Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Update on the Dog House Challenge

We're at 90% people!

Just need that liiiitttttle bit more to reach our goal and meet the ever-so-kind fund raising challenge grant.  So, if you have just an extra $1... please think of contributing toward Kitchen Dog Theater's new home before the end of the year: your single dollar bill can become $6, just like that!

HERE's the donation page.  

Here's the story: our hard-working (and award-winning) theater company recently lost our home of twenty years.  Our goal is to own our own performance space.  There are all sorts of possibilities - as an architect and designer I'm pretty excited.  But first we need to prove to our generous challenge backers that we can get our friends excited and raise actual money.  

I, personally, have donated.  Till it hurt.  So... please, as you clean up between the holidays, scrounge all the change you can find from under your sofa cushions and send it to us!  

Please Help the Dogs Find a Good Home.

Friday, December 18, 2015

No Spoilers

Have just seen the 8:20 a.m. showing of the new Star Wars.

Go buy your own ticket imeddiately! imeddiately!  im  Now!

Big happy Star Wars grin.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Public Domain Treasure

The Interwebs just get more interesting all the time: today's special is a new-to-me site for public domain book illustrations.  Wonderful Stuff!


A 12th century half timber house drawn by Viollet-le-Duc

The treasure trove of public domain material easy to access via the computer on your desk - or on your lap, or in your hand - is becoming a wellspring of inspiration...  I just wish countries would stop extending and/or enlarging copyright protections to unreasonable limits.  The UK is heading toward a redefinition of copyright that would make it illegal to stick a photo of your (English) sofa on Craig's List.  (Is there Craig's List in the UK?  Maybe not for long!)  HERE's an article on that silliness at BoingBoing.

I'm all for copyright - I copyright stuff myself after all - the rules just need to be fair and sensible.  A family snapshot sitting on its own sofa ought not to be illegal, huh?  Or that for-sale photo either.

(For more on copyright issues, look in my Set Design Archive under, um, "Copyright.")

PS.  That house pictured above?  Torn down.  Like Kitchen Dog Theater's home of 20 years will be.  Don't forget our new-home fund raiser - see blog post below.  
The Deadline Approacheth!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Woohoo! NEA Grant to Kitchen Dog!

You know that theater company I was bragging on?  Kitchen Dog?  (Well, okay, bragging' and beggin', as in to raise cash to meet a match challenge fund raisin' for a new home.)


I bragged what good work we do in supporting living playwrights and new works.

Well the NEA agrees with me - giving us our fourth grant in a row! toward our New Works Festival.  One of only 29 grants to Texas arts groups.  I tell ya, we do good work!

Please grant us your help in building a new home to house these new works in.  (More info HERE)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Scenic Zoology

Once in a while a set design goes to the dogs... or to other animals.

My recent (last show today!) production of The Importance of Being Earnest at Tarrant County College NE  went to the moose and the peacocks.  The director and the student cast decided the moose's name is Bunbury.

Here's how it happened...

There's this awkward scenic transition from Act I to II - Algie's flat to countryhouse garden. 

Sure, the college has a fly loft.  I could simply fly scenery in and out - but I kinda hate that method of scene changing.  It's like shuffling flash cards at the audience: 2+2, no! wait! 2+3.  It feels arbitrary, random, as if any possible scenery might fly in, taking the audience from the first act of Earnest to - who knows? - third scene of The Magic Flute?  Death scene of Othello?   

Visually, scenery changes can be startling, a shock from one "look" to the next.  A horrible example on Broadway was the change in the middle of The Producers to "Little Old Lady Land"; I thought that whole segment could have been cut.  I suspect the show's set designer felt the same, because the setting for it looked kinda... perfunctory... while the rest of the show was wonderfully designed.  (One reason I don't really love traditional prosceniums.)  

I prefer visual as well as story-telling logic to the shift from one setting to the next.

In the college's production of Earnest scenic switcheroos could be particularly jarring because, instead of two intermissions, there would be only one.  The audience would watch set changes.  These needed to look logical and, if possible, be entertaining!  (The director added wonderful business to the shifts, so they were, indeed, very entertaining.)

