Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Four Things for a Designer to Remember...

A few meetings yesterday reminded me of several lessons from life as a theater set designer and, well, a designer in general.  Four little gems I'll pass on to you:

(Believed public domain image.)

1) Always, always, ALWAYS double-check the dimensions of the stage.  Why?  Well last season I believed information provided by a venue - dimensions given for their own stage.  As this was an out-of-state theater, I couldn't easily check so chose to believe 'em.  MISTAKE.  Luckily I'd designed a set where one wall flat could be omitted if necessary without killing the design.  (I was a little paranoid.)  In the end more than one flat had to be cut!  (The design survived, luckily.)  But The Venue Lied Big Time.  So... double check stage dimensions.

2) Carry a sketchbook.  And a pen/pencil. Don't have 'em, you'll want 'em.

3) Remember a tape measure.  (See suggestions #1 and #2.)

4)  Bring extra copies of the drawings.  Even if you've already delivered plenty of sets.  Because the theater/director/builder/client will have forgotten/misplaced/lost theirs.

Remember these four basics and... well, you'll at least feel a bit more ready to cope with the real problems.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Copyright Week

Tardy (as often) I'm finally getting around to posting on the topic of Copyright Week.

There's a great, in-depth explanation of the issues of copyright, free speach, and public domain HERE at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  It's a topic I'm very interested in.

Why do I care?

Well... It started out as a matter of self-protection.  I make collages and I wanted to be sure that I didn't create copyright problems for myself.  Sure I wanted to preserve the rights of the other artists who created any images I wanted to "borrow" in my work, I didn't want to steal or abuse... but largely I wanted to be sure I didn't get in trouble.  Brave huh?

Secondarily, as a creator of content myself, I wanted to understand my rights.  I have had a design or two stolen.

So I started studying copyright.

Frankly, the law - U.S. and international - is a mess and too much under the control of ignorant legislators being led around on leashes by Big Media and Big Pharma... by the big-money interested in highly restrictive and overly-long-term rules.  At the same moment, we the public are recipients of a wonderful bonanza of public domain sharing due to the now-ripening of Victorian creativity into our joint ownership (which is what public domain means) and the unprecedented ease and freedom to share that is the internet.

Exciting times.

Tenniel's illustrations for Alice in Wonderland - and that story too - are now in the Public Domain.  So it's fair game for me to adopt Alice as my blog's avatar, then give her a cool pedal car and a Victorian love seat to deliver to a theater for me.  Putting earlier artists' creations to present-day use.  Go! Public Domain!

I believe that as a society we need both robust copyright protections so that creators' benefit from their work AND lively sharing and free use of ideas (written and imaged) so we can go create more cool ideas!  Getting that balance right is the trick.

Look into the topic yourself.  Develop some informed opinions.  Then let your congress people know what they should think, huh?

Earlier posts on copyright: Copyright On Copyright and the Public Domain SNIPPET # 7  Copyright on the Internet Copyright Has Never Been This Cute

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Just a Quick Up-Date

Busy, busy here.

I'm in the process of building Venus in Fur at Circle Theatre (handing over paint and oak samples, looking for chaise lounges, set dressing tomorrow); of mailing construction drawings to California for The Great American Trailer Park Musical (still green paint on my hand from that rendering); of creating construction drawings for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (revised the plan at last night's meeting); and misc. errands like returning a chandelier ( from Too Many Cooks) to Kitchen Dog (and getting a script for Gideon's Knot).  Today's misc. errand is a lunch seminar for architectural continuing ed. credit.

Phew!  Just reading all that tires me out.

But it's all good fun: some excellent scripts and I get the added bonus of working with some particular friends and talents on several of them.

And in my spare time, I've been reading The Game of Thrones series (deep into book four) and seeing a few movies.  Her is very good - romantic, yes, but mostly thoughtful about the essential loneliness that is the human condition.  American Hustle is a fun trip to the 80s.  The Hobbit - love The Hobbit.

Gotta run!  Coffee meeting I almost forgot!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Woohoo! Hi NSA!

Image from referred from BoingBoing

This is not a political blog.  But if you're reading this online (how else?), if you shop online, if you've written an email, or if you'd ever call your Mom...  chances are good that YOU have metadata collected about your life.  Maybe a few emails or phone chats on file.  To be kept for as long as Big Brother feels like it

Looking over your shoulder?  No need.  Look ahead - wave - because other people to turn on your webcam or microphone, y'know?  This is not paranoia.  This is today's America.

Unless we ALL take action.

Read up on "NSA spying," "Edward Snowdon," "Internet freedom," etc.  Knowledge really IS power.  Do you want the government (or private companies) to know everything about you?

"But I don't have anything to hide," you say.

Lucky you! None of us have ever done or said anything stupid in our whole lives.  Even at 15.  Never dialed a wrong number ("How could I know that was Renta-Racist?! I was dialing Rescue-Rover to adopt a puppy!")  Never made a friend later regretted.  And no former acquaintance of ours has ever turned to the Dark Side... joined Green Peace, say.

 The other argument?  "NSA spying keeps us safe."

Well, maybe.  Maybe you trust this present government and every single operative and administrator to use this spying power wisely and only for good... but what about in the future?  What if someday you really disagree with the Administration?  What if another J. Edgar Hoover took charge of your private file?  Another Joe McCarthy?

A few terrorists terrify me less than a future do-gooder armed with my internet history, because what if that do-gooder was another Stalin?  Or a Hitler?

Think about it.  On February 11 let your government know how you feel about internet privacy and government spying.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


While that Christmas-present cash is burning that hole in your pocket...

This might be a good time to remind you about my how-to theater set design book that you've been wanting to treat yourself to.

(Of course you have!)

You can find out more about Alice Through the Proscenium HERE on her Squidoo page... or pop directly to the publisher's page HERE.

As one Amazon reader kindly says:
 "Taking away the clouds that often surround the process of what we do, this book offers to-the-point insight and equal amounts of wit. Whether you are an old pro or just starting out, this is a must read."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Designers' Revenge

Any designer in any field has heard their share of, um... unhelpful... direction from certain clients.  Sometimes all you can do is smile until they go away and then you can beat your head on the wall to make the pain stop.

(And don't get me started on that rattlesnake rattle of a phrase, "I'm open to other ideas, but..."  Run.  just run.)


In this amusing post, Irish graphic designers actually illustrate - for charity - some of their more memorable client feedback.

I laughed.  But, to tell the truth, some of the satirized client comments sound kinda understandable points of view to me... I mean don't we all want warmer snow?  And this poster, well, you have to ask yourself if the client doesn't have a real point here:

From (thanks for pointing me to this) 
I believe this is fair use as I'm only sampling, attributing it properly, and all for a more-or-less review.  
If the image's owner objects to this use, please let me know and I'll remove it.

Would the banana chip be capable of driving the chocolate submarine?  Really?  Bananas have a, well, slimy character; a raisin, on the other hand, would seem much more mature to me.  A nut?  That'd be crazy.  Hey! wouldn't it make more sense if the banana were the submarine and a chocolate chip were...?

(If you think this is silly, you haven't sat in on enough production meetings.  I have personally debated the airworthiness of Santa's plane ("Oh no Santa!  We're gonna crash!) and taken part in lively discussions about lobster-phones, egg-suits, and the exact texture of baby-flesh.  Which do you think is closer to the proper onstage "chew": portobella mushroom or tofu?)

The site highlights a bunch of classic client howlers - most designers will recognize their own clients.  (Does, "Just like this... but different," ring any bells?)  See more at

Gotta get back to my own banana-boat...