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  • Triple Threats Aren’t Just Actors

    Adam Koch | Answer Box | October 2, 2012 Bye Bye Birdie kicked off the 2012 summer season at the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, and its sets were re-used all summer long. How a scenic designer created three unique sets for one gigantic space Three big musicals. Three directors’ visions. Two lightning-fast changeovers—and one big stage. Oklahoma City’s Civic Center Music Hall seats 2,477 and usually swallows even the biggest of productions with its 40-foot-tall and 56-foot-wide proscenium opening. As scenic designer for the season it was going to be my job to fill it with sets for a six-week summer season that highlighted the incredible career of Broadway legend Chita Rivera. We would open with the golden age musical Bye Bye Birdie, followed quickly by Sweet Charity, then Irving Berlin’s musically masterful Call Me Madam and finally, Chita herself in concert. Read More...
  • Thinking Outside the Frame

    Brian Clinnin | Answer Box | September 1, 2012 The final reveal of Les Demoiselles for a production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Circle Theater in Fort Worth, Texas, with scenic design by Brian Clinnin. Photo by Glen Ellman. A scenic designer got creative with a screen to highlight a creative artistic leap in Picasso at the Lapin Agile I was working as the scenic designer for a production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas. The climax of the play calls for a bland and uninspired painting of “sheep in a fog” to “fly out” and reveal Picasso’s seminal painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The production simply cannot be done without the paintings and the reveal. And size matters in the reveal—Les Demoiselles is 8 feet wide by 8 feet tall in reality, and the painting needs to be even more epic thanks to its importance in the play. Read More...
  • Blowing Chunks, Artistically

    John Slauson | Answer Box | August 1, 2012 Left to right: Christie Vela, Sally Nystuen-Vahle, Chris Hury, and Hassan El-Amin in God of Carnage at Dallas Theater Center. The vomit scene in God of Carnage means getting creative about getting disgusting Over the last 20 years as a Prop Master, I have been asked to work on a lot of effects. But it wasn’t until I started working on God of Carnage at the Dallas Theater Center this summer that I was asked to create the illusion of someone vomiting on stage. Not only vomiting—but violently projectile vomiting. I had two mandates: It should look as real as possible, and it had to cover the coffee table on set. These two things were slightly at odds, as our coffee table was a 5-foot circle. I had to create realistic vomit that traveled more than 5 feet. Read More...
  • Thinking It Through

    Josh Holowicki | Answer Box | June 1, 2012 For their production of Legally Blonde: The Musical, the Brighton Center for the Performing Arts was determined to re-create the two-story sorority house from the Broadway production. Brighton Center for the Performing Arts pushed the envelope (and the set) for their production of Legally Blonde: The Musical For our third season directing musical theatre at the Brighton Center for Performing Arts, on the campus of Brighton High School in Brighton, Mich., our creative team (consisting of me working as scenic and technical director, Michelle Holowicki as show director and choreographer, Matthew Brady as show director and musical director, Jennifer McIntosh as acting director, and Eric Guerin as house manager) decided we were ready to tackle Legally Blonde: The Musical. Read More...
  • Quick Change Scenery

    Ruth Neeman | Answer Box | May 1, 2012 The periaktoi units in one apartment configuration, surrounding a bookshelf… The designers for The Real Thing went Greek to simulate '80s London A lot has been written about cutting-edge stage technology and how stagecraft today is different from yesteryears’—but sometimes the classics are exactly what you need. For a recent production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, a semi-autobiographical play about theatre and the theatre scene in early 1980s London, the creative team at the Salem Theater Company in Salem, Mass., used ancient technology to make the 15-foot-square stage accommodate the numerous locations that this script requires with smoothly choreographed scene changes. Read More...
  • Reproducing Hieronymous

    Bryan Reesman | Answer Box | April 1, 2012 Hieronymous Bosch (played by Paul Kaufman) tormented by a nightmare in Nic Ularu’s Hieronymous at La MaMa ETC. Puppets behind and in front of a scrim plague him, while his wife is unfaithful to him with his apprentice in the orange flower. Puppets and video brought the visions Hieronymous Bosch to life with an economy of means Sometimes an artist’s vision is bigger and bolder than their final result, but ingenuity can overcome adversity. Playwright and director Nic Ularu planned a large production for his historical drama Hieronymous at the National Theatre of Târgu Mureş in Romania that was postponed due to economic issues. Thus Ularu created a stripped-down but still beguiling rendition at LaMaMa E.T.C. in NYC that included a wall-length scrim curtain often placed in front of the stage on which trippy projections were displayed during disturbing dream sequences. While the singular scrim, cast of six and five puppets were a reduction from the originally planned three scrims, cast of 30 and 11 puppets, Ularu and his troupe still unleashed an engaging experience. Read More...
  • Betrayal by Design

