Friday, December 19, 2014

Women in Tech

Being a female theater designer (scenic is categorized as "technical theater" which always makes me laugh) or even being a woman architect is not really what I'd call women-in-tech, but I still feel for my sisters in the STEM areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Sometimes it can get a little lonely or weird - or scary - when you're the only female in the room.

I've never had it bad.  At school in my time, the ratio of male to female was something like 15:1 - nowadays architecture school students are slightly more likely to be female than male!  But, as I said, I never had it bad: professors did remember me, at least, and the few overt sexists were clearly jerks and therefor ignore-able, while the subtler stuff - whatever that was - flew over my head.  (I can be pretty oblivious when I'm concentrating.  And stubborn.)  Now, the theater world is a more mixed and accepting group, baring a few ol' boy carpenters.

In my career my baby-face created more problems than my gender did in being taken seriously...

A little gray hair solved that!

Women in science and computers today, however, seem to be battling real and nasty misogyny.

So it was fun to see the good side of Girly Science today with pics of Professor May-Britt Moser accepting her Nobel prize in an evening gown embroidered with the brain neurons she and her colleagues Edvard Moser and John O'Keefe discovered.

Gown designer Matthew Hubble decided that scientists deserve as much celebratory fuss (and fashion) as movie stars do.  Great idea!

And I love how beautiful the patterns inspired by the science are.  Design inspiration can, really, come from anywhere.

Nobel prize winning scientist May-Britt Moser in her Matthew Hubble designed "Neuron" dress.

ADDENDUM:  Sorry, forgot to add a link to where I found this - The MarySue, that nexus of women, science, and pop culture HERE.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And so on...

Long time, no post.

It's the Holidays!

But today's little designer treat is an elegant on-line inspirograph - very cool!  Find it HERE.

What else have I been up to?  Well, The Explorers Club opened to good reviews (including set mentions), so that went well.  (If you don't see this funny show at Stage West in Fort Worth, please see it at WaterTower Theatre when it moves to Addison.)  I've just emailed off the construction drawings for Godspell, to be built and played in the San Francisco area.  I'm sketching away at ideas for Asher, the dramatization of a long-time favorite book My Name Is Asher Lev.  For anyone interested in art and the artist's life the book's examination of the conflict between artistic truth and personal and family feeling, between tradition and growth, is fascinating.  Chaim Potok is a good writer, but this is my favorite of his novels.

Speaking of books - I'm reading William Shakespeare's Star Wars Trilogy.   A hoot!  Very funny.  But even when the novelty of the iambic pentameter wears off, the author (really a guy named Ian Doescher channeling The Bard... if The Bard sat through a LOT of Star Wars rewatchings) gives characters clever soliloquies - like the priceless musings of the rancor's keeper.  Even sideline characters have comments on Imperial architecture.  And, you know, it's just flat a good story.

I'd love to see this actually staged.

Perfect for Shakespeare and/or Star Wars fans!

William Shakespeare's Star Wars Trilogy
Illustrations by Nicolas Delort, 
Author Ian Doescher.
Quirk Books & Lucasfilm Ltd.

Monday, November 24, 2014

More Quotage

I just happened across a musing on the necessary materials for creativity that exactly mirrors what I've observed myself:

"The first law of creativity: The act of imagination depends directly on the richness and variety of a person's previous experience because this experience provides the material from which the products of creativity are constructed.  The richer a person's experience, the richer is the material his imagination has access to."

This is from the writings of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, discussed in a post HERE at Keith Sawyer's blog Creativity & Innovation.

Mind you, a huge heap of building materials is not, in itself, enough to imagine building a creative house... The desire to build, the energy and time to build, and curiosity and wonder are even more important.  Only look at the vast numbers of richly experienced people who have never used that experience creatively.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Design Quotes

I like quotes.

Little nuggets of thoughts to turn over and examine.

These often lead to long monologues as you decide what you yourself think about the topic or to further reading, to research, and to then figuring out what you yourself think on the topic.  (Simply making the quote into a coffee mug or bumper-sticker rather short circuits that process, yes?)

Today's quotes...

From a webcast of the story "Edge of Your Seat" on the radio show 99% Invisible  this quote from architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, "A chair is a difficult object.  A skyscraper is almost easier."

Mies's Barcelona chair - Public domain image from Wikimedia

And from the book, Bambi vs. Godzilla: on the Nature, Practice, and Purpose of the Movie Business a snippet, a definition only, by David Mamet, "...entertainment, which is to say tincture of art..."

Tincture of art = art extracted by alcohol.


Not completely true, of course, but plenty truthy enough for any entertainment-artist's coffee mug.

Monday, November 3, 2014

And Here I Am...

...Taking forever to write the next blog post.

It's been distracting here is what.

My show, The Explorers' Club is being built in Fort Worth (need to go see that soon) and I'm consulting with a theater on possible new digs.  My guest and I went to the Women of WaterTower's fun n' fancy Halloween party (dressed as 2/3 of a coven in flower-bedecked pointy hats).

It's been all Fall stuff going on here: sweater-weather, a visit to the Dallas Arboretum to see the pumpkins, and Halloween itself with it's Jack-o-lantern carving, punkin seed roasting, and actual Trick-or-Treaters!... followed by the inevitable eating-the-rest-of-the-candy ritual.

