Design (Working In The Theatre #255)

Design (Working In The Theatre #255)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” This is the 23rd year that we’ve brought
these seminars to you, and they come from the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York. This seminar is on Design, and the panelists
today have just received the 1996-97 American Theatre Wing award for best design. They get this award for Broadway, Off Broadway,
and Off-Off Broadway, and it’s a very important award, and it carries with it a small, but
important, stipend. The American Theatre Wing seminars on “Working
in the Theatre” have tried to bring all of the elements that make up what it is to
work in the theatre, from the playwright, the producer, the director, the costume, the
set designer, lighting designer, and special effects. And we do this as a service to the community. This is the goal of the American Theatre Wing,
to service the community through the theatre. We do with our seminars, and we do it with
our hospital shows, which goes back to the Second World War and the Stage Door Canteen,
which is one more way of bringing theatre to those who can not come to it. We bring theatre to hospitals, nursing homes,
and AIDS centers. We have a program called “Introduction to
Broadway,” which brings young people from the schools into Broadway to see their very
first Broadway show. And along with that program is “Theatre
in Schools,” which is people like you see today on this panel, and artists and producers
and directors and the playwrights, going out to the schools to talk to the young students,
on a one-to-one basis on what it is to work in the theatre. Most of this is helping the students, enlarging
their vocabulary, their goals, their imagination, as well as casting our bread upon the waters. I hope that they will become the future theatregoers
that we all want, need, and should nourish. And today’s seminar on the design is presided
over by Professor Tish Dace, who is a theatre critic, as well as a historian of the theatre
and Beverly Emmons, who is one of our eminent lighting designers. And I’m going to turn this over to them
immediately, so they, in turn, can introduce the panel to you. Thank you for being here. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Mrs. Stevenson. I’m Tish Dace, and it’s my pleasure to
introduce the rest of the panelists, beginning with the distinguished lighting designer,
Beverly Emmons, who’s just to my left. Beverly lights theatre, dance and opera, all
over the United States and Europe. She was originally a dancer, and she has done
lighting, very sensitively, with such eminent choreographers as Martha Graham and Merce
Cunningham. She has lit such experimental theatre luminaries
as Richard Foreman, Meredith Monk and Robert Wilson, and such music celebrities as Bette
Midler and David Byrne. For her work on Broadway, she has won or been
nominated for several Tony Awards and she has won, the last two years, American Theatre
Wing Design Awards, for lighting, respectively, PASSION and THE HEIRESS. For her Off Broadway designs, she’s won
an Obie and two Bessies. And if this weren’t enough, she’s the
Artistic Director of the Lincoln Center Institute, where she provides a really important service,
by providing terrific examples of the performing arts for large numbers of young people, and
then helping them to learn how to respond to that sort of work. She also operates there a nifty black box
called the Clark Studio Theatre, and in her spare time (LAUGHTER), Beverly does oral histories
of unsung heroes, such as electricians who work for dance companies. To my far right is Angela Wendt, the costume
designer for the hit musical RENT. In addition to designing it for Broadway,
she was with the show from the very beginning, when it was first a little studio workshop
at New York Theatre Ensemble [SIC] and then a full production there. She’s worked with other theatres in New
York, such as New York Stage and Film and the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public
Theatre. And it will come as no surprise that this
with-it, urban, contemporary designer has created costumes for the music videos of such
artists as Maxi Priest, Chabbaranks, Nina Hagen, and L.L. Cool J. She has brought, with us, a member of the
RENT ensemble, Aiko Nakasone, who plays a number of roles in RENT. You’ll remember her as Roger’s irritating
mother on those answering machine messages, and as the perhaps even more irritating television
producer who keeps calling Mark Cohen and trying to get him to sell out and start working
for her, and you know, not being a real artist any more. Welcome, Aiko. Next to Aiko is Christopher Barreca, the set
designer for the poetic dance drama, CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD. He lives on airplanes, as nearly as I can
make out. (LAUGHTER) He works a great deal in regional
theatre and in Europe, as well as on Broadway, Off Broadway, in opera, dance and film. Every time he calls me, he’s in a different