As the director and I talked, I mulled over what - what on earth! - I could use to visually tie the first setting to the second.  I needed a sort of visual hinge to ease the transition.

Hmmmm....  Bachelor's flat... Victorian fireplace... deer head?  Moose head!  (Moose are funnier - just look at one.)

Giant topiary moose!

So the giant topiary moose, Bunbury, became the linchpin of the whole design, the one constant element in Algie's study, the country house garden, and, outside the window, the conservatory for the final scene of the play.

Here follows the photo-essay of the development of Bunbury the Moose:

Bunbury's head sticks through the wall of Algie's study.  He's pretending to be taxidermy.  

Here's Bunbury revealed in topiary splendor.

Below is his first manifestation, a model to help figure out how the heck to build him:

Photo courtesy of Master Carpenter Heidi Diederich

A few construction photos...

In the first photo, that pile of rags will become Bunbury's furry / leafy hide.  He was built of plywood "ribs" as in the model, draped first with chicken wire, then muslin, and with strips of muslin and other fabrics poked through the chicken wire into a lumpy texture that suggests shrubbery.  All this was painted and additional silk leaves and flowers were added.  In the last photo above you see him starting the final foliation process, as ivy is wound up his legs etc.  Below you see him onstage.

Bunbury pretends not to listen to Cecily and Miss Prism.  And here he is again, below, pretending not to listen in on Algie's courtship of Gwendolen.  

In this photo you see (besides the blurriness of my illicit during-the-show photo) the final Bunbury moose head.  (Antlers are cardboard, foam, wire, fabric, and paint.)   

On the fireplace front are his attendant fireplace peacocks.  These are an adaptation of a popular motif of the time, turned into a faux mosaic tile mural.  Their painting turned out very well.  (Thanks Heidi!)  Actually there's a lot of faux and fool-the-eye artificiality in all three settings - as there is in the play itself.  Those books, for instance, are all fake as are the ones later in the conservatory, and even the carpentry is a mix of real 3D and trompe l'oeil.

Here's my original color sketch for the peacocks:

Final note BTW, that one crucial bit of set dressing?  That handsome brass fireplace screen?  It's a piece I own and have used for countless shows, wherever a touch of Victoriana is suitable and there's no practical fire effect.  It's a real antigue.  It folds small for easier storage in my garage.  But it is, if you look closely, in very bad condition - only held together by wire, twist ties, and plastic zip ties - so I got a good price on it from the antiques dealer.  Looks good on stage though!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Put Us in the Dog House!

Kitchen Dog Theater (of which I am honored to be a member) recently lost our home of 20 years.  

We're saving up to build a new one!

A very, very generous Dog Fancier has offered us a challenge grant: if we can raise $100,000 dollars by the end of this month, they will give us Half a Million Bucks!

Can you, Dear Reader, please help us?

A gift of any amount is tax deductible and we'd be very grateful.  If you do the math, this challenge means that your gift gets multiplied by 6 !   $10 becomes $60!  $100 becomes $600!  $1000 becomes...  !

But only if we reach our goal in time.  This is a one-time-only deal.

The link to contribute is HERE.

For the last two decades Kitchen Dog Theater has been doing excellent work.  I don't throw that word around either, I mean it.  Serious,  good work.  Producing new plays and classics, encouraging living playwrights, winning awards, critical enthusiasm, tears and laughter in the seats kinda good work.  Some of the best talents in town call Kitchen Dog home.  

Oh, wait.  Homeless.

Honestly, this good theater company needs a good home...    

Please help.

*As a temporary measure we're producing this season at the Green Zone, but it's not a long-term place.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Scouting Locations

I've only designed for one film so far - Ciao, an award-winning indie by Yen Tan - but the experience was memorable.  I remember converting two identical condo bedrooms into two different sets, right down to carefully double-stick-taping faux window mullions in one room, to help differentiate.  Cleaning, prepping, and set dressing the kitchen for shooting (which the film crew needed to use for real lunches), having that shoot rescheduled, then cleaning up lunch mess and doing it all again, several times.  Literally waiting on paint to dry for the shot - all of us, the whole production with lights and camera and me with a hair drier hurrying things.  Serious phone conversations from the depths of Home Depot on how to artfully place an on-set towel, "...a little wrinkled, not perfect, 'cause it was used in the last scene, right?..."  And, funniest for the bystanders, us scouting locations...

