Jay Duckworth and Michelle Bisbee at USITT 2018
Jay Duckworth and Michelle Bisbee at USITT 2018

Talking Props at USITT with Jay Duckworth

Stage Directions

Last year at USITT 2018, SD contributor and proptologist Jay Duckworth, resident properties master at The Public Theater, hosted the first ever Prop Lab on the USITT Stage Expo floor. While there we invited him to interview a few of his fellow props masters, who he had invited to join him teaching prop workshops. Here are three of Jay's USITT Conversations with Adam Daley, Eric Hart, & Michelle Bisbee.

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Two Sides of the Coin...that you made!

Jay Duckworth

Props Master; Props Teacher
There comes a time in a prop person’s career where they have to show an actor how to pull off a trick. It’s sometimes very simple like drawing a sword properly or not using the sword as a cane by leaning on it. These may sound like common sense points, but they all fall under a blanket of teaching. As technicians, we sometimes assume the people know skills that we use every day, but actors who do ask questions about replicating the actions of a skill are being honest with us because they want to know how to do this correctly as if they are someone who’s had that skill all their life. 

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Sound Conversations at USITT 2018

Michael Eddy

At the 2018 USITT Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Stage Directions and USITT hosted the Stage Directions Studio on the show floor. Over the three days we spoke with a wide variety of theater artisans, designers, technicians, and practitioners about their thoughts and advice on an array of topics in their respective theatrical disciplines. This month we are including some of the thoughts of two of the sound designers we sat down with during the show. They shared with us their mentors, technology, and also offered their humble advice to those starting out in a life in theatrical design. We thank them for generously share their experiences and thoughts with SD. Here are Jonathan Deans and Steve Canyon Kennedy in their own words:

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URTA Celebrates 50 Years

Lisa Mulcahy

2019 is a milestone year for the University Resident Theatre Association (URTA)—it’s the organization’s 50th year in service, and what great service has been provided. URTA’s founding intent was to foster excellence in professional theater training. During the past five decades URTA has developed a wide range of programs and services geared to assist and support students, instructors, and working professionals. Of course, MFA students also know and have participated in URTA Auditions and Interviews, where they’re seen and evaluated by top theater program faculty recruiters. URTA member universities have graduated scores of working artists who have racked up incredibly impressive credentials in every aspect of theater business and education. “Essentially, we have three missions: to support student artists; to support faculty; and to support theater professionals as they move through their training and careers,” says Tony Hagopian, URTA’s executive director. 

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Words, Words, Words

Jay Duckworth

Speaking at Maine State Music Theatre this summer, I was asked what my design process was. I said, ‘First off, read the script.’ Holy Cow, I can’t believe the number of people that I’ve worked with that just skim it over to look for ‘he hands him a hammer’. What if the actor must hit someone on the head with that hammer? 

The first time I worked with playwright Arthur Laurents he told me, ‘If you have any questions, look back into the script, and it will tell you everything.’ When I go through a script for the first time, I hit everything that is a prop with a yellow highlighter; everything that is a perishable with a red highlighter, and situational information (year, season, holidays, before and after, financial situation, day of the week, and weather trends) with a blue highlighter. 

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DeWanda Wise & Khris Davis in Atlantic Theater Company’s world premiere production of Fireflies.  (Photo Credit: Ahron R. Foster)
DeWanda Wise & Khris Davis in Atlantic Theater Company’s world premiere production of Fireflies. (Photo Credit: Ahron R. Foster)

A Conversation with Costume Designer Dede Ayite

Howard Sherman

With a resume of recent costume design credits including American Son and Children of a Lesser God on Broadway, Fireflies at Atlantic Theatre Company, Slave Play at New York Theatre Workshop and School Girls, or The African Mean Girls Play for MCC Theater, it’s slightly surprising to learn a few facts about Dede Ayite’s education and training. “I double majored in theater and behavioral neuroscience,” says Ayite, a graduate of Lehigh University. As for her graduate work at Yale School of Drama? “Scene design,” she explains.