country, or on another coast. And in his spare time, he teaches at Cal Tech,
but his studio is here in New York. You figure it out! (LAUGHTER) Like Angela Wendt, he has just
won an American Theatre Wing Design Award. Then beyond Beverly is Julie Archer. She has also won an American Theatre Wing
Design Award just now. She is a very versatile designer. She’s designed sets, lights, puppets, and
sculptural props for several Mabou Mines shows, over a number of years. She lit such important Mabou Mines shows as
A PRELUDE TO DEATH IN VENICE, SISTER SUZY CINEMA, WRONG GUYS, THE WARRIOR ANT, and THE
GOSPEL AT COLONUS. Her set and lighting for HAJJ received a Meharem
Award. These were the predecessor awards to the American
Theatre Wing Design Awards. And her set for VANISHING PICTURES received
an Obie. She has recently designed the set, lighting,
and puppets for Mabou Mines’ newest work, PETER & WENDY, and I hope she’s going to
tell us something about that. And next to Julie is Ruth Maleczech, who is
an actor, director, playwright, sometime designer, and who, in my opinion, is one of the half
dozen finest actors in the American theatre today. And this is not a joke, if you missed her
performance of the title role in KING LEAR, you simply missed the definitive twentieth
century performance of this role. Welcome! We’re very glad to have you with us here
today, to join these designers, Ruth. Thank you. And then finally, Karen Ten Eyck. I should say that Mabou Mines and Gertrude
Stein Theatre co-produced AN EPIDOG. And Karen, also representing Gertrude Stein
Theatre, has just received an American Theatre Wing Design Award. She has brought with us a computer and projection
system which she developed for that show. And she’s going to show us that. She’s designed computer environments for
a number of different theatres, all over the country, including CSC, Manhattan Theatre
Club, Yale Rep, Opera Delaware, Tulsa Opera, Portland Stage, the Philadelphia Festival
Theatre for New Plays. And she’s done sets for the Cincinnati Playhouse,
Indiana Rep, and the Opera Festival of New Jersey. I imagine that Karen and Chris cross paths
in airports, frequently. (LAUGHTER) Welcome, all of you. Beverly Emmons, would you begin by asking
the first question? Well, there are lots of questions where one
might start, with such an interesting group of people. I think one of the first things that we need
to be introduced to is this fabulous creature here that Julie has. Can you tell us about her? This is Rose, the dog, from AN EPIDOG. And she is a Bunaku style puppet, operated
by three puppeteers. The head puppeteer operates her head and right
arm. The next puppeteer operates her left arm,
and there’s a puppeteer on her feet. She’s a little bit adapted from traditional
Bunaku style puppetry, in that her head is sort of operated more like a glove puppet
would be. Standard Bunaku is operated with a rod and
talgoof, but I wanted to give her more flexibility than she would have, if she had a rod running
in her neck. And standard Bunaku puppets of humans are
generally operated vertically, and Lee Breuer wanted her to be able to take dog stances
as well as human stances, and so there was a support problem. And so, those were some of the things that
we needed to work out, and that’s who Rose is! (LAUGHTER) She has a tail, which human form
puppets don’t have, so there was some interesting choreography trying to operate that. (ROSE WAGS; LAUGHTER) That’s wonderful! Julie, AN EPIDOG was a sequel to THE SHAGGY
DOG ANIMATION and A PRELUDE TO DEATH IN VENICE. Did you design Rose in those shows, or did
someone else? Someone else did. Linda Hartinian designed Rose and John in
THE SHAGGY DOG ANIMATION, and John was the same puppet used in PRELUDE. Did that Rose have the rod? Do you remember? That Rose was in human form, and she was built
somewhat differently than a traditional Bunaku puppet. But yeah, it was pretty much the same rod. Does your articulate? Can you show me? Well, I’m not a puppeteer. That’s disclaimer number one. But yes, they do. Barbara Pollitt was the amazing head puppeteer,
and she really was able to make her come to life. So her ears go back. (DEMONSTRATES; LAUGHTER) She doesn’t like you. (LAUGHTER) They go back and that’s when her tail [wags]. She gets angry, they go back and her tail
bangs around. Right. And her paws are articulated. When you work with a puppeteer to create something
like that, you must work pretty intimately with how they need to operate it and what
they’re comfortable in doing, as well as what the director wants it to do. Right, yeah. The puppeteers who worked Rose were really
instrumental in the development of how she was built, in terms of what she needed to
be able to do, and what was possible. I was working out of New York at the time,
and so I would build her to a point, and then send her for them to work with her and to
give me feedback and then ship her back, and I’d do some stuff and (LAUGHS) send her