We drove around Dallas in a little teeny car and, when we arrived at a potential location, piled out:  the driver and AD, a big burly guy with "Rosebud" tattooed on his shoulder; the co-writer/director, a tall, lanky Malaysian guy; the producer, a short, determined, firecracker of a guy who looked about twelve; and me, the production designer, short, plump, gray, looking like their Den Mom.  Kinda like watching a clown car unload.

What brings this to my mind?

This interesting little vid about film locations HERE.

10 Movies That Stole Their Sets From Other Films

This may be the biggest difference between film and stage work, finding real world locations instead of building all scenery from scratch.

Mind you, there's always a lot more modification to that real world location than the audience realizes.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Enjoy the Lulls

Although I do still have one show a'building this year (today in fact), I'm in a relative lull... at least compared to the crazy crazy pace of even a few weeks ago.

I'm enjoying the lull.

Next week, of course, the annual Turkey / Christmas crazy begins, but today, lull.

Well, after I sort the reimbursible theater receipts...

Then dig out my drawing board, trashed while pulling out drawings for yesterday's set design workshop, and needing to watercolor pencil one last little rendering, and...  I can't even find the drawing surface at the moment.

Then cleaning out my car.  The poor ol' Scenic Ride is filled to the scuppers with STUFF from six shows or so.

It must be time to take a lull... because my desk and car are too trashed to use today!

I sometimes joke that I know I'm done designing a show when I discover that I'm drawing on a sheet of paper I can only get to by peeling off the tape of other, higher levels of drawings and sorta crawling under them - paper tenting over my head.  Then it must be time to stop.

Well now, clearly, it's time to get organized!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Set Design Workshop Today

This afternoon from 1:00 to 3:00 I'm giving a workshop on theater set design at Tarrant County College NE (that's in Hurst).  Open to students and public.  

Drop on by.

Drawings, models, carved foam fish-like creatures... everything you'd expect!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What a Month

Theater is a marathon not a sprint.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I've been working flat out... mostly trying to get Mainstage Irving's The Addams Family open.  

And then - instead of collapsing - trying to catch up on my other shows: Death of a Salesman at Fun House Theatre and Film, Sexy Laundry at WaterTower Theater,  and The Importance of Being Earnest at Tarrant County College NE.

Opening night at The Addams Family had a few rough spots in sound and lights, but the set and projections were DONE.  (The paint was even dry.)  An accomplishment of heroic proportions let me tell you.

The Addams Family, Mainstage Irving Los Colinas - photo by Mainstage

Here you can see one scene set in the Addams' conservatory, a combination of built scenery and 3D projection by Nathan Davis.  This was a show that really was about collaboration!  And even more about drawing than I expected: the Addams Family originated as cartoons in The New Yorker, so it seemed right that the projections be largely drawings rather than photos, but, in fact, they were often, as here, a combination of hand sketches (architecture) and photos (sky, moon, and cobblestone floor).  My original background sketch was actually an assemblage of three sketches of about 14" long so it's kinda wild to see them blown up to almost 30' wide.

The projections for this show are fantastic!  Three dimensional spaces into which we fly in or out, doors and gates open, animations - Fester's "Moon" scene is wonderful - all just amazing.  Nathan did an incredible job.  For my part, I'm particularly proud of how well the projected scenery and the built scenery merge.

Even more merge-y than intended, actually...

Because of the press of time, much of the detail on the built set that was supposed to be real 3D construction, ended up as hand drawn/painted linework too, like all the paneling and trim shown here.  Which help coordinate the two worlds alright.

My hand is tired.

If you have the chance, go see the show - a still photo just can't show the coolitude of the projections. 

(And, you know, the cast are... incredibly good.  A very accomplished and fun show.)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Deep Breath


I've been heads-down working for the last few weeks.  But, tonight, Uptown Player's production of Harbor opens!  With what I think is a good set, a Greek Revival house restored by an architect in Sag Harbor.

The play itself you ask?

Really good - with a fantastic cast.  Both entertaining and touching.  (Go see it!)

