Friday, January 30, 2015

How Big Is Your House?

This is just too funny to miss.

There was quite a fuss a couple years ago when the size of one of Mitt Romney's houses was revealed... a measly 11,206 square feet of La Jolla, California.  Ocean view natch.

But how does that compare to, like, normal everyday houses?

The Washington Post's handy Compare-O-Metric will show you!



I could fit my life - including design studio - into Mitt's Living / Dining room.  I dibs the ocean view!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reading Script Submittals

I'm a reader.

Of play scripts (because I design theater sets).  Of non-fiction when I research or get curious.  Of on-line stuff.  Of newspapers and magazines.  And of novels - mostly genre ones - when seeking amusement, excitement, pleasure, or just a break from the day-to-day.  I read toothpaste boxes and wine labels.  If it has letters on it, I read it.  I like reading.

Last night was a script reading party for Kitchen Dog Theater where we made a dent in the boxes of submittals to our new play contest. It's exciting and intimidating to see the number of envelopes, the hope and hours of work they represent.  Everyone around the table last night wanted to find the prize, a great new play...

Dear Playwrights: can I make a few suggestions for making a good impression on readers - any readers, anywhere - who receive an envelope of your work?

1)  Make the cover letter short.  Pithy.  "Here it is, hope you like it."  Contact info.  Answer any questions - about previous productions, number of characters or whatever.   Don't get cute. Briefly mention awards, but be wary of bragging as too-florid praise can backfire.

2)  Make it businesslike.  Never, for instance, cross out something on the title page; reprint it.  Send a clean copy.

3)  Make it readable: white paper, black letters, readable font and line spacing.

4)  Make it sturdy.  There are supposed rules about the "professional" brads or whatever... as far as I'm concerned any sturdy binder, paper clip, or folder is fine, but loose pages or rubberbanded ones are hazards.

All that's mere format you say?  Exactly.  Don't put off your reader before they start.

As for the actual play...  There's only one rule:

Make it interesting.

Of all the scripts I read last night only one met that requirement.

I enjoyed that one!  I passed it on to the readers who will choose a winner.

The other scripts I read fizzled after a handful of pages, usually because nothing happened.

So, if you're submitting scripts to contests please remember that you, Dear Playwright, need to first get past me or someone like me, the grunt-readers who weed through those boxes of submittals to find the promising scripts.  You need to not bore us.

Now, if you want your script to be actually produced you'll also want to think about issues like not requiring too huge a cast or creating roles too difficult to cast - like an triple-threat actor/ singer/ dancer who also skateboards stunt-competitition level well.  Think about other difficulties like musicians, young children, or  trained animals.  Consider difficult, expensive set requirements.  Any of these requirements can be met (except maybe that skateboarder) if the play is good enough and there's enough funding.  Is there enough funding?  Is your play good enough?

But first you need your script to be read - eagerly! - by multiple readers.  For that it needs to be interesting.

Interesting is, of course, subjective.

My personal "interesting" meter looks for an intriguing situation with lively characters who have different voices and who DO and say things that keep me awake.  (I'm not talkin' sword fighting here, though that'd be fun - DOing can be opening a door or verbally sparring too.)  I prefer wit and humor.  And if at all possible make your drama touching or philosophical or beautiful or deeply true...

The meter hits 10!

(Note: the image is public domain from HERE.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

First Steps...

But if I'm going to show the development of Fun House's Romeo and Juliet set I really need to show the rough sketches that come before the "pretty" drawing (that drawing a designer uses to persuade the director and producers that This Is The Set They Want!).  HERE is that "pretty" sketch.

Here are some of those rough sketches.

These particular doodles were done in the near dark of another theater - Stage West - during an interval in the Tech rehearsal for The Explorers Club.  (Now onstage in Addison at WaterTower Theater - get yer tickets!)

Designers often do overlap shows - have to really - there being not enough weekends in the year or dollars in the fees not to.  Besides, by the time Tech arrives the set designer's job ought to be largely done - now you're mostly checking for goofs, omissions, and minor issues like light leaks or ragged hems on sofas - so that, if things are going smoothly, you have some extra headroom to think about the next show.