Is there anything as nice as Candy Corn?

Happy Fall!

BTW A good funny/scary horror/ghost Halloween read is:

Great Halloween - or anytime - read HERE

An entertaining, clever, and horrible-yet-funny novel by Grady Hendrix , published by Quirk Books that will be especially appreciated by anyone who's ever shopped at a certain Scandinavian big-box furniture store.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gappiness in Blogging

Sorry for the long gap here.  It's been busy (as is usual) but also trips, visitors, chores, more chores (i.e. yard work), and general laziness have delayed blogging.

Sadly, it's not been due to wasting time hanging out at the movies... since there's been nothing I wanted to see lately.  (Though Guardians of the Galaxy was a hoot.  The Visitor is going to get dragged to see it soon!)

Have had a few other interesting experiences in the meantime though:

On the book front, I read and liked Netherfield, a novel set during the events of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice but centered on the life of one of their housemaids.  Very good.

On the theater front, during intermission for my Kitchen Dog show, Thinner Than Water, I chatted with an audience member who turned out to be an architect who noticed theater sets.  He liked this set, so I admitted to being its designer (if he hadn't I wouldn't!).  But even nicer than that compliment was his recall of other good sets at the theater... including another one I designed and am proud of, The Goat: or Who's Sylvia?

The Goat: or Who's Sylvia at Kitchen Dog Theater - photo by Matt Mrozek

Now THAT's a compliment.

More fun at Fun House Theatre and Film, where their rock n' roll musical Mortgage was a blast!

I'm presently drawing construction drawings - slowly, with as many interruptions as I can arrange - for a production of The Explorers' Club which will debut at Stage West in Fort Worth, then move to WaterTower Theater in Addison, on this side of the Trinity river.  The set is going to be a Victorian men's club all wood, leather, and taxidermy animal heads.  Thank goodness! we have someone willing to loan us those.

More - and sooner - next time.

After-Thought Addendum:  Among all the audience comments on my sets that I've heard, my favorite has to be: "Gross!"

This was on the set for Urinetown, featuring The Dirtiest Public Toilet in the World... so that was, like, Success!  Also the box office clerk's mother - a bit of a germophobe - had to leave at intermission because she couldn't look at the filthy-looking (but nice clean painted) set a moment longer.

Ah! the giddy power of Set Design!


Friday, September 19, 2014

Set Dressing

Well, the set for Kitchen Dog's Thinner Than Water is about wrapped up (bar last minute things).  Which is good since Opening is tonight!

Here's a photo taken by our hardworking set builder Dean McBride.  (Someone who shows up at 5:00 a.m. to build deserves my official Hardworking! badge for sure.)

That's me sorting through comics to dress the Comic Shop... one of seven locations crammed into the MAC's black box.  Just barely showing to the left of me is the Apartment Stoop; I'm sitting (worn out) on the Comic Shop floor; behind me is the outside door to the Hospital; then the Hospital Waiting Room; to its right the Coffee Shop patio; and in the foreground the Living Room.  (The seventh setting is a reveal.)

At this instant the Hospital sign isn't up yet and neither are the Coffee Shop's chalk board drawings.  Phew!

Thinner Than Water at Kitchen Dog Theater - photo Dean McBride

Now the chalk gets drawn...

Thinner Than Water's coffee shop 

And just for fun, here's a look at the model this is all based on (a very fast model made from cut-up sketches mounted on Foamcore).

Thinner Than Water model 

"Early or Latte" the set gets finished... As one of the last duties, the faithful set builder showed up at 5:00 a.m. again to tidy up the edges of my faux plank and concrete and to paint the rest of the stage floor black.

Opening is tonight!  Thinner Than Water by Melissa Ross at Kitchen Dog Theater.

Come see.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Internet "Fast Lanes"

Also mean "Slow Lanes."

This blog would probably neeeeeveeeer load.

Before the FCC sells the internet to the highest bidders, let your senator and representative know you don't want that.  

What we need is Net Neutrality.  It increases competition, it's fair, it's democratic.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Successful Smearing

Years ago a good set designer friend -  who was an excellent scenic painter with years of NYC experience - explained to me that there were "scenic painters" and there were "smearers."

Just imagine the New Yorkish tone of that "smearer"...  Just as in "a bagel and smear."

Scenic painters (as I'd been discovering for myself) are amazingly talented painters who use their well-trained and experience-honed super-talents in the Cause of Theater, or rather, Theatre.  "Smearers," on the other hand, are poorly trained saps who can, just barely, wipe a little color on a set... maybe usefully.

I, sadly, am a smearer.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, via a deli review

There's no way I'm ever going to get the classical theater scenic painting training or get enough time with a brush to re-invent that wheel by myself and I doubt I have the innate drawing talent required to be a true scenic painter anyway, but I can, when pushed to it, wipe a little color on a set in a useful way.  (This admission still leaves me more skill than one memorable painter / helper who had never held a paintbrush before.  Sad, but true.  She just could NOT keep the brown paint only on Sleepy's plywood headboard and the white paint only on Sleepy's plywood mattress.  Not even painter's tape helped.)

Anyway, yesterday was largely spent doing just that, getting some TLC onto part of the Thinner Than Water set at Kitchen Dog so that a few publicity photos can be taken.

So, okay, not great scenic painting as such, but useful?

