USITT Young Designer Erin Reed
USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

Stage Directions

Costume designer Erin Reed is based out of Knoxville, TN. She just completed her MFA at the University of Tennessee. She's a freelance costume designer, design assistant and technician working with companies such as the Clarence Brown Theatre, River and Rail Theatre Company, Flying Anvil Theatre, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. This spring she was honored for her work with the USITT Zelma H. Weisfeld Award for Costume Design and Technology. She also showcased in USITT’s Young Designer’s Forum, and won first place in Graduate Costume Design at SETC 2018 for her design of Peter and the Starcatcher. Stage Directions caught up with this young designer to watch at USITT when she joined us at the USITT/Stage Directions studio on the show floor.

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Maddie Mayans, Nikki Rose, and Sean Murray in The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc
Maddie Mayans, Nikki Rose, and Sean Murray in The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc

A Volley of Arrows Using High, Low and No Tech Solutions

Brent Stainer and Camille Taliaferro-Barber

When Archbishop Murphy High School, in Everett, WA, produced The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc, the script called for two volleys of arrows to strike the stage, creating the illusion that the characters were being attacked from a long distance. In the first volley, arrows strike across the set and the character of Joan is struck in the shoulder. The second volley strikes around the stage and onto shields held up to protect the injured Joan. The effect needed to look realistic to reflect the heavy tone of the play, so comical or whimsical effects would not do. The primary concern of course was safety, so actual free-flight arrows would not be considered. The solutions to the multiple challenges were found using three approaches – high tech, low tech, and no tech. 

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Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind
Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind

Creating a Storehouse of Visual Images: In Conversation with LD Christopher Akerlind

Howard Sherman

With hundreds of lighting designs to his credit over the past three decades, and two Tony Awards for lighting design on his shelf (for The Light in the Piazza and Indecent), Christopher Akerlind’s start in the theater was not what one might expect. “I had acted in high school,” Akerlind recalls, “Performance was obviously part of what I was interested in. I loved acting, but when I turned 18, I promptly lost my nerve and could never imagine going out on stage in front of a big group of people again.”

Akerlind enrolled at the University of Connecticut as a music major. “I played the saxophone, the clarinet, and the flute,” he recounts. “I found that whatever I had achieved in high school as a musician was purely intuitive. In other words, I was a lazy musician, but actually a good one. So, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish the music course.” Taking a year off, Akerlind responded to an ad for interns at Hartford Stage, ending up working as a production assistant and, more significantly, sound board operator for the theater’s epic production of The Greeks. The sound for the production was the first professional sound design by David Budries, who became the theater’s resident sound designer and would go on to start the sound design program at the Yale School of Drama.

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Claire Warden, Broadway’s First Credited Intimacy Director
Claire Warden, Broadway’s First Credited Intimacy Director

A Conversation with Claire Warden, The First Broadway Credited Intimacy Director

Howard Sherman

In response to an observation that five years ago she wouldn’t have been having a conversation about intimacy direction, Claire Warden responds, “It didn’t exist five years ago, in this form.”

But intimacy direction has rapidly emerged as a distinct discipline on the creative teams of plays and musicals, and Warden has been at the forefront of that movement. She is the first person to have been credited as the intimacy director of a Broadway show, for Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune with Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon. She’s about to be the second person thusly credited, as Slave Play, first seen at New York Theatre Workshop, moves to Broadway.

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Designer Rachel Hauck
Designer Rachel Hauck

Finding Her Tribe: A Conversation with Rachel Hauck

Howard Sherman

Glance at the current resume of set designer Rachel Hauck and under “Recent Off-Broadway” you’ll find more than 50 productions. Look at “Recent Regional” and you’ll find yet another 50 shows. Under Broadway, no “recent” is required, because Hauck has but three credits, but what impressive credits they are and one ends with a Tony Award. Her first Broadway credit was for John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons. The other two are for productions that have been running simultaneously during much of 2019. One is Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, for which Hauck created an amalgam of the VFW halls that Schreck frequented in order to compete in essay contests in her teen years. The other is the Tony Award winning Best Musical of 2019, Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, for which Hauck won the Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. Less than a month after her Tony, Hauck sat down with Stage Directions to talk about her career. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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The Muny Renovation

Michael Eddy

In May of 2018, The Muny Theatre in St. Louis, MO announced its Second Century Capital Campaign, a $100 million fundraising effort that would fund major capital improvements, including a complete rebuild of its stage. At the time, Muny President and CEO, Denny Reagan commented, “As we look toward our second century, the capital improvements to the facility and endowment support that will result from this campaign are vital to the future of The Muny.” After several years of planning, the staff of The Muny were ready to pull the trigger on the project at the conclusion of the 2018 summer season. The century-old stage was torn down and construction began; all with the goal of having it rebuilt and ready to go for the 2019 season in the spring. The rebuild addressed critical structural needs and allows The Muny to utilize stage technology that has become standard across the industry—versatile automated stage decking, stage lifts, an all LED lighting system, state-of-the-art controls, and new scenic LED screens. The results of the first phase of construction were completed on schedule and Guys and Dolls hit the ‘new’ boards on June 10, 2019. Production Manager, Tracy Utzmyers and Lighting Designer, Rob Denton, who have both been very involved in this massive renovation, spoke with Stage Directions about the process, the challenges and the stunning results.