This was my second show to work with set dresser and interior designer Kevin Brown - who acquired furniture, art, and set dressing and painted and...  Worked really hard!  But we in theater take that for granted, just as we assume carpenters, painters, and designers (and actors, directors and many more) will all slog away faithfully to get the work finished in time for the audience.   It's hard work.

But that's unremarkable.  What I do want to remark on is the clever way he used pasted-up photos  to explain furniture choices to the director and producers:

Image by Kevin Brown - copyrighted

This composite of images over a photo of the as yet unpainted set was created using, I believe, Powerpoint, but could be done in Photoshop or even with scissors and tape.  What a great way to explain things!  It was part of a neat package that laid out various choices for furniture, lighting, and art.

As often happens, the final choices of furniture include some stuff from stock, some borrowed from several sources, and some bought from less expensive stores like IKEA and Walmart.  The art is all on loan (and aren't we being careful with it!).

Meanwhile,  construction on Other Desert Cities at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth is almost complete, with painting proceeding, but furniture and carpet gathering has hit a snag.  The budget is forcing some changes, but mostly the handy-dandy warehouse and in-house storage are not producing the furniture we want....

Budgets!  Availability!!  The Dreaded Sofa!!!!  Argh.

At the very least there will need to be a LOT of reupholstering before any of this furniture goes on stage.  But we're still looking...

And there have been meetings.  Many, many meetings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Model Making: Tapes and Glues

Just found a great discussion (by an architect who obviously builds models) of various tapes and glues at youngarchitect.com.  HERE.

To which I'd add a recommendation of gaf tape - wonderful gaf tape!  On stage, of course, it's ubiquitous, but it's also useful in tiny amounts in model-making, especially used as hinges between cardboard pieces.  Particularly if it's a painted model.

And I'd add a caution about all glues - and even tapes - to beware the fumes and chemicals involved.  You can develop chemical sensitivities to the stickem if it touches your skin; the fumes can be sickening, carcinogenic, or occasionally instantly fatal like the methylene chloride used in paint strippers.

Ventilate, people!  Read safety instructions!


Also helpful is a brief post on the same site about building architectural scenic models HERE.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Books, Books, Books

I had a very refreshing chat about books the other day.

Nothing is more fun.

(Well, okay, hardy anything.)

What jogged my memory today was a blog post HERE about a new book called Soviet Bus Stops, by Christopher Herwig.  I haven't got my hands on this book yet, but it looks fantastic...  a photo study of ubiquitous, humble - yet socially important - architectural monuments.  These small buildings seem to have received all the whimsy and delight that official Soviet architecture quashed.  Just Google "soviet bus stop" for the wild range of styles.  This one I like as sort of Romanesque-Modern with a flavor of '60s Pop.  (It'd make a cool garden folly.  Please mentally add a blue pool and girls in Holly Golightly sunglasses, sipping martinis.  See it?)

Not sure if this photo is truly from Herwig's Soviet Bus Stops.  
Copyright-holder please let me know if you want it removed.

Folk architecture - whether designed by amateurs or pros - is always lively.

Picture books are fun aren't they?

That book chat was not about architecture or picture books, actually, more on WWII topics.  I'm currently reading Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm.  The man can write!  Another WWII book was recommended to me (but I don't have that note handy); in turn I recommended George McDonald Fraser's The Complete McAuslan, entertaining stories of  a Scottish regiment at the end of that war, and his more serious, excellent memoir of fighting the Japanese in Burma, Quartered Safe Out Here

A recent good novel about that period I highly recommend is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  This read was the result of book club friends recommending it to my mother, she to my sister, then the same copy on to me, then to my child...  That's a catchy book!  I won't spoiler it: let's just say that I had to stay up all night to finish it.  Dawn, I'm sayin'.  Actual dawn.

At about the same time a kindly person lent me a copy of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.  Also engrossing - apocalypse plus traveling Shakespearean orchestra... how could I resist?  (NPR on it HERE.)  Naturally, I had to give copies of both novels on to others... nothing is as catching as a book.

It's a good week - month! - when you get two excellent new books to read.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

North Texas Giving Day

In honor of Kitchen Dog Theater's 25th anniversary, we're looking for 250 generous new friends to pledge $25 apiece.