back again. So she really evolved over quite a period
of time, with, you know, certain problems being worked out. She’s light, but the position that Barbara
had to hold her in leaves quite a strain on your back. Yeah. You’re doing something like that. Right, and there’s no [support]. Traditional Japanese Bunaku puppets weigh
between, I think it’s something like ten to sixty pounds. And they often have support rods. But they’re more traditional movement, and
it’s somewhat stylized and limited, compared to what [this can do]. Rose does a ballet dance with a partner in
EPIDOG and she does all kinds of really amazing movement. And so she’s basically without support. She’s pretty much just a pile of rags. (LAUGHTER) Ruth, you supplied the voice, as well as some
of the narration for AN EPIDOG. Did Julie’s design of Rose influence your
voice, your acting? How did the two relate to each other? Well, this character Rose, who you first meet
in THE SHAGGY DOG ANIMATION, is either a woman who is in love with a man, who she thinks
treats her as a dog. Or it’s a dog who wishes she was a woman,
because she’s in love with her master. But basically, it’s a love story, between
a man and a dog. In THE SHAGGY DOG ANIMATION, as Julie said,
the dog is represented as a woman, the puppet of a woman. In PRELUDE TO DEATH IN VENICE, which is the
bridge play between SHAGGY DOG and EPIDOG, you see the male puppet, who is constantly
making phone calls to women. All kinds of women, girlfriends, mother, agent,
friend, constantly, on two miniaturized New York street telephones. In AN EPIDOG, both Rose and Bunny, who she
murders in THE SHAGGY DOG, are together in a place called the Bardo, which is the Tibetan
land between death and reincarnation. So, that’s where they meet. And in this version, Rose is definitely a
dog. So the puppet, of course, defines, absolutely
determines how she would speak, what tones of voice she would respond in, what the timbre
of the voice should be, just as the woman Rose puppet determined other parameters for
the voice. So my job in AN EPIDOG is to watch this dog,
literally to never take my eyes off of this dog, and to try to make what Julie and Barbara
have made together, the physical dog and the articulation of the dog, be realized vocally,
so that we make one creature in the end of all. And she has psychology and she tells puns
and the script is by Lee Breuer, who is also the director. It’s very pun-filled comedy, but it is,
all in all, a way of Rose trying to find her way to her next incarnation, which at the
end of AN EPIDOG, becomes a warrior ant. That’s what she becomes. Which is another play. (LAUGHTER) Is this a good time to show the video? I’m asking whoever is going to turn it on? We have a couple of minutes to show you from
AN EPIDOG, if the television people are ready. It’s on. I’m going to roll tape now. Okay. Thank you. (VIDEO BEGINS) (MUSIC) [UNINTEL] is not cost-effective. Instances of its efficacy are brief, discordant,
uneconomical. Masters become slave-poor, as enslavement
sows more than it reaps. As repression breeds apathy, or repression
foments revolt. Now, just a moment. (ROSE SCRATCHES) Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh! (LAUGHTER) Ah! Mmmm. So slavery could not be institutionalized,
because alteration is bad business! Throughout the ages, only one solution to
the bondage in the past was ever found. The bondage of love. So what was institutionalized was not called
slavery any more. It was called domestication. But sisters, I speak to you as a dog, as the
first domesticated animal, and the animal in me tells the dog in me, I was not enslaved! I was domesticated! (ROSE AND OTHER ACTORS POUND THE BAR. ROSE BARKS AND JUMPS UP ON HER HIND LEGS,
DANCING ON THE BAR.) I am a domestic! I am a silent! I am a social characterization! In the Mahabarata, I am a zoo dog. In the [UNINTEL], a working class. In a lower part, the duty of a card-carrying
member of the serving caste is to provide a master’s feel of the food chain. The food becomes abstract. We feed egos! We feed birthdays! We are food for everything! Save food for thought! Then, as if the words “food for thought”
were a cue in the theatre, brunch was served! That’s it. Thank you. We certainly see why you won the award! Very versatile. (APPLAUSE) Karen, could you tell us, before
we actually see the demonstration, something about what you developed with your computer
environment system for the same show, AN EPIDOG? Sure. John Reaves and Cheryl Faver, the artistic
directors of Gertrude Stein, were interested in doing some projections, using the computer. And we sort of started out, thinking about
using a program called “Director,” which is used for multi-media CD-ROM applications. And we were going to do, I guess what would
be called traditional sort of cell animations on the computer, where you draw each frame
and then the Director program moves through those cells. So that seemed to me to be an awful lot of