I guess my painting must be effective enough: one set I painted, for Kitchen Dog's Detroit, just won a DFW Critics' Forum Award.

Wahoo!  Thanks to director Tim Johnson for the live-grass idea (that I'm sure is what caught the critics' attention) and to all the many, tired, muddy Kitchen Dogs who helped build and landscape that set, with specially big "Thanks!" to Abby and Mike upon whom I always depend.

Detroit was a killer set to build, mostly because of script requirements for breakables.  (Playwrights take note: breakables = hard to do!)  Well, and the required flames.

Detroit, at Kitchen Dog Theater, That's Tina drinking from a straw.  
And that's real grass... which needed painting eventually, but not, luckily, by me.

Nice to have hard work recognized.

Which makes the awards recognizing Tim Johnson's direction and Tina Parker's acting in that same show even cooler!

Congratulations to all the award winners!  With shout-outs to particular friends n' colleagues and shows I was involved in like the whole Kitchen Dog Barbecue Apocalypse team (I didn't design this one) and to B.J. Cleveland and his Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike actors (go team! I did design this one).  Also to Susan Sargeant's almost one-woman-theater-team; to Terry Martin (whose award shelf is crowded by now); Drew Wall; Liz Mikel; and the amazing Jeff Swearingen, whose play Stiff won a best-new-work award and whose young actors continue to rake in awards and good notices.

Stiff I also got to set-design, collapsing gazebo and all.  Design and smear.  (And did I smear!  It was supposed to look "bad."  A real break you'd think for a smearer!  But, honestly, this requirement was both lucky and terrifying because it's tricky to look bad-on-purpose instead of bad-because-incompetent...)

Earlier posts on Vanya and Sonia and Vanya and Spike HERE.  (I'll add more as I find 'em.)  More on the DFW Critics' Awards HERE.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pen Award-Winner!


Se Llama Cristina, a play by Octavio Solis which Kitchen Dog Theater produced last year (and I got to set design) has just won the prestigious Pen Literary Award for Drama!

Se Llama Cristina by Octavio Solis
This photo by Matt Mrozek shows actors Vanessa DeSilvio, Israel Lopez and the shadow of Jeremy Schwartz.  
Also my set... "mine" meaning many, many people's actually.  Christie Vela directed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Film Catch-Up

Still in a cheer-myself-up mode, here are a few movies I've enjoyed watching just lately:

Guardians of the Galaxy - huge fun!  Rocket and Groot are my new favorite film duo.  I like the bantering dialogue and the sense of humor - especially the hero / villain confrontation at the climax.  I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - perhaps a little grandiose at the end, but enjoyable, with a nicely even-handed portrayal of both apes and humans.

Begin Again - feel-good music-centric story with not the romance you expect.  I probably need to own this one.

A Hard Days Night - the classic Beatles flick.  Music, obviously, and a kind of Marx Brothers vibe.  I'd never seen the movie, but I'm glad Netflix delivered it.

Thinking of watching movies at the cinema versus at home...

Am I the only one who hates having to buy movie tickets way ahead and pre-select seats in order to be sure you can even get in?  Here in Dallas at the art-house Magnolia Theater, at the Alamo Drafthouse, and often at Studio Movie Grill it's almost impossible to just spontaneously go to the movies and get a decent seat or get in at all... and not just for the just-released "hot" film either.

Photo courtesy of HERE

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


It's always when you're already busy that unexpected extra work lands on you.

Squidoo has been sold.  This is the on-line community where I've written a number of articles (including my Greatest-Hit "Theater Set Questions Answered," my Dear-Abby-ish answer to worried high school play designers everywhere). 

This means that I will have to reformat, rewrite, or abandon a lot of work.  Whatever I choose, the new owners, HubPages, can choose to drop any or all of it.


A polite sigh was not, mind you, my first reaction to this news. 

If this is having a rug pulled out from under me, it's a rug upon which I set a desk, a chair, bookcases (of course!) stuffed with books, assorted filing cabinets, a drafting board, a sofa, giant ornamental vases full of dried pampas grass, and maybe a stuffed grizzly bear. 

Grumpy as I feel... maybe the bear's not taxidermied just yet.

A collage from public domain sources, including Amedeo Simonetti's 
The Rug Merchant at Wikimedia Commons.  

In more cheerful news, among those books I'll have to virtually move (sigh? snarl?) is a recent read - Good Prose: The Art of Nonfictionby  Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, the author of House and his long-time editor and friend.  This is a book I'll need to return to the library... then buy my own copy of. 

Other books I've enjoyed lately?  I'm working my way through Greek Revival America by Roger G. Kennedy, a writer on architecture and related topics whom I've followed for years... since he first introduced me to my role-model, architect/pirate Barthelemy Lafon, in fact.  I enjoyed Lindsey Davis' Enemies at Home, the second novel in her new ancient-Roman-detective series.  Try her Silver Pigs as a starter.  I liked Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel Raising Steam.

I think I'll go read a nice calming book.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The American Room

Just a fast snippet on the topic of the anthropology of interior design.

HERE's a fascinating little piece on that off-white All-American room you see in all those You Tube vids.

Saddening, really, all those bland, bland suburban rooms.  I suppose I should put one onstage, but it'd be too boring to stare at for two hours.  (The article mentions that problem in passing, actually.)  Here's the closest I've come lately to that vanilla room - for Se Llama Cristina at Kitchen Dog Theater.