We need all the friends we can get this year!

Of course we're also very grateful for larger (or smaller) gifts and for dear old friends...  

This is a big year for the Dogs.  

Not just because 25 is a nice number, but because our company has left the MAC - our great home of 20 of those years - and we're fitting ourselves into new temp quarters, looking for longer term quarters, and - wahoo! - planning towards a new permanent Dog House.  (Or should that be a new Dogs' Kitchen?)

Find out more about North Texas Giving Day HERE.  Your help is always welcome... but tomorrow your gift can be magnified by additional funding.  Freebies!  Who doesn't love freebies?

Your generous gift can help us grow! 

Monday, September 14, 2015

News Break

Just found out I won a Critics' Forum Award for the set of The Explorers Club at Stage West and WaterTower Theater.  Pretty cool!  (Critics Forums are hard to get hold of.)

Many thanks - I'm thrilled.  I'm also grateful for the HUGE amount of help from everyone at Stage West who beautifully built, painted, upholstered, created faux books, helped set dress, loaned us taxidermy animal heads (from a WaterTower backer, thank you!), and generally made the set possible.  Twice.

The Explorers Club - Stage West and WaterTower Theater
Note the bar top of cheapo "granite" plastic laminate and foam pool noodles covered with vinyl,
and the painted mahogany.  Behind it is a Plexiglas and Modge-Podge-ed "stained glass" window 
which I decorated, now decorating my studio.

General woodsy library with many stuffed animal heads.  Those books, 
believe it or not, are mostly faked by Stage West's prop designer.

Note the globe used as the topper of the stair's newel post.  There was a funny 
slapstick moment when a character leaned on it.

More libraryishness...  You can see an antelope head.  Photos courtesy of Stage West

My original sketch.  We never found a taxidermy bear, but we were 
kindly loaned a suit of armor instead!  The bar's support lions were another kind loan.

Paper Rules!

An encouraging finding: among 4,000 designers surveyed world-wide, most of them - 64% - still use plain ol' paper and pen or pencil to brainstorm.

Doesn't surprise me at all.

One designer remarked on the particular usefulness of this old-tech method in a meeting.  

Exactly!  Nothing is as fast, as flexible, as readily available as scribbling on paper.  You can respond immediately to the flow of thought in a meeting - or while solo brainstorming.  There is less temptation to perfect the drawing (and computers do prefer perfect); instead the impulse on an impromptu scrap of paper is to rough out something messy but expressive. 

The this-ain't-nothin' worthlessness of a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin is part of its value - it stops the rough idea from becoming too precious to change or discard.

Sketch by Clare Floyd DeVries - do not use commercially please.
The ability to create fast hand sketches is so useful that I once
got flown to Tennessee just to show design grad students how.

Now, the old style of formal hand-drawn drafting or presentation drawings... those easily(ish) translate into computer hardware and software use.

More on the survey HERE at Wired.com.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Copyright and Trolls

I've written about copyright before (check the ol' Archive if interested), but here's a heads-up! on Patent Trolls.

Before starting...  We do remember that using other people's work without permission is Wrong, right?

But say you do borrow something and transform it fundamentally (fair use) or you ask or pay for permission for this use or you create every fragment yourself from scratch.  Anything that ends up on the internet is susceptible to challenge from those nasty trolls that extort money (which seems to seldom make it back to actual creators) for copyright or patent infringement.  The courts are starting to wise up to the trolls - but who wants to go to court?


BoingBoing has a ridiculous example of this kind of trolling today: a magazine shaken down for use of An Ink Blot.

Not this one - this is a free image from i2Clipart.com

Seriously.  You can get grief from using a splatter of ink - in this magazine's case perfectly legitimately.  Luckily their cover designer kept good records of their image sources.

So be careful out there!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Paint n' Light

This weekend is the Tech for Kitchen Dog Theater's The Dumb Waiter by Pinter.

One of the exciting parts of our new theater home is that, because of the move, we discarded our old beaten down wall flats and constructed new ones!  Woohoo!