So this pic?

Documents me thinkin' about the next show.  In these sketches I was trying to work out the texture of the two towers and whether a flare to the base of the Capulet's would look right... and how to support that balcony anyway...?

Preliminary sketches for Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet
by Clare Floyd DeVries in the theater of Stage West during Tech for The Explorers Club.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Set Design From Scratch

I thought it might be interesting (or educational or something) to show the progress of one show's set design through all its phases, from beginning to end.

A while back I got hired by Fun House Theatre and Film to design their up-coming Romeo and Juliet.

This is a show I've long wanted to design.  I once came close: but was foiled when that other theater company changed to a different show.  Rats!  I had such a good idea too, I thought.  Now - finally! - this chance.  Happily for me, the nice folks at Fun House liked this long-frustrated idea...

I once visited the Italian town of San Gimignano, a medieval town so neighborly that pretty well every household built their own defensive tower.  Perfect! for the Montagues and Capulets.

San Gimignano - courtesy of Wikimedia HERE

I want to stage the play with each family both alike in the dignity of their own tower.  Today I showed Fun House these sketches:

A schematic design elevation for Fun House Theatre and Film's production of Romeo and Juliet - by Shakespeare, of course.

A schematic plan for Fun House Theatre and Film's Romeo and Juliet.

The towers are color coded - reddish colors for the Capulets, blueish for the Montagues, which is inspired by the costumes planned for this production.  The towers are meant to be very textural - built of rough stone, brick, shingles, sheet metal, scraps and scrounged materials, nothing highly anachronistic, but suggestive of the period rather than utterly correct.  (This is good from a budget and gettin'-it-done standpoint.  A "correct" production is difficult and expensive.)  An important detail will be the violets that I saw growing in the chinks of the real town's towers.


Approved to proceed!

The next step is to send copies of these loosey-goosey sketches on to the excellent scenic builder for him to consider while I whip up some fast construction drawings.

The show opens Valentines Day.  So get yer tickets!

I'll keep y'all in the loop. 

(BTW I reserve the copyright to this design of course.)

ADDENDUM:  HERE is a link to some of the rougher sketches that preceeded this "pretty" one.

ADDENDUM #2:  HERE is a later post that links to all the posts about creating this R&J set.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Here's a great quote from artist David Hockney (taken from Joanna Scutts's review of his latest bio by Christopher Simon Sykes, HERE).

About his artistic career:

"You don't retire doing this, you just do it till you fall over."

I know personally at least two theater artists that's been true for.  Retirement only applies if you're no longer enjoying what you're doing, no longer able, or no longer contributing usefully.

Life-long art is a worthy goal to dive into - let's all aim to make a big splash!

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney
copyright David Hockney, believed fair use, source Wikipedia HERE

I'm a big admirer of Hockney's work, both his visual art and his opera set designs.  In fact, seeing a museum show of his stage design - especially his Rake's Progress - was a milestone for me in approaching theater design myself.  A fascinating exhibit!  You can see some of his stage designs HERE.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Your Own Awards

Here in the Dallas Fort Worth area one actor noticed that his friends in the civic theaters and smaller professional theaters were never winning any awards no matter how brilliant their work - because all the awards were going to actors and designers working in bigger, better-funded theaters.

So he started his own awards.

The Column Awards have become a staple of the DFW theater season... even outliving the more "established" awards from the now defunct Dallas Theatre League.  I've always admired the spirit of just up and creating your own award.

But I'm even more impressed with director Philip Lord of The Lego Movie who, not able to compete against the bigger, more blockbuster, more "prestigious,"more non-toy! films for an Oscar, has literally created his own award... from Legos!  His tweet HERE:

LEGO (TM) Oscar  (TM) by Philip Lord
for The Lego Movie

Love it!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Test Scan

The Explorers Club - Stage West and WaterTower Theater
set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

There!  The first successful scan from my brand new large format scanner.