Se Llama Cristina, Kitchen Dog Theater, sorry, I'm not sure of the photographer.

Catch Up

There's been lots going on here... just not much blogging.

On the theater front, the set for Fun House Theatre and Film's Stiff is about done.  Due to summertime theatrical kid camps which run onstage all day, followed by, you know, rehearsals, I've been starting my scenic painting at about 9:00 p.m. and painting until midnight.  Last night was, I think, the last of this night-shift.

Theater.  Weird hours.

Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, the carpenters are busy building Stella and Lou.  Since this play is set in a bar, we've been researching cool equipment like beer taps...  Pricier than you'd think!  I went shopping today for burnt orange burlap (okay, an unfashionable bar), and found something pretty close.  Also faux leather for the faux booth upholstery.

I'm also starting the design process for two other shows: Thinner Than Water at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas and Godspell for OMG Productions in the San Francisco area.  In both cases I've read the text and discussed ideas with the director, but it's Thinner I need to sketch first - like instantly!  I'm letting ideas percolate just a bit longer...

Public Domain image - found HERE with explanation of why it's public domain.

In the Studying Computer Lore campaign, I've now had a couple classes on AutoCAD and am relieved to discover I'm not the slowest student in the class.  (Huge relief.)  In fact, I think I'm going to do fine, if I can only get enough practice time in.  Learning Sketchup is still on my schedule... just a bit back-burnered right now.

Comparing the two programs and their more or less intuitiveness, I think an actual artist/designer type person might have been involved in creating Sketchup.  (Though perhaps an insane artist, who didn't want to do what I want to do with it.)  But I am increasingly convinced that computer drafting is a drawing system invented by a computer guy, rather than computing system designed by a drawing guy.  Maddeningly non-intuitive!  Plus lotso memorizing for the shortcuts that are the only way to draw quickly.  Well, quickER.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Speak Up!

You can read more HERE.

If you're not worried about keeping the internet democratic - keeping it open to new voices, unpopular opinions, and innovation - you should be.

The "fast lane" idea that Big Business is pushing, the idea of charging tolls to get information to you (on your machine through services you pay for) means that Little Guys will be seated at the back of the info-bus.  This blog, for instance, will be walking behind the bus and will take FOREVER to load.  So will the plucky start-up company's website, your family photos, or the whistle-blower's blog.  These modest sources seem just as important to me as getting reruns of Lost, but wealthy sites like Big Media's will load in a flash because they can afford to pay for special treatment.

Special treatment because of wealth is becoming THE problem in American democracy.

The internet is - today - one of the few places where people outside of wealth and power can have an equal voice.  Let's keep it that way!

Today is your last chance to let the FCC know what you think of Big Biz buying the internet.
Comment to the FCC HERE.

UPDATE: at 12:30pm  The FCC have gotten so many comments that their website has crashed!  Good going!  If you haven't weighed in yet, be sure to try back again later.

UPDATE #2: on 7/16/14  Because of the site crash due to lotso comments, the deadline for comments has been extended.  Now's your chance to ask for a Fair and Neutral 'Net!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Muse

I just found a funny - and quite true - video riff by Anna Akana on The Muses's role in your creativity:

"Your Inner Muse"

Oh, that Muse...  never around when you want her.  HERE's a Squidoo page I put together on creativity - it goes with the illustration below.

What else is going on?

I've read my next Circle Theatre script: Stella and Lou and am meeting the director soon to discuss the set design.  I've recently met with the folks at Fun House Theatre and Film about that next show, Stiff, which the amazing Jeff Swearingen is writing.

And I'm finishing up the first draft of my next theater book, The Green eBook of Sustainable Theater.  There will (eventually) be a paperback edition too... which I guess I'll have to title The Green Recycled-Paper-Book of Sustainable Theater?  I tell ya, the research for this is teaching me waaaaay more than I thought I knew about the topic.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Net Neutrality

Here's the best (and prettiest) explanation I've found of why keeping the internet neutral is so important, a comic created by Michael Goodwin at Economix Comix with a very clear discussion.  HERE.

And the best part?

Comic by Michael Goodwin - found at BoingBoing

Please let the FCC know that not only would you like your Netflix films to stream properly, but you also think your internet provider should not be able to slow - or censor - your on-line access to LOLcats or political speech or free religious association or, you know, all that First Amendment stuff...

The Fourth of July was only a couple days ago.  Remember?  The internet means more than music videos just like the 4th's freedom means more than annual hot dogs on the grill.

Give the FCC your opinion HERE.  (Net neutrality is proceeding 14-28, right at the top of the list.)

Only a few days left.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Eat Cake!

I've been diving into the computer rabbit hole lately.

On the serious side, I'm trying to better my tech-skills, getting more fluent in photo manipulation and 3D drawing, with an AutoCAD course starting soon.  But on the more playful side, I've been discovering the joys of Portal and enlarging my creative-mode Minecraft kingdom, Blocksterdam.

Travel poster based on Minecraft image - believed fair "adaptive" use

Minecraft in creative mode is pure designer catnip!  I don't care much about the survival-mode monsters or the finicky crafting really, but I love the sandbox freedom to build.  My biggest project - an entire far-flung kingdom with trade routes by boat, rail, road, and even balloon - was sparked by a game update (in a supposedly survival type game be this noted!)... a game update that included adding colored glass and four kinds of tulips.