Ayite connects the dots that took her through various courses of study to her burgeoning costume design career. Growing up in Ghana and only moving to the U.S. in her final years of high school, Ayite recalls, “I’d very much been into clothing and fashion in Ghana. You have your own clothes made, so that was very exciting for me. I would just sketch it out, and then I would go to the seamstress’s and spend the day there, just hang out, to see what they’re doing, how they’re putting things together. But it was just something you do for fun. I enjoyed it.”

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Theater of War's Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage
Theater of War's Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage

Reordering the Hierarchy of Culture: Bryan Doerries and Theater of War

Howard Sherman

"Our belief is that when you approach audiences with a reverence for the intelligence and the experience that’s in every room, and the humility for what might be possible, new things are possible in the theatre.” 

Those are the words of Bryan Doerries, founder of Theater of War Productions, which for a decade has been bringing classic works by Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and others to military audiences, revealing how works that are some 2,500 years old still hold meaning and emotional power for present-day audiences, particularly those dealing with some of the greatest challenges anyone can face. Doerries chronicled his own work with both currently serving members of the military, as well as veterans’ groups, in his 2015 book, The Theater of War. In conversation with SD in November, Doerries suggested that while that work continues, it represented merely Act I of his utilization of the classics, with Act II now underway as the company expands to now serve not only the military but the mental health, medical, prison, justice communities and those affected by disasters.

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A Career in Consoles, Catching up with Anne Valentino

Michael Eddy

To say Anne Valentino has been influential in the development of lighting control consoles in our industry would be an understatement. She has been involved in the development of some of the industry’s most defining lighting control products. Most recognized for her work and guidance in the development of ETC’s family of consoles, who she began working with in 1990, Valentino has also worked with Kliegl Bros, Strand, Vari-Lite, and PRG, during her nearly 30-year career. If you have run a lighting console from any of these manufacturers, odds are insanely good that Valentino’s work was an important part of that board. Currently, she is the Eos Product Manager with ETC and is involved with console development from inception through development, and then taking it to the market. Many lighting designers and programmers have worked with, given feedback to, and been trained on the consoles by Valentino at tradeshows and training sessions all over the world. Her contributions to the industry have been deservedly recognized as well. She received the prestigious Gottelier Award in 2016 and in 2018 USITT honored her with the Lighting Design & Technology Distinguished Achievement Award. While at USITT, Stage Directions caught up with Valentino to talk a bit about her career.

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Prop Master Kristine Holmes
Prop Master Kristine Holmes

Kristine Holmes is A (25) Seasoned Props Master

Lisa Mulchay

As the full-time manager of the properties department at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, Kristine Holmes has spent 25 seasons building and sourcing props for scores of productions. Having been properties master for over 175 shows during her career, Holmes has worked on both regional and Broadway productions of Hedda Gabler and Private Lives. She has also fabricated props for many Disney Cruise Line Productions and has spent 18 seasons as the set decorator for PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. In 2014, the Huntington honored Holmes with the Gerard and Sherryl Cohen Award, recognizing the quality of her work and contributions to the company’s long-standing success.

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Celia Gooding & Antonio Cipriano in A.R.T.’s Jagged Little Pill (Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva)
Celia Gooding & Antonio Cipriano in A.R.T.’s Jagged Little Pill (Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva)

An Immersive Audio Experience on Jagged Little Pill

Wilson Burke

The rock musical, Jagged Little Pill, scheduled to open on Broadway in fall of 2019, had its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) with a sound design by renowned sound designer Jonathan Deans.  The well-received high-energy musical is inspired by Alanis Morissette’s Grammy-winning 1995 album of the same name and features music and lyrics by Morissette and Glen Ballard paired with a book by Diablo Cody. Deans, a pioneer in immersive audio technologies, pushed the limits of immersive sound design for the show, which moves seamlessly between interior intimacy and arena-sized intensity. 

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