Looking for a Good Book, Here are Five to Try

by Stage Directions

Here are five books worth readers consideration to learn and enjoy written by experts in their respective theatrical subjects.

Lighting designer William Kenyon looks at capturing images onstage 
Theatre & Stage Photography
Documenting theatrical and stage events under the often dramatic—and complex—lighting designed for the production provides a number of specific photographic challenges and is unlike most every other branch of photography. Lighting for the stage can frustrate even the most seasoned professional photographer, but William Kenyon, head of the lighting design program at Penn State University, has written a book that will help photographers capture pristine images. Theatre & Stage Photography: A Guide to Capturing Images of Theatre, Dance, Opera, and Other Performance Events is Kenyon’s first book and has been published by Focal Press.

Theatre & Stage Photography provides an overview of basic photography as it applies to available-light situations and will move both basic and experienced photographers through the process of accurately capturing both the production process and the resultant performance. 

From the books preface, Kenyon explains how the book came about. “As a very young entrant into the lighting design profession, I was often told during portfolio reviews that ‘stage lighting pictures are never right, so don’t show them in your portfolio.’ This truism—that photography was somehow inherently incapable of faithfully representing theatre lighting design—seemed evidenced by the apparent absence of quality photographs of many otherwise skilled and talented designers’ work, and it inspired me to learn what I needed to know so that I could claim, without hesitation, that the pictures in my portfolio were true and accurate representations of the design work. Along the way, I discovered a love for the photographic arts that parallels my passion for lighting and theatrical design, which I am pleased to be able to share with you in this book.”

The book pulls from the stage photography experience Kenyon has gained during his theatre career, which spans more than 25 years and over 150 designs. Using images from his personal collection as well as illustrations created by Jenny Kenyon, his wife and instructor of design and scenic art, the book acts as a how-to manual for photography. “Somebody that’s never done any photography at all can pick it up and learn how to use the camera in the first few chapters,” says Kenyon. “But as you get into the chapters that deal with performance, there’s a lot there for journeyman or expert users.”

“It’s my hope that the book gets out there and triggers more discussions about stage photography,” Kenyon comments. “Technology in the field is rapidly changing and I’d really like to continue the dialogue.” To help attain that goal, Kenyon has developed a companion website for the book [www.stagephoto.org] that will include a blogging area where visitors can receive the latest information about technological changes as well as announcements on future editions of the book. Further information and to order the book: https://bit.ly/StagePhotographySD

A look at John Huntington’s latest updates in a second edition 
Show Networks & Control Systems 2nd. EditionJohn Huntington, a professor of entertainment technology at New York City College of Technology, an entertainment and show control systems consultant, and sound engineer, has released the extensively revised second edition of his Show Networks & Control Systems. The book is both a learning guide for beginners and a reference for experienced technicians. With its combined focus on computers, networks, and control systems, the book covers the art and practice of using these tools for live shows and offers an in-depth examination of the technology used behind the scenes in lighting, lasers, audio, video, stage machinery, animatronics, special effects, and pyrotechnics and show control, the technique used to interconnect and synchronize two or more show systems. Huntington draws on more than three decades of experience in the field and classroom to clearly explain this complicated subject. 

Since 1994, his original book, Control Systems for Live Entertainment, which went through three editions/updates, was the standard text for systems integrators, technicians, and professors who teach technologies for production. In 2012, Huntington significantly revamped the book and expanded the coverage of the subject of show networking, so much so that he changed the name to Show Networks & Control Systems. [I reviewed that 2012 edition for Stage Directions: bit.ly/SDHuntingtonReview.] 

Huntington has made substantial changes in this second edition. He made 11,713 total changes, which includes 2,161 replacements, 1,294 insertions, and 1,256 deletions. He notes what’s new. “I went through every word more than once streamlining the overall text, and deleted some arcane or irrelevant references,” he explains. “The new edition is actually 18 pages shorter than the previous edition. I updated the standards and other references book-wide. In earlier editions, I was subtly advocating for moving away from rigid, inflexible control approaches and towards more interactive approaches. In the end, interactivity has not been widely accepted by the broader live show market, and so while all those technologies are still included in the book, I’m no longer pushing them. In addition, in recognition of the idea that these technologies across our industry have matured, I decided to replace the photos in the book. I feel like illustrations won’t date as quickly as photos, and this new edition features dozens of fantastic new illustrations by Aaron Bollinger.”

As a bonus for the second edition, he has created and updated free lecture videos as a companion to the book. He has posted more than 15 hours content in over 23 videos, which can be found at controlgeek.net/book-video-lectures.

So, do you need to buy the updated second edition? If you only have any of the first three editions of Control Systems for Live Entertainment (1994 - 2007), yes, absolutely. The 2012 edition of Show Networks & Control Systems really was a massive expansion and reorganization and reflected dramatic changes in the industry. This new second edition takes that farther and is sure to be a must-have standard text for the industry. Buy it at Amazon: https://bit.ly/SDJohnHuntingtonBook

Scenic Automation HandbookGareth Conner, founder and president of the scenic automation company Creative Conners, has a new book out—Scenic Automation Handbook, from Routledge—that breaks down theatrical automation into bite-sized pieces. Scenic automation may seem daunting and complicated to understand but this book makes the reader understand that is actually accessible to theaters at all levels. Adopting a pragmatic approach, this book breaks down any automation system into five points, known as the Pentagon of Power. Breaking down a dauntingly complex system Conner’s makes it easy to understand how components function, connect, and communicate to form a complete system. Presenting fundamental behaviors and functions of machinery, feedback sensors, amplifiers, controls, and operator interfaces, the Scenic Automation Handbook is written to demystify automation, reinforcing each concept with practical examples that can be used for experimentation.  Learn more about the Scenic Automation Handbook at https://bit.ly/ScenicAutomationHandbook

The Prop Effects GuidebookProps master and props artisan Eric Hart's new book—The Prop Effects Guidebook: Lights, Motion, Sound, and Magic, published by Focal Press, shows you how to connect and assemble components and parts to make props light up, explode, make noise, and bleed. It delves into the world of electricity, pneumatics, liquids, and mechanical effects to teach you how to make your props perform magic in front of a live audience. “Many prop effects take just a little bit of experimentation and ingenuity,” explains Hart. “My book gives you the technical background to get up to speed quickly, but you can often invent some effective tricks just by looking at what you already have." Hart is the props master for Triad Stage in North Carolina and teaches props at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He is also the author The Prop Building Guidebook.  Learn more about The Prop Effects Guidebook: Lights, Motion, Sound, and Magic at  https://bit.ly/PropEffectsGuidebook

The Technical DirectorWritten by Zachary Stribling and Richard Girtain, The Technical Director’s Toolkit addresses the nuts and bolts of this multifaceted job, guiding you though the step-by-step processes of technical direction and the responsibilities of the TD. Leadership, management, relationship building, personal responsibility, and problem solving are addressed, showing you not only how to become a more efficient and effective TD, but also how to be a collaborative member of a production team. The book also addresses scene shop design, facility repair and maintenance, and finishes with a brief overview of other areas of technical theatre that help round out the far-reaching skill set of a successful TD. Skills both authors employ everyday as they are technical directors themselves. Girtain is the TD at the Juilliard School and Stribling is technical director, production manager, and senior lecturer at University of Kentucky. Learn more about the The Technical Director’s Toolkit at https://bit.ly/TechnicalDirectorsToolkit