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Jeff Hiller, Roger Bart, and Nelson Chimilio in Hercules at The Public Theater
Jeff Hiller, Roger Bart, and Nelson Chimilio in Hercules at The Public Theater

Printing Props: Do Not Fear the [3D] Printer

Jay Duckworth

I guess I’m three-quarters Nerd and one-quarter Geek. The main difference between the two is how you answer this question—‘May the force be…’ 1) equal to the mass or 2) with you. One means you are an out and out Geek; Two means you are a full-on Nerd. The great thing is when these two realms converge in a Venn Diagram—with you in the center. That’s where I fit in 3D printing. The first thing I ever printed was a laser scan of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from Mesopotamia. I was fascinated to see the newest technology reproducing the first written story we have yet to find. 

Since then I have been learning how to design, first on Tinkercad, an easy-to-use 3D CAD design tool from Autodesk and now I’m starting with Autodesk’s Fusion 360. I have designed a few things, some for the Hercules musical, that’s based on the Disney animated film, that we just did as part of our Public Works program at The Public Theater. I also printed some prop items that I’ll know I’ll need in the future: the Nebra Sky Disk from the Bronze Age, a mariner’s quadrant that measured altitude, and a witches’ Wheel of the Year that displayed their holidays. So how did I get into printing props, well this would have never happened without David Grindle, executive director of USITT introducing me to Marc Franz, executive vice president of Raise 3D Technologies. Marc asked if I could use a 3D printer for theatrical props work. Oh man could I!

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Aluminum Blades
Aluminum Blades

Crafting Aluminum Blades: The trend towards aluminum for stage weaponry

Jay Duckworth

We have a pretty well stocked armory in the basement of The Public Theater. Old swords, new swords, flamberges, schlagers, hilts, pommels—you name it; we probably have it. But when we started the process for this summer’s Coriolanus, our fight director Steve Rankin requested that we have some custom blades made of aluminum. It struck me that a lot of requests lately for blades have been aluminum. It is in fact a trend in the last decade. But why? We have been using iron and carbon in blades since 1100-800 BCE. Why the change?

I spoke with weapons experts, J. Allen Suddeth and J. David Brimmer, to get some insight. Suddeth is a fight master, and past president of the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD), works as a fight director with Disney Theatricals, and has taught at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts, SUNY Purchase, and the Lee Strasberg Institute. He’s the author of Fight Directing for Theater. Brimmer is a violence specialist and is also a fight master with SAFD and teaches at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

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The Broadway musical Moulin Rouge!
The Broadway musical Moulin Rouge!

A Design that CanCan! Set Designer Derek McLane brings us inside the Moulin Rouge

Ellis Nassour

One thing that the ushers at NYC’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre can always count on when they open the orchestra doors at the new Broadway musical Moulin Rouge! is a volley of gasps and exclamations as ticketholders first glimpse the fully immersive set that encompasses much of the auditorium. Smartphones are out as patrons roam the aisles capturing snaps of the colorful stage with its depth of heart-shaped portals, the 14.6’ replica of the windmill that sits atop the Moulin Rouge in Paris, now mounted in the box at the left, and the 18’ high blue elephant in the box at right.

Moulin Rouge! is by far my largest and most elaborate production,” says Tony and Emmy-winning set designer Derek McLane, who has more than 350 design credits, including over 40 Broadway productions, six Academy Awards designs and four live musicals for NBC. “It’s even more elaborate than my sets for the Oscars. So, it’s really gratifying and wonderful to hear and get feedback on audience reaction to the design elements.”

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Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz
Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz

With a Creative Perspective: Veteran Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz

Lisa Mulchay

Mintz’s incredible career span has given her a unique and practical sense of wisdom regarding the nuts and bolts of her craft. At the same time, she radiates a strong creative spirit, and remains committed to pursuing work that is meaningful to her on both intellectual and artistic levels.

Cheryl Mintz possesses the technical skills that have earned her a stellar reputation as one of the best stage managers in the business—yet she has the heart and mind of a true artist. Mintz is the resident stage manager of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, and has been working on productions there for an astonishing 29 seasons. She has stage managed scores of productions and workshops and has collaborated with the crème de la crème of both American and international directors and playwrights. Her long collaboration with the McCarter’s artistic director and resident playwright, Emily Mann, has spanned 35 productions thus far; additionally, Mintz has stage managed many of McCarter’s world premiere productions including Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Marina Carr’s Phaedra Backwards, and John Guare’s Are You There, McPhee?.

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