But even with brand new flats, it's tough to build a long, tall, straight wall and not show the seams.  Which has turned into a bit of a problem with this particular show.  So I've been painting like a fiend, one step behind the carpenter, trying to create a very mottled, distressed look on the walls - plus adding shreds of wallpaper - all to downplay the "look! it's made of 4' x 8' flats!" aspect.

The Dumb Waiter - photo by director Tim Johnson
Here's the result so far - greatly enhanced by Suzanne Lavender's rich lighting.

Gotta run...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Production Photo

Just to give you an idea about how that fountain and the Dolphino I carved turned out, here's a photo taken opening night by my wonderful in-house photographer:

Photo of Circle Theatre's Lovers & Executioners - design by Clare Floyd DeVries

For the earlier post on this foam carving project, read HERE.

(BTW notice the delicate Delft style tile decoration around the fountain's spout?  I do love details.)

Building in Sand

Building sandcastles is one of the joys of the beach.

The Atlantic has a great article on one man's unique style of sandcastle... HERE

Image from Atlantic's post HERE (via BoingBoing.net) on Matt Kaliner's sandcastles

I say Matt Kaliner's sandcastles are "unique," but after this publicity I expect to see a few imitators... including me.  So beautiful!

The really important thing about sandcastles is that they never last.  (Rather like theater productions.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Quick! One More Show!

I'm late getting this word out, but here it is:

By popular demand Fun House Theatre and Film has added one last show TONIGHT for A School Bus Named Desire.  Get yer ticket HERE.

And here's the thing (this question came up while talking up the show yesterday to adult actors), don't be fooled by the kids' theatre thing.  This is not a Shirley Temple experience, where the point is the cuteness of the children who act - this is acting, that necessarily is done by children.  The translation of the classic play A Streetcar Named Desire into its School Bus alter ego is clever - brilliant even and terrifically funny.  Translation makes the material suitable for children... but never cute-ifies it.  

 Why so late on the blogging?

Well, I was schlepping at Kitchen Dog at the Dumb Waiter build, then watching my Circle show, Lovers & Executioners open last night.  Another show well worth seeing! Plus, you know, sleeping, eating, car repair and stuff.  

But here it is children, your last chance to see the remarkable A School Bus Named Desire.

"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, 
and transfer to one called Cemeteries,
and ride six blocks and get off at - Elysian Fields!"
Tennessee Williams

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Stupid Superstition

Theater people can be a bit... superstitious..

Of course they are!  Anyone who invests as much time, effort, money, ego etc. into an endeavor whose result - Smash Hit :)  or Turkey :(  - is mostly outside your control is going to believe in luck.  It's a thing.

The most famous of these superstitions is, of course, not speaking the name of That Play inside a theater.  (Or outside of a theater if you can help it.)  You know, the McPlay.  The Scottish Play.  And don't say the name of the principal characters either.  Call them "the Thane and his wife" or "the McBs" or something.

This is a superstition I don't particularly share, but some actors get so visibly upset when it's crossed that I go along.  When I remember.  (I've goofed and had to spin three times and spit and whateverall.)  No, I'd be happy to design The Scottish Play again.  It's Stephen King's Misery I balk at: I absolutely know that story, set in the aftermath of a car wreck, has nothing whatsoever to do with my totaling my truck driving home from that theater in the rain... but once is enough for me, thanks.

The one little silly theater superstition I do have - one I suspect I share, unadmitted, with a few other set-people - is that all really good shows n' sets get a little blood on 'em.  In ancient days a human sacrifice slaked mortar at foundations of great buildings or bodies were buried under stones, as at Stonehenge.  This seems barbaric and unnecessary today, of course, because, despite OSHA, nearly all major architectural or engineering projects cost a life or a serious injury anyway, even when trying not to shed blood.  Great construction takes its toll.


All My Sons took its blood and was a terrific show.  I stapled myself to the wisteria-draped set of Enchanted April and that was great.  A dancer sprained something for the wonderful Urinetown.  Now Lovers & Executioners, which has already claimed a broken toe (kicking the pile of research books counts as play-related, no?) has now collected a bit of blood from me too...

By golly! I demand apparent "broken bottles" on the top of that garden wall for this play about adultery, but I thought the plastic bottles I was breaking would be safer.

Silly me.

