the fun of schematic design, drafting has less charm.  Though I know from experience that once I do sit down to it, I'll get interested.

But it's getting myself to sit down to it.

I really ought to check on the garden...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Starting Construction Drawings

So far on my next show, Se Llama Christina, I've talked with the director about the general design; talked with the TD (Technical Director) about how to build the slightly tricky "floating" effect we want; designed the thing;  and sketched a "pretty" (ish anyway) plan and elevation which I presented at the first production meeting.  There we made some revisions to the idea in order to accommodate some coolo lighting effects.

Now it's time to do the construction drawings.

I have a meeting tomorrow with my intern where we'll discuss just what these CDs need to be.  Here's my thinking so far:

1)  A plan - always gotta have a plan.  It's the one drawing that tells the builder where things layout in the theater space.  This will probably be at 1/4" per 1'-0" scale because it's a simple unit-set design and that scale fits on easy-to-copy sized paper, 11"x17."

2)  But do I need an undercarriage plan?  (AKA a foundation drawing.)  This set has a "floating" overhang or cantilever.  My builder's very clever so could certainly figure out the leg placements herself - but would it be nice of me to help with that?

3)  Overall elevation.  Many designers don't bother with this, jumping straight to drawings of flats, but I like my builders to understand what the finished project ought to look like.  It helps them catch mistakes (theirs and mine).  Besides... I've already drawn it.

4)  Individual wall elevations.  Must-haves since these will show all the details and dimensions needed to build 'em.  I'll draw these larger too, at least 1/2"=1'-0," probably 3/4"=1'-0" for greater clarity.  Having drawn these, I rarely bother to draw individual flats - any division into flats and the flats' construction is usually so obvious to experienced set builders that drawing 'em is a waste of time.  If this, however, were a more complex set or one with set changes (instead of a unit set) or if it were going to break down to tour, then I'd need to do those flat drawings.

5)  Details...  But what's needed?  I know I'll need to figure out the cradle-hanging-in-space detail.  That may end up clearest as a 3D drawing, an axonometric, at a largish scale.  Anything else?

A medieval tomb drawn as an axonometric projection, for Incorruptible

In case you haven't run across the term axonometric - it looks a bit like a perspective drawing (and is as useful as a perspective in explaining to directors) but it's much faster to draw because it's simply the ordinary plan twisted to 30/60 degrees then with the vertical lines drawn vertical.  Total cheat.  But so fast!  And very good at explaining 3D relationships.  Plus you can still dimension it as you would any other plan - as in this example.

6)  Renderings.  If this were going to be bid out to scenic houses or were going to be painted by official not-me scenic painters, then I'd need to create painted go-by renderings of the floor and walls.  Maybe even a painted model.  But since I know I'm going to be painting this sucker myself...  that colored design sketch I already made is plenty.

7)  Model?  The design is so simple that I don't need a model to visualize it.  I don't think the builder does either.  But if I find an extra half a day (after taxes!), I'll make a fast model for the director and actors.  Not, again, because they can't imagine the scenery but as a fun enrichment to the process.  I hope I'll get time.

How long will these construction drawings take?

That largely depends on how many interruptions there are, but I ought to be able to finish them in a couple days.  I'm aiming to have them finished by the end of the week and - if possible - that model for Monday's first read through.

(In case you're curious, here's the rest of the set for the show that had that medieval tomb in it.)

Incorruptible at Circle Theatre - more at http://www.devriesdesign.net/past.html under "incorruptible"

ADDENDUM:  A section!  Of course!  I need a section cut through this set, drawn to explain the levels and set back legs etc. of this raised platform.  Thank goodness interns think of these things.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Okay, okay, I've been slow about posting lately - blame the IRS.  The tax deadline is breathing down my neck.  Day after day - or so it feels - I sit at my board sorting receipts from the whole past year.  (To sketch for yesterday's production meeting, I had to total yet more receipts just to free my drawing board.)  I find taxes stressful.

Any one else?  Raise your hand.

Anyway.  More posts will be forthcoming eventually.

Meanwhile, I can heartily recommend other reading: the historical mysteries of Barbara Hambly set in the New Orleans of 1833 and later, with hero Benjamin January.  Start with Free Man of Color.  Good reads!  I happened across these because I'm researching a slightly younger New Orleans (1790-1820).