work, and to fill a whole show would have been kind of impossible in the time frame,
because I was brought on very late in the project. And so, what I started to think about was
how we could have the animation move with the actor, because I don’t have that much
experience in using video for the theatre, but a lot of times, when you have a film or
something like that, the actor is really married to the speed of the film, and if one of them
gets off, it’s very hard, you know, to catch up. And so, I thought, “If we can have something
that moves together, if we have a computer operator who can move the projections with
the actor, then that could be a very exciting combination.” And so, I proposed this, and one of the staff
members, Hal Eager, went out and did some research and found a program for us to use. One of the problems is that this was a very,
very wide screen. The computer’s ability to re-draw can be
very slow. And so, one of Hal’s challenges was to find
a program that would be able to re-draw in real time, so that it would give a seamless
quality, instead of kind of a jerky, one frame to the next quality, which it often does. And we found one that was pretty good. I mean, it still wasn’t perfect. I mean, it still gave us a bit of a jerky
quality, but we kind of got used to it and tried to make it work for us. And so, I guess we could have a look at it. This is projected scenery? What is it projected on? Tell us a little bit about the shape of the
space? There are four screens at the back of the
theatre, which are kind of like set up like this (DEMONSTRATES TWO V SHAPES, WIDE ENDS
POINTING DOWNSTAGE). And there’s a video card in the computer
that splits the signal into five different monitors. And four of those monitors are on the stage,
which are LCD panel projectors. And then the other one goes to the monitor
for Julia. This is our computer operator, Julia Carr. And the fifth one has the tools on it, so
that she can see. It’s kind of like a little ground plan with
a little camera inside. But let’s look at the effect first, and
then we’ll show you how it’s done. Yeah, let’s have the demonstration then. To create the Bardo, Lee had talked a little
bit about using the heavens and the stars, as opposed to “heaven” heaven. He was originally thinking about that, I think,
for one part of the show. And I thought, well, let’s keep the whole
environment for the whole show, to give it continuity. And this is where we started out, when Rose
and Bunny are discussing their lives. And they’re floating through this particular
part of the Bardo. Other animals are flying by them. We experimented a little bit with having the
environment move with the actor, which was the goal. And we found we could do a little bit of that,
but to do too much of it, you got a little bit dizzy. And also, the program really was not made
to do this. (LAUGHS) It’s the virtual reality market
language for the World Wide Web program, and to split it out into that many screens was
very stressful for it. And actually, on opening night we crashed
(LAUGHS) in the middle of the second act, and we had, like, the program header come
up, and we just shut it off. Mr. Breuer is a very understanding director. I don’t know many people who would be willing
to put up with that, and I told him beforehand that that might happen. And he was like, “Well, okay, then I’ll
just get up and I’ll make a speech and I’ll tell everybody that that’s what happens
sometimes with new technology!” Can we scoot over to the clove? That’s the closest thing. I’ll need the tools. Oh, yes. You can show the tools. Here you can see the ground plan of the space. And that’s called a Pinocchio that’s circling
around there, is the camera. And that sort of moves on one plane within
the environment. And then there’s the little camera that
you can with what looks like a little light, that moves the camera up and down. And you can also do, this is running very
fast, because it’s on a slightly different configuration than we had in the theatre. She wasn’t talking nearly so fast as she
is now! But you can do short animations. So we used a couple of them. This was one of them. I’ve also done very limited work with panning
slides, and I found that to be very, very laborious, especially creating things on the
computer. It just took absolutely forever to get the
high enough resolution to go to slide film, whereas this is very low resolution. It can be created very quickly. You know, as we’re working in the theatre,
we can make a lot of changes. So it’s very flexible, which is also part
of the goal, I think. Why don’t we move along and come back to
that in between? Sure. I’d just like to ask you one quick question. How do we visit your World Wide Web site? What’s the address? www.inch.com/~kteneyck. Terrific. Angela Wendt, would you talk to us about Aiko’s
costume and how you approached the costume design for RENT? Okay. Basically, this is her East Village character. Everybody in the ensemble has multiple characters. And this, we call her the cyber girl, techno