Vintage good luck card from Freestock.ca

The other famous theater superstition? Never say "Good Luck"!  Say "Break a Leg!"

Or, in this case, a Toe.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A French Trend

It's been busy here at Scenic Central:

Fun House Theatre and Film opens their School Bus Named Desire tonight.

This clever reimagining stars the younger members of the kids-troupe.  Always interesting to work with these guys; Bren and Jeff are brilliant and the youngsters amazing.  Bonus of Dave Tenney as TD.  This design, for me, was an interesting mix of kindergarten classroom and the New Orleans of Blanche Dubois.  There's crayon work by cast members (Aa is for Alligator, Bb is for Beignet etc.), a playhouse modeled on French Quarter buildings overlooking Jackson Square (plus a slide), and a lotta midnight painting (because summer camp and rehearsals mean carpentry and painting only happen after 9:00 p.m.).  Well worth seeing.

Color study for A School Bus Named Desire at Fun House Theatre and Film

There's a definite French theme to my design lately.

Circle Theatre just Teched their production of Lovers & Executioners which is going to be wonderful.  Gorgeous costumes by director/designer Robin Armstrong, terrific cast, and a nice (I think) set of an 18th C town outside of Paris.  With working fountain.

Half finished carving for the fountain of Lovers & Executioners

Here's the fountain carving before it was painted - or mounted.  Homework for me and my snap-blade Olfa knife - that and the serrated bread knife from my kitchen.  The foam was leftover from an earlier show (hence the blue paint).  It's several hunks held together with wood skewers and white glue.

Fountain under construction, Lovers & Executioners

And here it is, primed and standing where it was intended to go.

Mostly built 17th C French Town set for Lovers & Executioners, Circle Theatre

This is the context photo: the rest of the town set when construction is nearly finished, but before scenic painting has advanced.  Great work by TD Rick Morrison and his team!

Actually, as I type, the carving's fate is a bit up in the air.  Seeing the Designer Run last night, I realized that action at the fountain means nothing as large (or fragile) as this carving can go in that location... Actors and scenery would obliterate each other.  

So I'm proposing the dolphino be raised to the top of the fountain - under the triangular pediment and above the tile - ornamental but out of the way, with only a soft, minimalist spout for water.  (Tile decoration will jazz that up.)  

But at this moment All is In Flux.

While that suspense (and the rest of the set) builds, here's a sketch of the finished set to hang on to:

Schematic design sketch for Lovers & Executioners, Circle Theatre - by Clare Floyd DeVries

ADDENDUM:  Want to see how it turned out?  Look HERE.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The British Library Images

The British Library just release over a million scanned images to the public domain via Flickr.


In this digital age easy access to our joint heritage of copyright free images (because expired, because old) is a new Gold Rush.

Quick!  Design something using THESE.

I dibs this one...

Public domain image from Queen Mab, a novel - from the British Library

Meanwhile, my board is red hot (and only partly because it's upstairs in August).  Lotso designing going on.  I'm working out the kinks in placing a set and audience seating in Kitchen Dog Theater's new home, The Green Zone, for the up-coming show The Dumb Waiter.  I spent yesterday evening getting a start on the cheerful-kindergarten/decayed-New Orleans set for Fun House Theatre's A Schoolbus Named Desire.  The set for Lovers and Executioners at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth is building... I spent a few days carving a foam fountain-dolphino for that.  And I'm coming to grips with The Addams Family for Mainstage Irving Los Colinas - first production meeting Friday evening.  (Friday evening?)  Busy, busy.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


I'm rereading E.M. Forster's classic Aspects of the Novel, just now re-finding a wonderful passage on the troubles novelists suffer with characters as they write.  He then contrasts the woes of the novelist with those of the playwright:

These trials beset the dramatist also, and he has yet another set of ingredients to cope with - the actors and actresses - and they appear to side sometimes with the characters they represent, sometimes with the play as a whole, and more often as the mortal enemies of both.  The weight they throw is incalculable, and how any work of art survives their arrival I do not understand...   
...but, in passing, is it not extraordinary that plays on the stage are often better than they are in the study, and that the introduction of a bunch of rather ambitious and nervous men and women should add anything to our understanding of Shakespeare and Chekhov?