My first response was to help build a cathedral with stained glass windows.  Natch.

My second was to build Blocksterdam, my Venice of the West.  Here dueling tulip princes wage trade wars between themselves at home among the quaint canals of Old Blocksterdam and, abroad, against the Cactus King, the Rose King (war of the roses?), and the nefarious Poppy Cartel.

Portal?  Oh, I'm eatin' my cake.  * Polishes fingernails on shirt, looking down all humble, humming. * "Anyway, this cake is great.  It's so delicious and moist.

Look at me still talking when there's Science designing to do!"

Gotta script to read.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I just read a very interesting blog post by writer Patricia C. Wrede titled "Six Things I Wish I'd Known."  As I've discovered before, writers writing about the act of writing have a knack of hitting on issues that apply to any other creative field.  (And they're so darn articulate about it too!)

In this case it was the element of jealousy.

Of other writers, designers, creators.  Theater is famously rife with this green-eyed problem.  Actors, poor dears, are so bad at pretending they're not envious.

Ha!  Designers feel the exact same poisonous stew of envy and competition.  There's always someone else who gets the show you wanted or the award you think you should have won or - equally unsettling -  you suspect that you don't deserve the show or award as much as they do.  It really can be a poisonous snake.

Public domain image

The only thing to do is to do your very best work and then to mutter your mantra to your snakey self.  For me it's, "I'm in this for the design."  (Not the rewards, fame, popularity, whatever.)  "I'm in this for the design."  Perhaps others are in it for the poor pay or long hours, but I find the reminder that what I want is just the work to be very soothing.

Do it for the work.

Read Ms. Wrede's thoughtful post HERE.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Quote of the Day

 “Till of late years England was as free from Criticks, as it is from Wolves.”
-  Thomas Rymer, 1674

Isn't that lovely?  An Edenic England.  So I suppose the Criticks arrived here in the States with the Mayflower?

Now (having poked the critics with that stick - was that wise?), come on out and judge for yourself: Circle Theatre's production of Hope and Gravity opened last night!

Public domain image from

It's a minimal set and, I hope, an "ethereal" one... with an elevator I'm particularly proud of.  (And you wouldn't believe how long something so simple took to do.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

HighBrow? or Lowbrow?

One of the funnest... most fun?  okay, most giddy! joys of being a theater designer is getting to play riffs on the "class" game.  For any show where you determine the look of a character's environment, you get to peg them into their little round or square hole in society's Game of Class.

(America class-less?  Hardly.)

Choosing just the right detail or set dressing to illustrate the character's situation and aspirations is fun.

So today's little internet gem (thanks BoingBoing) is a 1949 chart from Life magazine that spreadsheets and illustrates the differences in taste between High-Brow, Upper and Lower Middle-brow, and Low-Brow.  See it big n' beautiful HERE.

1942 Life magazine chart of  The Good Life, by social/intellectual status level

Hilarious.  And, as far as I can judge, pretty darn accurate.  I know that in the 1920s the U.S. Census Bureau had a similar sort of checklist that helped workers peg families into their status-holes - so many points for books in the parlor, more points for a piano, a rug, etc.  My favorite book to discuss these matters - from the 1980s - is Home Psych, by Joan Kron.  (Read an excerpt, "The Semiotics of Home Decor" HERE.)

So what would today's status/class markers be?

Things - objects - are easier come by nowadays than in the past, but I'm pretty sure owning  "real" art would still  be one marker of high-brow-ness...  So would be reading high-toned literature.  What else?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reset the Net

It's been a year since Edward Snowden's revelations about how government spies spy on us all... and, although there is a lively debate going on, the U.S. government has still not restrained the spooks to within Constitutional limits.  The recent USA Freedom Act voted for in the House is a much-weakened version of a not-tough-enough-to-start-with piece of legislation.  A farce, basically.  Cream pies any minute!

Unless it's very well done, I'm not that fond of farce on stage...

I'm less fond of farcical spy-romping in my medical records, my finances, or my personal and professional life.  Our whole lives are online or over cell phones these days.

But we don't have to wait for politicians to get their act together.

A photo from the farce Too Many Cooks at Circle Theatre
See the guy under the counter listening?  

We can MAKE the internet more private.  Ourselves.  And we can demand more security from providers and websites.  I find the TV remote challenging, but even I know the most basic security move we all need to take:

The first step - right now! - choose different passwords for each website and choose stronger passwords.

"123456" is no good.  Neither is "abcdef."  "Letmein" or your address or your dog's name are just lame.  Choose a long string - 12 digits is good - and make those a mix of upper and lower case letters plus numbers and, for extra toughness, some punctuation.  Make passwords random!

But you can't remember such a long random string.  So you'll either need to write this down somewhere very secure indeed, or need to post it to a secure "lockbox" kind of internet service (which makes me nervous), or make your "random" string actually a mnemonic that you CAN remember... but that no one else can guess.

Password strength is the first layer of protection against identity theft and peeping government.

Read BoingBoing's good article on net security HERE to learn much much more.

Let's keep the eavesdropping on stage, huh?  Where it has a chance of being funny.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Peek into the Past

I'm teaching myself Sketchup and, in that process, am doing research on how-to.


