The NYC Props Summit of 2019
The NYC Props Summit of 2019

Torch Song: Cassie Dorland takes over hosting the NYC Props Summit

Jay Duckworth

There are those moments that bring you to your feet because the energy is so powerful that you just have to stand. There were two of these moments for me, the first was 1996 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Atlanta, GA where a shaking and frail Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame. My body took over and I stood up and tears started filling my eyes. The second moment was when Neil Patrick Harris opened the 2013 Tony Awards with the amazing production of the song “Bigger”. They were both magical moments for me. Reflecting on those, I have come to understand that those moments were not about that one person. Those moments were about recognizing the collective. Both times people took the stage to prepare us for the next best of the best; the best athletes the world has to offer and a look at the best in New York theater. What these two things have in common is the passing of the torch. In the case of the Olympic flame it is very literal and at the Tony Awards it is presentational. It is a custom that dates to the ancient world, showing up in the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc where every flame is quenched but one, and every torch must come be lit from it, the new fire representing the birth of spring.

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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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Stop Lecturing: Five Alternative Teaching Methods

Natalie Taylor Hart

Teaching artists come from a range of backgrounds: some from more academic settings and some from the professional sphere. We have expertise in our disciplines, but sometimes we lack a history of training in the methods and theory of teaching and learning. By blending educational methodologies with disciplinary methodologies, we can often become more effective teachers and help our students become more successful. If lecturing is your teaching comfort zone, it may take a little thought to rework your class, but the potential benefits are compelling.

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Jay Duckworth teaching at the USITT Props Lab
Jay Duckworth teaching at the USITT Props Lab

Jump in with Both Feet: My Path to Teaching

Jay Duckworth

I have always thought that theater and education go hand in hand. The first time I ever saw a play was in grade school. It was about a king who wanted to see how his kingdom was doing so he pretended to be a peasant and visited his village. The two people I remember him encountering was a man who put on his pants both legs at the same time by jumping as high as he could and landing inside them. This won him golden awards as the highest jumper in the kingdom. The second person was a doctor who, no matter what was wrong with you, wrapped your head with bandages. At the end of the end of the play, the king told us how he learned that people did things differently (pants guy) and even if it’s strange to you, this gives them a unique talent. He also learned that that each problem needs its own solution (doctor), and the same answer doesn’t necessarily work for all people’s problems.

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Turning the Table: How to make a flipping table

Jay Duckworth

Drumsticks of shamans were the first representations of magic wands. Then later, in ancient Egypt, the royal cubit was a standardized stick that was distributed to workers, those too were seen as magic wands because those who carried and worked with these sticks were able to build the structures of the Gods. The first documented magic trick is from ancient Egypt, where Dedi, a fictional ancient Egyptian magician, decapitated a bird and then reattached the bird’s head and brought it back to life. There is also a depiction of the cup and balls trick where a ball was put under one of three cups. The trick was to follow where the ball was supposed to be, an ancient version of Follow the Lady aka Three-card Monte. As technicians in theater, there are often times where we have to create an illusion. In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest there is a banquet table in Act 3, Scene III where food appears out of nowhere. There is a neat trick for this, and I’d love to share it with you. 

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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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Sound Designer Kate Marvin
Sound Designer Kate Marvin

Sound Demon: In Conversation with Sound Designer Kate Marvin

Howard Sherman

Sound Demon. Sounds like the name of a comic book supervillain. The Sound Demon versus The Incredible Hulk. But sound designer Kate Marvin is one of the few people who can lay claim to having that title bestowed upon her, and not for nefarious, world-subjugating reasons. Post-college, when she said theater wasn’t much on her mind, Marvin worked at Target Margin Theater as assistant director on a workshop of a project about Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan. When the project was complete, she met with director David Herskovits about additional opportunities. Based on her musical skills—Marvin plays an array of instruments including piano, guitar, ukulele, banjo, and mandolin—Herskovits proposed she become the company’s new “sound demon,” following in the footsteps of Target Margin company member, Diana Konopka. “She was running sound for the group in a kind of performative way,” explains Marvin. “She was onstage mixing cues live. David said, ‘You have a sort of musical sensibility, and because it’s so performative and requires good timing and creativity, you should try doing this.’ I took over for Diana as she was transitioning out, moving on to Clubbed Thumb, and I loved it.”

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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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