Tuesday, October 4, 2011

THRT 101D: Final Examination

Last weekend Kate Morris's Venn Diagrams or The Bee Play opened at the DDC and thus, my set for her play was a complete as it ever would be.  Photos are below.  The experience was enlightening, as I imagined, but differently so.  I knew my efforts would be constrained by practical concernstime, money, & the space itself in particular—but I hadn't quite appreciated in advance how profoundly considerations of how the actor would be using the space, how lighting cues would work, directorial decisions about transitions between scenes, how the audience's lines of sight, would all come to circumscribe my creative decisions.  Though I wanted the set to be lush and superfluous with detail (lots of patterns, inanimate objects that fill out the space but have no explicit purpose in the script) I found that flexibility, clarity, and concision in this set design were greater virtues.

The first couple weeks I spent amassing as many relevant objects as I couldobjects that would convey a sense of the various sections of the set (a bedroom, kitchen, etc) while they both matched the color pallet and contained some practical or symbolic meaning for the play (for example, showing a floral pattern to connect to the themes of fecundity, pollination, and [if I could have had my way, I would have filled the entire space with as many flowers as I could--covering every set piece, strewn over the floors, sewn into every material, raining down  from the ceiling--fecundity to the point of absurdity, almost choking the characters though they seem not even to notice.  Alas, that would have been too expensive, not to mention hazardous for the actors...], or perhaps geometric or fractal patterns that convey the simultaneous chaos and order within probability and particle physics [another theme of the play]).  And I spent a lot of time brainstorming about how the set might change through the course of the playcertain props linked & switching colors (like an electron and positron are linked and can switch spins simultaneously) to reflect the mindset of a character, pieces removed or added to as the momentum of the play changes, ...

Then I stopped all that. I spent the second couple of weeks paring down the space, removing objects, nixing ideas so that the set would be less crowded for the cast (who would have only two or three rehearsals to work with it before the first show), less cluttered for the audience's lines of sight, less difficult to store or assemble.  Less.  It was a somewhat frustrating process, since my instincts were to keep building, assembling, adding, while the needs of the directors and actors were quite different.  I began to try to find solutions, trying to influence decisions on lighting and costumes to compliment visual themes if the set had to be minimized.

Things didn't always work out, and when I look at the pictures below it still feel uncomfortable with how empty the set seems.  But I also know how much time it took to complete each task as the lone designer, gofer, and constructor (to find the right color/patterned table cloth, bed sheets, or pillow, to find, engineer, paint a free standing doorway as minimally as possible, to gather or build essential and non-essential props, including a top-bar bee box and a 3-D vector model [neither pictured here], to figure out rugs [don't even get me started about rugs...], and then to bring it all together see what works with the actors and what does not, find replacements, rework, redesign, repeat..) and I know it was some sort of accomplishment for just part-time over four weeks.

In the end, I would have loved to have more timenot simply to gather or create more loaded, concise set piecesbut also to absorb, recognize and react to the challenges of my task a little more slowly.  But I shouldn't even seem to complain.  It was a good first opportunity for me and I'm grateful Kate offered it to me.  Now, I'll see what I can get into next.

 entire set

 "Stability Table"

 "Bed of Satisfaction" and "Doorway of Transition"

 detail, "Bed of Satisfaction"

"Stasis Library"

And some photos of the cast in the set, in costume (which I had some hand in--I'd love to have more), & with other props I made.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Rite of Passage

In August, I participated in the annual Burning Man art festival in the northern Nevada desert.  The theme for 2011 was "Rites of Passage" and in honor of my 92 year-old grandmother, an important person in my life for whom I think that phrase is most poignant (she has been living with dementia, and now Alzheimer's, for the past three years), I built a bike (thanks Free Cycles in Missoula for all the help!) and designed my various garb for the week.  Rather than reflect the more frustrating and heart-wrench moments of her personal passage in my designs, I chose to accentuate those glints of joy, silliness, abandon, caprice and freedom that now peek through her once more staid personality.

Below are a few photos of the finished bicycle.  The gaudy floral patterns that cover the wheel spokes, seat, handles, etc, are made from cotton patterns I picked up at the thrift store that supports our local senior center.  I have to say, after spending several hours hunting for designs that would make my eyes bleed with happiness, old ladies know where it's at.

In the end, even whimsy is no match for the desert sand.  Within a few hours dust and grit had penetrated every joint, clogged the drivetrain, stymied the breaks, and loosened a crank arm enough that it fell off and wouldn't properly tighten again.  I was able to super glue that crank arm back to the bottom bracket, but the epoxy that had held up my flag and the hood ornament had completely dissolved within four days.

It was nice while it lasted.

Ta da!

Back disc cover. Daisies. Hand sewn to secure against the spokes.

Front disc cover. Blue berries. Ditto.

Hand sewn seat cover

The flag of Grandma; composed from a photo of her at 9 and 89.

My hood ornament.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

THTR 101D: Intro to Set Design

For a couple of years, I've been intrigued with the idea of translating my interests in installation and narrative art to designing sets for theatre. An opportunity recently appeared when a new friend in Missoula, playwright Kate Morris (no relation), mentioned she was looking for a set designer for her newest play. Since her production is soon, the run is relatively short (Sept 30, Oct 1, 7, & 8 at the Downtown Dance Collective), the budget is limited, and the space is shared with other groups, the set will need to be simple, small, and concise.  Imagination and ingenuity will be at a premium.  To me it's seems like a perfect introduction to the craft.  Below is my concept proposal for the design.  More posts will come as things develop and are, inevitably, reworked.

(click image to download 3 page pdf)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wish You Were Here.

Back in November, as I was preparing to move to Missoula, MT, I was making a photographic "postcard" each day for a close friend who had recently lost a loved one.  She was—and continues to be—in my thoughts daily, and at the time I wanted to find at least some small way to reach out to her from far away, draw her close, and share moments from my life. Many of the images were created from the profound sense of displacement I was feeling, experiencing and expecting as I moved from Chicago, where I had lived for two and half years, to a place I had never visited and knew no one. The project lasted about 24 days.  Here they are in chronological order:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Missing Middle

In the history of the US there are times when our political middle seems to disappear. Where are our Moderates now?  Personally, I think a Missing Middle is to our country's tremendous detrimentespecially when the challenges we face are so large and multifaceted. We need the all wisdom of all our wisest and moderates help us to parse that out.  Below is my design protest for compromise, moderation, and middle ground:

Litmus test for moderation:  Describe how one policy "the other side" holds can work and how you might agree with it.  Repeat.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Portal

A quick note about (and plug for) a project I've been contributing to recently.  It's called The Portal from HERE to THERE, an architectural, spiritual and communal art project headed by my close friend, Amber Nelson. The Portal is a beautiful expression of Amber's love for Fito, her resilience in the face of senseless violence and tragedy, and her innate passion for life & ineluctable need to make it meaningful.  And it's going to Burning Man 2011, we hope.  Keep your fingers crossed that its construction gets grant funding from the Burning Man organization.  To find out more about it, volunteer, or or contribute funding, click the image link below and get in contact with Amber.  (UPDATE: Portal postponed, perhaps BM 2012, perhaps elsewhere)