I stumbled across this lovely little bit of history, someone recreating his family's 1912 farmhouse in virtual 3D.  Sparking this project was the discovery of original blueprints (actual blueprints!) and old contracts for that construction, as well as some delightful old photos.  Take a look at the Mason Farm HERE.  (I'm thinking of a similar, much less ambitious project of my own, actually, so I was especially impressed.)

Blueprints, that archaic tech - believed public domain


How much fun it is!  And how addictive!  Because, of course, there's always just one more little bit of information out there waiting for the researcher...  I'm hopelessly addicted to research myself and have watched a number of others succumb, most recently someone introduced to the genealogy bug, which is a particularly virulent strain of the research infection.

Research is one of the great joys in theater design.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Architectural Stories

The sad news is that Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Art Nouveau masterpiece, the library of the Glasgow School of Art has been destroyed by fire.  The rest of his building - and the art collected there - have been damaged, but it sounds as if heroic salvage efforts are underway and plans for restoration are already being developed.

I particularly feel for the final year students whose work (at the very end of the semester! of their school career!) has been damaged or lost.  Imagine losing your whole portfolio...

Read HERE for a good BBC article on the status and HERE to donate funds or help towards restoration.

Glasgow School of Art library - believed public domain photo

On a brighter note (in every sense), HERE's a terrific website about the neon signs of Hong Kong.  Gorgeous!  They influence, among other things, the film Blade Runner... which inspired these LEGO artists  to build an apocalyptic cyberpunk city - see it HERE.

Isn't it amazing what can come from imagination?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Runnin' Crazy, Or, Scenic Design as a Profession

Nutsy busy here.

Since I got back from vacation (very nice, thank you), I've been running to catch up with my career... which seems to have been careering off without me.

Monday and Tuesday were spent, in part, helping scenic paint the next show at Kitchen Dog Theater, Barbecue Apocalypse.  Its out-of-town designer hadn't known - until late - that KD has no in-house scenic painter.  Hence my volunteerism.  Lucky he packed his painting clothes, huh?

(It's amazing the teeny little bits of info any theater can forget to mention to new designers...  No existing drawings?  No pay?  No help?  Hot n' cold running rats?  Etc.)

Anyway, I helped with that plus catch-up on my stuff and Lotso Meetings.  In one o' those I picked up two shows at WaterTower Theater next season: one is a joint production with Stage West which will move from Fort Worth to Addison, The Explorers' Club (sounds like good fun! and a challenge) and the other is the classic All My Sons.

Then the first production meeting for Circle Theatre's Hope and Gravity.  I arrived late (darn DFW traffic!) with scribble-y sketches, ugly 3D computer sketches, and a duck-chewed looking model that was once the model for a different show on the same stage, ruthlessly reused.  Some designs are just hard to represent, you know?  This is a nice script... of the sort that calls for many fast changes of setting to which the director's desire for "ethereal" added another level of puzzlement.  Once I got my head around it all though, ethereal is exactly the way to go.  I'm looking forward to seeing this design, not in model or sketch, but for real.

Some good sets are impossible to show-n-tell, you just have to build and light the darn things.

One perk of helping paint was that I got treated to a nice lunch by Kitchen Dog's visiting designer.  He was kind enough to explain what work at the next level up is like - the traveling-between-bigger-regional-theaters gig.  In trying to balance family and work, he's set limits to how long he stays away from home.  Sensible.  The Big Regional Circuit pays better than the Stay At Home Regional that I'm doing... with travel as both part of the fun and part of the price of that gig.

We talked about the struggle to earn a living as a set designer.  His take is that it's not possible, but that it IS possible to create a living as a more general Creative: to stitch theater design with other creative work to make (quilt?) a viable living.  Of course, there will be good years and lean years.  I believe he's right.  In my case, last year's tax records proved to me that I need to make more money.  So time to stitch in more non-theater, better-paying creative work!  Sigh.  I'm not sure I really want to travel as much as he is - even if I could get the out of town gigs, of course.  Decisions, decisions.  

I can't over-stress how helpful it is it have another designer to talk to sometimes.

So... I think I'll go finish unpacking my suitcase.

Public domain image from

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Back In Town... And There's a Sale!

While you've been impatiently wondering where the next post was (you were weren't you?), I was in California vacationing.

But today I'm back and there's notice of a book sale in my inbox:

The last hours remain of a Flash Sale on my how-to set design book Alice Through the Proscenium at its publisher, Lulu.  

More about Alice?  

Read about it at its Lulu site HERE or on its Squidoo book site HERE.

More catch-up posts coming soon... and more theater sets in the works: this week a meeting to discuss one theater's new season (and presumably a show for me to design for it), the first production meeting on the next show at Circle Theatre, some help-out painting on another designer's set, and...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wear Your Coat to See David Bates, Even If It's Hot

A pair of art museum shows - one in Dallas at the Nasher and one at Fort Worth's Modern - showcase the 2D and 3D work of artist David Bates.

I've been a fan for a while.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to catch the painting exhibition in Fort Worth (it only runs through the 11th), but the (mostly) sculpture show here at the Nasher is terrific!

Bates blurs the line between painting and sculpture until it almost disappears.  His paintings often sprout into the third dimension, becoming assemblages of canvas and wood and sometimes wire.  His assemblage style sculptures are often painted.  Sometimes the same still life of flowers and fruit will appear both as a painting and as a free-standing sculpture.

