The Ingenuity of Theater Makers

by Michael Eddy

As we go to press, awards season for theater is in full swing. A time when we celebrate the achievements of all the nominees and winners, especially in the design and technical categories. But of course the nomination lists reflect only a snapshot of the breadth of incredibly ingenious work being done across the theater community. Not to mention the amazing, but sadly often unsung, craftspeople who have relatively few nomination lists to see their names included on.

Perhaps sound designer Lindsay Jones states it best, “Every show that you see anywhere in the world is the result of a team of people working together to make great art.” He's absolutely right; it's a team effort and should be celebrated as such. Which is why on Tony Awards night, The Collaborator Party will be back in full swing, but not just to take a victory lap celebrating the return of the Tony for sound but will morph to celebrate ALL collaborators in theater including the many who are unrecognized for their contributions. (See how on page 4)

There is no shortage of award-worthy production solutions, and all are evidence that theater artisans are a very clever and ingenious lot. In many stories in Stage Directions, we celebrate those achievements, all often solutions to the challenges that playwrights throw in the way of theater-makers. Designers, technicians, and artisans are constantly asked to create ways to help tell a story. They push the boundaries of what’s do-able, what can be accomplished, and how to make it happen. 

And let’s not forget the added fun of ‘defying gravity’ on a budget. I was once in the room, when a playwright handed his new script to the scenic designer, the story took place in ‘Limbo’. After perusing the script, the designer’s first question was, “So, what’s my budget to create Limbo? Are you seeing gilt and marble or an empty stage with a fog machine?” 

In the original production of Les Misérables—the design team was asked for a bridge and a river for a character to leap from and into, center stage. Lighting designer David Hersey, scenic designer John Napier, and their teams, collaborated to create a stunning effect of Javert’s suicide. By using scenic automation, performer flying, fog, lighting motion effects, and subtle costume considerations, the team created an indelible image of Javert falling a long way to his death in the "river" below. It’s a theatrical moment that has stayed with me for over 30 years. 

Every day, theater artisans are handed scripts with references to places, props, scenic elements, lighting effects, or costume elements, sound requirements that defy reason (and often gravity) and they simply get on with solving it. What other industry creates almost a completely bespoke product every day? And we are proud to celebrate ALL of your ingenuity which supports the storytelling by telling your stories.