Ain't tech wonderful?

I love the way prices keep dropping(if in this realm only), because a few years ago an 11" x 17" (almost) scanner like this one cost over a thousand dollars and now it's less than $200 .  Finally I can afford to scan my sketches in One Piece, instead of in halfsies.

Scanning images at your desk is a help to any visual artist, but as a set designer who often works an hour or two away from the guys and gals  at the theater who need the drawing, it's a life-saver... as in my-life-wasted-one-hour-in-the-car at a time.   Sometimes one quick and quickly scanned picture really can be worth a thousand words over the phone when trying to explain a fix.

What other tech is actually really useful in this biz?

Cell phones, because of the find-you-anywhere ability.  Though I hate to admit it, texting is actually useful in a theater context because often you need to discuss an issue but can't talk because rehearsal.  Email is my preference because you can better, more fully discuss issues and Bonus! no nagging electronic bleeps.  Email is easier to ignore until you have real time to think and respond.

Copiers.  Blessed copiers.  I'm old enough to remember the early versions of photo-copiers with their damp, dirty results.  (Oh, the old toner disasters!  Filthy ook-dust everywhere!)  I remember - and can still smell - the old Diazo printers and their ammonia - a system which only worked to copy drawings on translucent materials.  (My first architecture job involved an unventilated basement tending a Diazo machine.)  In the pre-photo-copier age, if you wanted text copied you wrote it out yourself and, to copy a picture on opaque paper or from a book, you traced it.


All hail the age of big cheap scanners!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Set Designer / Fashionista

This is the second time a costumer explained a character's "look" by pointing to the set designer's sweater.

Sweater - public domain

Once it was for modeling the perfect sweater for a rather free-thinking literature professor.  Most recently for a rather modest 1960s Hasidic Jewish housewife (who, come to think of it, becomes a professor too).

Taste or what?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Little Bit More Charlie

After the murderous attack on the Parisian satirical paper Charlie Hebdo we - especially all artists - need to consider our stand on free speech.

I understand that the political cartoons and satire of Charlie Hebdo is no-holds-barred, unPC, sometimes irreverent past the line of offending anyone and everyone.  France has a proud tradition of political satire, a history starting during the lead-up to the French Revolution.  Satire is supposed to be offensive now and then.

Another historical fact... Since the experience of Salman Rushdi, the West is aware that certain groups are quite easily and violently offended.  It takes guts to offend when you know there's a death sentence against a novelist because someone disliked his writing.  Because of threats  Charlie Hebdo had a policeman to protect them.  Slaughtering that police officer and another and the editorial board and chief cartoonists of a magazine is...

Unthinkable.  Indefensible.

If a civilized person objects to writing or drawing they protest peacefully or go to court.  They cancel their magazine subscription.

It is, I think, a terrible comment on the present state of a great religious and ethnic community that was once a beacon of civilization - noted for scholars, scientists, and artists - that they are now represented to the rest of the world by these... murderers.

An Arabic astronomer... anciently cartooned
Old enough to be public domain.

Genuine followers of Islam need to take back their religion from the followers of evil.

The rest of us?  We need to support free speech.  Even free speech we don't like, which might include satire, political speech, certain artists' work, even neo-Nazi BS and stupid movies about North Korea.

I'll have to watch that movie now.  Really don't like the actors, but gotta see it now.

For myself, as a theater artist, I always evaluate the next play to see whether I agree with its point of view or, if it offends me, whether the material is, nevertheless, artistically true or important or useful to the world.  I've only had one play picketed so far.  Frankly, I think the religious picketers mis-read that script because the insult they perceived seemed, to me, only a joke that generations of Catholic school girls must have made, while the show as a whole was sweet-natured and, under the frivolity, a serious look at the relationship between Man and God.  But they had their point of view, the show had its, and the picketing was a peaceful debate between the two.

Isn't that the point?

Let's freely and peacefully discuss important things.  Let's support those who do.