    Sara James | Answer Box | March 6, 2012 Silk-screened SPQR symbols, emblems of the Roman army, let the audience know where loyalties truly lay. When the supernumeraries had to change sides, an iconic image helped ground the costumes In May of 2011 I designed the costumes for the Little Opera Theater of New York’s production of Mozart’s Mitridate. The director, Philip Shneidman, knew that he wanted it to be somewhat period, approximately 64 BCE, but also somewhat contemporary. The women’s costume research was simple: for the Parthian princess I drew upon contemporary Iranian clothing; for the Grecian princess I drew on the fashion designers Madame Gres and Madame Vionnet (who had drawn on the Greeks for their inspiration). For the men we settled on a blend of first century BCE and 1970s punk. We found that ancient leather battle armor lent itself to the DIY studding and slashing of the ‘70s era punks. No, the main logistical challenge of the show had to do with the supernumerary dancers. Read More...
  • You Say Tomato, I Say Go Cue 5,384

    John Hartness | Answer Box | February 1, 2012 Scott Richard Foster and Antoinette LaVecchia in You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! A touring production with too much going on uses technology to simplify When the design team for the inaugural production of You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!, by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn, sat down for their first design conversation, everything sounded pretty simple. It was a small, two-person touring show: unit set, props and costumes should fit into a couple of roadcases, minimal lighting requirements, a few atmospheric sound cues, that sort of thing. The requirements quickly grew, however. Set in the framework of an anniversary dinner, the play details the trials and tribulations of the couple’s relationship in hilarious vignettes covering first meeting, courtship and marriage as it travels back and forth in time and location—a challenging sequence for a small tour. By the time the show opened in Charlotte there were nearly 100 light cues, half a dozen practicals and around 50 sound cues, all needing to be run by one operator over the course of a 75-minute show. Read More...
  • Keeping Phaedra Bright

    Lucas Benjaminh Krech | Answer Box | January 1, 2012 A moment from the world premiere of Adam Bock’s Phaedra at Shotgun Players in Berkeley, Calif., with lighting design by Lucas Krech Light travels in a straight line, but it can be bounced For the world premiere of Adam Bock’s Phaedra with the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, Calif., I was presented with quite a challenge from my scenic designer. The play is set in the home of a family in suburban Connecticut. Not only did the style of production demand strict naturalistic realism (not simply stage realism), but the scenic designer gave me the opportunity to do this on a two-story set with only 48 dimmers at my disposal. Read More...
  • If You Give A Sound Designer a Computer…

    Vincent Olivieri | Answer Box | December 1, 2011 For MainStreet Theatre Company’s production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (left to right: Gavin Perry and Kelly Huddleston), sound designer Vincent Olivieri stayed away from computers—and recorded foley-style effects to get the sounds he wanted. Photo by Ed Krieger. Sometimes ditching the computer and going old-school is the best way to get the sound you want. Theatre designers and technicians are a technically-minded bunch. We use computers all day long and our first thought when trying to solve a problem is usually to boot up and solve it digitally. I recently designed a production where digital solutions failed; it was a refreshing reminder to think outside the computer. Read More...
  • Hacking the Mix

    Vincent Olivieri | Answer Box | November 1, 2011 A moment from The Laramie Project at UC Irvine, with sound design (even during intermission) by Tim Brown Need to mix unobtrusively? We built an app for that. For a production of The Laramie Project at the University of California, Irvine, sound designer Tim Brown wanted to create soundscapes for the intermissions that would be loud enough to be noticeable, but not so loud that they overwhelmed the audience. Because ambient volume could never be predicted, the intermission sound would have to be mixed live—but the sound booth was acoustically isolated from the audience chamber. Installing a small mixing console was an unattractive option as even a small desk would draw attention to itself and the mixer. Brown wanted the mixer and the effect to be unobtrusive. When he approached me to brainstorm solutions, we decided to mix via the most ubiquitous object on a college campus: an iPod. Read More...
  • Untangling Hair

    Thomas S. Freeman | Answer Box | October 1, 2011 Brian Gale used the Vari*Lite 1000AS and 1100AS fixtures for fast color changes, gobos and more during the Oklahoma State University production of Hair. Moving lights were used to make sure the Tribe popped In April, the Department of Theatre at Oklahoma State University opened their production of the psychedelic musical Hair. At the request of Assistant Professor Don Childs (who provided scenic design for the show), Brian Gale (who recently designed the lighting for the new Los Angeles Opera production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle) came on as lighting designer. Gale knew the show well so he and Childs got to work, holding production meetings via Skype. Read More...
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