I haven't written too much here about my trip there last fall (afraid to dissipate my head of steam), but I can say that it's fun to take a vacation with a research goal.  It adds more interest to sightseeing when you're always mentally editing your surroundings: was this here then?  Would historic character X or Y have stood here like this?  Would character Z have smelled this?  Tasted that?  Been cold and muddy or sun-baked?  Surroundings become populated with ghosts you bring along with you - DIY haunting!  Of course, New Orleans is an especially easy place to do this because history just oozes out of the brick, but if you do your homework most places have more history than you'd think.  For instance, there's a mundane-looking hardware store just blocks away where I'd never work - never shop - because I remember the ex-employee of the ex-sporting goods store who slit the throats of several ex-coworkers for the sake of the weekend till and boxes of expensive sneakers.  Digging through old newspapers would turn up those facts... if you looked.  (The place has gotta be haunted.  Not that I'm superstitious - ha!)

Lately I've been dabbling in history.  The Journal of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, one of America's earliest and most distinguished architects is a fascinating read.  He visited New Orleans in about 1818 - died there too.  As did his son, also an architect, and yet another Greek Revival architect, Barthelemy Lafon.  All of yellow fever.  We forget how lucky we are to live in a time and place when epidemics are not the scourges they were.

This period of the War of 1812 - which we hardly remember - turns out to be an important turning point in the U.S. and Europe, laying foundations for later events: the industrial revolution, both the plantation system and slavery's abolition, the Trail of Tears and western expansion...  History is more interesting than I'd guessed.  But then fifth grade Texas History left out all: pirates; cannibals; slave smuggling; slave-smuggling, knife-wielding not-so-heroic heroes of the Alamo; and beautiful quadroon slaves offered up to Mexican generals as a military strategy.

The battle of the Alamo - public domain image

All the interesting stuff!

HERE's a link to what I did write about New Orleans - a bit about Plaza d'Italia, that post-modern fountain.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Just Floatin' Along

In a few minutes I'm off for a breakfast meeting.  These are rare among theater folk, who usually sleep till noon!  (Or want to anyway.)  I'll be talking with the TD or Technical Director (AKA Builder) for my next show at Kitchen Dog, Se Llama Christina.

The set for this play will be a simple apartment living room - a series of simple apartment living rooms - except for one tricky little thing...

The director and I want it to "float."


That's the question.

For help I intend to tap into the awesome power of the Scenic Carpenter Brain!  That formidable problem-solving instrument.  That often-tapped resource of an experienced set builder's know-how, that whole reservoir of scenic legerdemain and cunning artifice!

Good set builders are wizards.  Superheros.

The Wizard Zoro - public domain super heros

And on the subject of superness and Kitchen Dog... 

I watched Kitchen Dog's production of RX  last night.  This is, as usual, Not a Review, just a few thoughts from a set designer in the audience:  

Funny!  A good script, I thought.  With humor, satire of the working world and the Big Pharmaceutical Complex, and some wonderfully human moments.  Mind you I'm partial being a "Dog" myself, but I thought the acting terrific.  

The set?  Very effective.  I liked the look (sorta Modern or De Stijl clinic... or Montessori school), liked the quicky-set-change pull/slide/flip aspect.  (Though, between you and me, I think the playwright could have simplified things a little.)  And I loved the use of plastic panels and lighting.  I especially liked the lighting in the transition to department store scene (fun set piece for that) and the well-observed clinic light.

Had a great time - recommend this show!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Flash Sale on Kitchen Dog's RX

Just got notice that there are half price tickets available for RX tomorrow night (Thursday) or Friday.

Want one?  Gimme an email!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Today is a Toothache Day - I'm nursing a temporary filling, enjoying the rubber lips and that lingering taste of clove oil and tooth dust that come home with you from the dentist.

Isn't it amazing how hard it is to concentrate on art or ideas while keeping company with a toothache!

All the more respect for all those many artists through history who kept on writing or painting or creating though in jail or in pain or hungry or otherwise distracted.  Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress is the book that comes to my mind first...