girl, club kid outfit with, like, the new fabrics. I mean, this all was done one year ago. It doesn’t even seem that new any more now. And yeah. (SHRUGS, LAUGHS) It sort of, to me, it was
to balance also between — Aiko is very “costume-y,” actually, as opposed to many of the East Village
characters. Sort of the balance to see weird people on
stage and not do extreme costumization, but I guess it’s not a great example, since
she is more costume-y than a lot of people. What are the fabrics involved here? The jacket looks like it’s partly made out
of some sort of hologram material? Hologram, yeah. Hologram print on fabric. This is just a parachute coverall, that’s
tacked permanently around her waist. You want to get up? What’s this? This is her back pack. (LAUGHTER) Thank you, Aiko. You’ve got a baby tee. Very midriff-revealing there. Yes, it is. That was her and the director’s idea. I always showed my belly (LAUGHS) in rehearsal. And belly chain. And then there’s two parts to this jacket. And it’s little pins all over. And this is parachute pants that comes all
the way on top, but you just tied it and sort of rigged it, so that it looks like it’s
tied over. (LAUGHTER) And shoes, we put on a platform. Added a platform. The baby tee is made of latex or spandex,
or what is that? No, it’s Lycra. We just quilted it in front. I see. And then it’s from a company, Sears and
Roebuck (LAUGHTER), who does just a little image where the eyes open and close, sort
of. (LAUGHTER) What about the other costumes in RENT, the
street clothes? Where did they come from? Well, with a lot of people, I really looked
at who walked in and who they were, because a lot of them are very young. And in the singing, it was very important
to me that how they behaved, that I support that with the clothing. And then, also, at the same time, create the
whole multitude of characters. Where did you get the clothing from? Where did we get the clothing from? For the first time, we did a lot of Salvation
Army, Domsy’s in Brooklyn, thrift shop thing. Little shops in the East Village. Claudia made a lot of things. We ended up making a paper coat , which was
great, an ongoing collage that Claudia did at night, at New York Theatre Workshop, in
the lobby. We just created some fabrics, too. That was in the studio workshop, before you
did a full production of it? New York Theatre Workshop, yeah. And then what? The next design? Well, the next design, the incredible thing
the first time around, too, was that we had about four feet of snow during most of the
time, so we ended up doing the whole show, pretty much, in five or six days, because
we said, “Well, the weather’s not getting any better and tech is around the corner.” So we did it in a couple of days. And then we had only four weeks to move it
to Broadway, after we realized. And then all of a sudden, from just creating
a picture on stage, we needed 240 costumes. Two hundred forty costumes? Yes. With doubles and triples and understudies. So, of course, Salvation Army doesn’t have
doubles and triples. (LAUGHTER) So it was a whole different ball
game, all of a sudden, which is really strange, too, because you start out with authentic
clothing from Salvation Army and places like that, my own closet, whatever. And then all of a sudden, you know, you have
to just make all these things. Angela, are you saying that you designed and
somebody built, in four weeks, 240 costumes? No, we didn’t build all 240, but a big part
of that, and we shopped. Yeah, we were [busy]. How did you do that? (LAUGHTER) We didn’t sleep. We worked day and night. It was pretty crazy. It was very insane. I had a very good team of people working with
me. Otherwise, it’s not possible! Do you have a union, costumes? (LAUGHTER) I have a union, yes. Yes. And what happens when you go to the Salvation
Army for clothes? What happens there with the union? There’s no difficulty with designers. Not with the design? Because the designers can lay your hands on
anything and declare it what you want. Whatever. It’s your choice, where. You do that? Exactly. You don’t have to abide by costume [rules]? No, you don’t have to make everything. Do you have to abide by cost, the union costs? Not to buy things. Whatever it is, it is? Yeah, whatever it is, it is. What’s your background? How did you get to be a costume designer? I started in fashion first, knitwear and weaving. And then I actually did a lot of different
things and a lot of traveling. And then, I started assisting a fabulous designer,
Gabriel Barre, and assisted her for three years. And then, being German, I thought, “Gee,
you know, I didn’t study this.” So I went back to Berlin as a guest student,
to the University in Berlin, for set and costume design and was over there for barely a year. And it was really good to be there, but I
really felt I learned a lot assisting and working in the profession. So I came back after a year, and started designing