Still life?

David Bates Magnolias: the Painting
 at the Nasher Sculpture Center
The museum kindly allows photography, 
but the art's copyright belongs to the artist, of course.

 David Bates Magnolias: the Sculpture
 at the Nasher Sculpture Center
The museum kindly allows photography, 
but the art's copyright belongs to the artist, of course.

That's an unusual subject for modern sculpture.  They are beautiful.

 David Bates Irises, at the Nasher Sculpture Center
The museum kindly allows photography, 
but the art's copyright belongs to the artist, of course.

Though these are arrangements of flowers - perhaps in tribute to his mother's passing, according to the museum label - there's something almost Picasso-macho about the bold brush strokes.  And the textures!  The rough grain of wood, the gnarliness of wire, the shards of old steel, the corduroy-striping of corrugated cardboard... all transmuted into cast bronze... and then, startlingly, painted.  Fascinating work.

 David Bates Vine Detailat the Nasher Sculpture Center
The museum kindly allows photography, 
but the art's copyright belongs to the artist, of course.

I liked the portraits too, very much, but it is the still lives I want to carry home under my coat.

 David Bates Sunflowers and Thistles, at the Nasher Sculpture Center
The museum kindly allows photography, 
but the art's copyright belongs to the artist, of course.

If only I'd worn a coat...

Darn this warm spring weather!

 David Bates Magnolia, at the Nasher Sculpture Center
The museum kindly allows photography, 
but the art's copyright belongs to the artist, of course.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monsterpiece Theater

I just saw this great little Muppet masterpiece and thought you might enjoy it: the Monsterpiece Theater rebuttal to Godot... "Waiting for Elmo."  HERE

What else has been going on?

Well, Fun House's brilliant version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is over... hope you caught it.  A great experience.  Gidion's Knot at Kitchen Dog was struck this last weekend - it took 30 times as much time to strike all that classroom set dressing as it did to strike the two walls!  Venus in Fur is now open at WaterTower Theater and The Other Place is about to open at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth.  

Now for me theater design is just simmering, while architectural things are boiling.  I've been very busy with continuing ed sort of stuff.  First came the yearly ADA seminar (that's the Americans with Disabilities Act), which is always amazingly persnickety.  Don't get me wrong, I'm entirely for the goal of removing architectural barriers... but is it really sensible that the government mandate emergency flasher alarms and roll-in showers for all those deaf, wheelchair-bound firefighters?  Or that the rule is that, if a company's breakroom has no stovetop or oven and only a countertop microwave then that food prep area need not be wheelchair accessible (i.e. kneespace at sinks, limited reach ranges etc.) but if that microwave is built-in then it MUST all be accessible?  ADA rules are filled with such logical... idiosyncrasies.

Also a front burner project for me right now is learning to use Sketchup - a very cool, free, 3D modeling program (with its own amusing idiosyncrasies).  I'm researching CAD classes too, as it seems time to improve those skills.

3D Sketchup model of Circle Theatre: non-commercial, self educational use!

Here you can see my first ever 3D CAD (computer aided design/drafting right?) project, a little Sketchup model of Circle Theater's stage.  Those fat tubular columns at the corners gave me an extra tool to play with.  Just don't look too close at the klutzy construction, huh?  I've since started a much more complex model of  a hypothetical architectural project which also has cylinders - tilted at weird angles, sloping surfaces, cut-in windows....  And I'd thought making this little stage was a bit of a monster!

But I can see that, once I get practiced enough with it, Sketchup is going to be rather fun.

So...  Think AutoCAD is going to be a real hoot then?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day 2014

I'm working on a make-your-theater-greener ebook.

It's progressing!  I'd say it was "gathering steam," but how old-tech, coal-fired, big-carbon-footprint is that?  No.  It's gathering, um, "solar power."  That's it.

More news soon.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Get Yer Tickets!

I've got four (count 'em 4!) shows worth seeing right now or very soon:

At Kitchen Dog Theater, Gidion's Knot, which has been getting really good reviews, running just through the 26th.  (Get tickets fast.)  This script raises some fascinating questions.

At Fun House Theatre and Film, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, opening tonight!  With only a short run also through the 26th.  It's going to be terrific, I think.  The kids (who are 99% of the cast) are amazing!  An Escher-ish set that I'm proud of.  (Still digging gray paint out from under my fingernails.)

Escher arches - believed public domain image

Opening soon at WaterTower Theater, the Dallas restaging of Circle Theatre's steamy-good Venus in Fur.  Opens the 27th and runs through May 18th.

And opening May 1st at Circle Theatre, The Other Place, which runs through the 24th.  An intriguing how-much-is-in-her-head? kind of piece.

Tickets! Tickets!  Get yer Tickets!

Friday, April 11, 2014


Sorry for the arid desert between posts here... it's Tax Time.  'Nuf said.

There's something about going through last year's mileage records (really?  I drove to Fort Worth again that day?) and old pay stubs (really?  that little?) and badly folded receipts (really?!  that much!) that makes me feel all jaded and Wordsworthian:

"The world is too much with us; late and soon / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers..."

I love my theater design job, but annual tax up-gathering sure can suck the juice out of it.  Like a bad review.  (Not much like W's "sleeping flowers," all these shekels.)   