Anton Chekhov reads The Seagull - Wikipedia

Monday, July 20, 2015

Green Research

I'm studying up on how to make theater more ecologically sustainable.  And you know what?  I'm actually starting to find good sources of information on-line.  Ones that didn't exist a few years ago:

#1  The Broadway Green Alliance's website (and their Off-Broadway offshoot's HERE)


#2  The on-line guide, The NRDC Theatre Greening Advisor, by the Natural Resources Defense Coalition with the Broadway Green Alliance.

The other best source so far (not on-line) is the book, A Practical Guide to Greener Theatre, by Ellen E. Jones

It's about time! is all I can say.

Ackermann's Repository 1816 - public domain

I'm working on a little greener theater guide of my own, a companion to Alice Through the Proscenium, my how-to theater scenic design book.  (Which I'm happy to report is selling steadily.   I've seen mentioned from Utah to Kuala Lumpur to Arkansas... pretty cool!)  My  green tome will have a bit of a different spin on it...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Eras End

This has been a period of changes in the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community.

One of the founders of Theatre Three, long-time Artistic Director Jac Alder, died earlier this spring.  He was an important and encouraging landmark, a supporter of talent, a gentleman of the theater who is much missed. This week there was a rather wonderful celebration for him.   (Dallas Morning News story HERE.) 

I can only say that I watched my first Moliere' play on his stage, decades ago.  I can't say that I knew Jac well - we only met a few times - but I still remember our conversation: how much more fun theater was compared to professional architectural practice.  He trained as an architect, a training that tends to stick; a tiny facet of life that we shared. 

Theatre Three is now in transition under a new, interim Artistic Director, the multi-talented Bruce Coleman.  

Adventure ahead certainly.

Pre-sale sorting at the rehearsal hall - Photo ?

The second change is that Kitchen Dog Theater, of which I'm a member, has lost its long-time home at the MAC.  (The building's being torn down to build something more profitable.)  For the interim we Dogs are moving to The Green Zone in the Design District.  Last weekend was a weirdly fun yet exhausting garage sale for most of our worldly goods.  Like selling off your scrapbook, really.  (Dallas Morning News story HERE.)

Ah! My poor green froggy-chair!  It debuted in The Bald Soprano at UTD
and lived in Kitchen Dog's green room.  Alas, poor Yorick.  Photo by Tim Johnson.

We'll see what new adventure awaits in our interim home...

UPDATE:  There's DMN vid and I'm in it.  (Why did I wear my dumpster diving shirt?  Oh, yeah, the dumpster loading thing...)  HERE

Monday, July 13, 2015

Importance of Habit

I get more blogging done when it becomes a habit.

Likewise, I get more exercise or writing or design or anything done when I set up routines and stick to them, just as many many writers swear by setting strict times or page quotas to encourage both creativity and productivity.

Dancer / choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote a terrific book on exactly this topic, The Creative Habit: learn it and use it for life.  A helpful book for any creative worker.  It's been a while since I read it, but I still remember that she advocated a version of the same a-box-for-every-project system that I use myself to organize the detritus of creation - all the inspirational photos, base drawings, go-bys, samples, texts, totems, and whatnot you always collect as you design.

Gotta get back into my productive, creative routines!  Today I actually exercised... so there's a start.

And here I am at least typing a little.  It's a start.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Back from the Beach

After a chock-full-o'-design spring and a refreshing beach vacation on Galveston Island...

Ah!  Hot shrimp gumbo, ice cold beer, and warm Gulf waters!

A view of Galveston beach at the turn of the last century by P.H. Rose, Wikimedia 

But now I'm back.  To Dallas.  To work.  To blogging.

While opening ten shows in five months this spring I did rather let the blogging thing slide, but I'll do better now.  At least until my (very faint) tan fades and the work schedule warms up.

Before getting back to Theatre... a beach book recommendation:  the brilliant graphic novel from the internet blog-comic by Sydney Padua:

The Thrilling Adventures of 
Lovelace and Babbage*
The (mostly) True Story of the First Computer

Review to follow, but why wait?  Buy it HERE, now.  

(That's The Author, by the way, struggling with her day job to find time to write.)