my own shows. Could I ask, could we go around and find out
where they started, where they came from? Oh, my, that’s scary! The very beginning, or how I got into the
theatre? Well, which comes first? (LAUGHTER) The chicken or the egg, I guess. Well, I got into theatre strangely. I was a musician through college. I didn’t study the theatre in college at
all. But I worked in union scene shops, to put
myself through college. I worked at a place called Atlas Scenic Studio,
which is up in Bridgeport, and I went to the University of Connecticut. I was a Connecticut resident and it was a
good place to go, if you wanted to save money. And by working through the scene shop there,
I just strangely got fascinated with the theatre and felt like musically, particularly because
I wasn’t going to be B.B. King, I discovered that, although I love jazz and play jazz in
clubs a lot. And I felt like I was trapped in the other
part of the musical world, which is repeating things over and over and over again. And the theatre was creative, and it allowed
me to do things. And I had a lot of really nice people who
kind of kept pushing me. You know, in the shop, they were saying, “Do
it. Just go for it!” So then I ended up going to Yale, strangely
enough, and that’s sort of how I got into the profession. I took time off before going to school, and
then came to New York and started working with Mabou Mines, and just kept working with
Mabou Mines. (LAUGHTER) That’s it. I studied graphic design and advertising in
undergraduate school, and I worked in that for a number of years. And then I did a community theatre show. I did the sets and costumes for that. And I thought this is what I really wanted
to do, it’s a lot more creative and artistically satisfying than working in advertising. And then I kept doing some community stuff,
and then I got very serious and I thought I really needed to go someplace and study
this. And so, I went to Yale, and graduated in ‘91. And I’ve been trying to work my way through
the system since then. Chris, I’d love for you and Beverly to explain
how you created the magic of your magic realist set. Windows kept appearing and disappearing, and
I know the two of you must have collaborated very closely together. How did you do it? Well, there was a third person there. Yeah, a very important person. Well, it was Jules! There was Jules Fisher. And I would say Graciela was very important. Right. I would start by saying, what did you and
Graciela talk about for the creation of that wall? Well, you know, it’s interesting. She talked a lot about growing up and how,
you know, visions did appear. And I don’t want to say she saw the Virgin
Mary up in the corner of the room, although she sort of did say that she saw, you know,
angels in her room. And it was very real. That in that culture, you know, we have a
hard time because we’ve gotten so different. Graciela is from Argentina? Yeah, from Argentina. And I’m sorry, I just banged the microphone. But in that, she brought me a lot of information
and a lot of, you know, pictures and photographs from things she had and some books of photographs
from photographers from there. We’re talking about the director/choreographer. Yes, I’m sorry. CHRISTOPHER and TISH and BEVERLY
Graciela Daniele. And we both worked with her before, and we
spent a lot of time just exploring how to deal with the fact that actually, this is
a very non-conventionally structured piece, you know. It’s a novel in which you’re told what
happens in the beginning. And the actual action of the piece is to discover
who’s responsible. And who you think is responsible is actually
not who’s responsible, it’s the town that’s responsible. And you know, Marquez, I assume you all know
who the writer is, you know, he’s dealing a lot with social issues. So we were trying to grapple with how to deal
with the retelling, the way we remember things. And you know, she had one picture which was
fascinating, it was a photograph of a town square. It was just a tree, and a shadow of a tree. And there was some stain on the ground. But you looked at it, and there was a moment
that you knew had passed that was very frightening in a way, but also mysterious and important. And I kind of latched on to that picture,
which was in a square somewhere in South America. And then we struggled a lot. I must say, we did a workshop of the piece,
I think a lot of you guys, we do that a lot. And you know, we struggled with this thing
of the Chronicler, because there’s a big thing in the piece where this person is telling
the story. And we had a person in the house speaking
the lines, and we had somebody standing on stage speaking the lines. And actually, we thought maybe we’d have
Marquez on stage, and we decided that was a bad idea, although we did try it. And what happened was, I kept doodling in
these workshops, which I don’t have any more, they’ve all disappeared, all these
sketches. That’s just the way things happen, you lose
these things. You end up with the detritus, you know, just