Meanwhile, actual reviews have been good: Gidion's Knot at Kitchen Dog Theater is getting good press.  A tremendous clash of actress power in this show!  (The set's getting nice notice too - "meticulously executed."  I'll take it!)

Here's the full Wordsworth piece for Today's Poetical Pleasure:

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; For this, for everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

A moonlit sea by Carlsen - a public domain image from Vintage Printable

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Good Advice

I just stumbled across this post "11 Things to Know Before Starting Architecture School" - full of great advice!

My personal favorite is the admonition to actually get sleep.  Very important, sleep.  It made all the difference in my own college career - my grades rose amazingly as soon as I swore off pulling all-nighters.  One of my prof.s used to say, "A project designed at 2:00 a.m. should only be critiqued at 2:00 a.m."... and then he refused to show up at that hour.  Seriously, what looks like a good idea when you're all sleep-deprived is usually not a good idea.  The companion advice is: Don't Draw Drunk.

Friends Don't Let Friends Draw Drunk - and wouldn't that make a great bumper sticker?

The applications of this architectural wisdom to theater is pretty obvious.

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (public domain pic).  What the painter MEANT to call this work, 
obviously, was The 2:00 a.m. Design Idea.  Equally obviously, the swooning character is the sleepy designer.

So get your sleep.

Yes, the deadline is unforgiving, but you'll be so much more efficient and make so many fewer bone-headed mistakes (especially with dangerous tools) that any hours "lost" to sleep will repay themselves many-fold.  I promise.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What to Wear to the Theater

This is not fashion advice for the theater audience.

They mostly know what to wear - something a bit dressy or artsy or chic, yet casual (this is a casual age) and, pragmatically, with some sort of wrap so that they can adjust to the venue's air conditioning or failure thereof.  No, the audience knows what to wear... except You!  There!  Dress up a little huh?  This ain't cleaning out the garage!  Dress for Art please.

No, this is fashion advice for theater designers.

I've learned: never wear anything to the theater at anytime that can't to get paint on it.

If I do wear good clothes - even for an instant, even for a non-painting day - I am inevitably doomed to paint.  Or to rip, tear, stain, or otherwise ruin whatever I'm wearing by some other means.  Most recently, on an I'm-just-carrying-stuff day, I ripped a favorite dressy shirt.  Every pair of my "painting shoes" started out as "good shoes."  Ditto my jeans.  I wait for the first paint on new jeans with the same fatalism that new car owners dread The First Scratch.


Wear jeans and accept a few splashes and rips as a badge of artistic virtue.  (No need to pay extra for 'em at those fancy fashion stores.  In fact, be sure to sneer as you pass their show windows because your paint and rips are for real.)

Wear only designated "paint shoes" when painting.  (I go barefoot if I've forgotten them.)

Shirts?  I wear worn-out dress shirts gifted to me by family, but the very best solution if you want to spent a few bucks, are thrift store Hawaiian shirts.  Don't ruin vintage or gorgeous shirts obviously (those are dressy wear!), but you can ruin ugly ones with a clear conscience.  The wilder patterns will disguise enough paint splatters that you can even go out for lunch decently.  My all-time favorite was a bright red grocery store Aloha shirt with dragons on it!

Aloha shirts - public domain photo from Wikipedia, taken by Vera & Jean-Christophe

* Another nice photo of glorious Aloha shirts HERE.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Sale! Book Sale!

My printer hasn't been having as many sales lately as they used to, but today is a biggie -
Waffle Day Sale!

Waffle Day?  Really?

Alice 'n Waffles!
Shooped from public domain images

Find out more about my how-to-set-design book Alice Through the Proscenium HERE at  When you order, be sure to quote the secret code:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I love working at the MAC!  

The McKinney Avenue Contemporary is the home theater(s) to Kitchen Dog Theater and also has several art galleries.  I was lucky enough to watch the installation of the newest shows and to get to chat with one of the artists, Masami Teraoka , whose show Inversion of the Sacred is a perfect counterpoint to our up-coming play Gidion's Knot.  Beautiful, disturbing work... huge triptychs of gold leaf, oil paint, and... well, see for yourself.  (But don't bring the kiddies.)  The artist himself was very friendly and we had an interesting discussion about the basis for his new work - the church sex scandals - and society's seeming retreat from the liberality of the '60s sexual revolution to present day repressions.  You can have great conversations with artists!

Then, by an odd happenstance, I got to have another good conversation with an artist just days later - this time with a young up-and-comer working at the Dallas Arboretum's Children's Garden.  (A cool museum-outdoors  filled with hands-on exhibits).  That conversation was on art museum shows - we both liked the Amon Carter's Romare Bearden Odyssey show (previous post HERE) and the Fort Worth Modern's Kara Walker show.  The artist?  Kevin Owens; you can see a little of his work at RAW Artists HERE.  A great chat!

But what are the odds of running into a Hunting Art Prize finalist randomly at the spring flower show?

Public domain image of tulips courtesy of

My third conversation of note was with journalist Lauren Smart of the Dallas Observer... an interview.

Being interviewed is a strange thing... on the one hand you want it to be a relaxed, friendly chat so that the interview is actually, you know, interesting for readers, but, on the other hand, you don't want to say anything too stupid.  I think I may have managed that part.  Mostly.  Judge for yourself HERE.

So... what fascinating conversation will be next?