the things that get left over, which is too bad. But of course, what we do is what’s on stage,
we all know that. But at any rate, you know, I kept drawing
this figure, this shadow of a figure, up the proscenium and outside the proscenium and
all over the place. And at some point, Graciela said, “You know,
I really feel like he’s a presence. He’s right there!” (LAUGHS) So we ended up with kind of that
as our central image, strangely enough. I mean, I have the model. You want to show us the model? It would really make more sense. Yeah, let’s show people. This is the actual model. This is a photograph of the actual image. I have to say, this was a complete accident. I hate admitting that, but of course, we all
know that the best things come out of accidents. Everybody in this room knows that. Accidents? It was the scrim. The accident was that, we had the idea of
the shadow, we were going to have the character, which he did, walk up on stage and stand. And we had positioned him, we had spent a
lot of time, you know, in matching that shadow. So when he walked into view, suddenly the
shadow that you’d been looking at for ten minutes was his shadow. But what happened is, we got into the theatre
and you know, Beverly turned on the lights on the scrim, we were all sitting there. It wasn’t what we were [expecting]. We didn’t think we were going to see through
it. Now, I know, it’s really basic and you would
think that we would know that. But we were sitting there, and we were seeing
everything that was going on upstage, and we were a bit mortified at first. And then we all went, “It really says everything.” And I actually think it was Beverly who said
that. She said, “Wait, guys, just look at what’s
there. (LAUGHS) Stop talking!” Because we were talking about we were going
to have to black it out, or what we were going to do. Well, what we were seeing through was this
beautiful set of doors. Which are the fatal doors, that’s where
he gets killed. The fatal doors that the character comes through,
against which he gets killed, which we then went on to recreate. And the actor making the shadow was standing
right about [there]. He was about that size, coming up from the
audience. It was beautiful. Yeah. So show us the wall. The wall, wow. You know what the problem is, I think this
model, I’m not sure I can actually pull it out. (LAUGHTER) It’s a little bit dusty! It’s a problem. I didn’t check this model before I came
here. Oh my God, it’s all glued together. (LAUGHTER) Oh, well. Make it work to your advantage, Chris! Come on! There we go. Go ahead, we can imagine it! Well, Chris had made a wall. Oh, this doesn’t even come out? Well, I can take the wall out. Yeah, take the wall. We’re going to just do something we always
do. You’re going to all hate me when I do this,
but we do this all the time. Because I’m going to rip it out of the model. Boy, I have very good assistants! (LAUGHTER) They’re very strong. There we go. There we go. Well, go ahead. You started to talk. Well, yeah, I mean, what you saw was a wall,
the back wall of the theatre, except obviously structured and painted and very beautiful,
that had images on it. And then things came out of it. Like this pair of doors was out in the middle
of the space, but in fact, they fit and disappeared and became part of the wall. You go ahead. I mean, the idea came out of that. Given Marquez’ work, we didn’t want to
be scenic, I guess is the way to put it. It’s political, it’s in your face. And both Graciela and I, for a long time,
thought we just wanted to paint the back wall of the theatre. And oddly enough, the doors came out of a
thing we were supposed to be in originally, because this did start out as a dance piece. It came to Broadway because both Bernie Gerstein
and Andre [Bishop] felt like, they saw the workshop and they decided that’s what they
wanted to do. But at the time we were looking at, and help
me out, it’s on Theatre Row? It’s like the Joyce, it’s a looking-down
sort of theatre? Ah, I can’t remember. An Off Broadway house? Yeah, on 42nd. And what happened was, there this huge hole. (LAUGHS) There were no entrances in the theatre,
it was like twenty feet deep. But there was this huge loading door, and
we said, “Oh, we’ll paint the wall of the theatre and then we’ll put our own doors
in there. And you know, we’ll have these doors pop
out.” And so, what happened is, when we moved into
the setting that we ended up doing, which was the Plymouth, that idea became essential. Because what happened is that all the visions
came out of this wall. Things would appear from the wall. There was this window that seemed glued to
the wall, and then the window moved to another place where it was needed for another window. Then it opened when it got over there. And then it opened, you know, and strange
things would happen behind it. So the visions came always out of the environment
that we were in. You turned a disadvantage into a really exciting,
positive design principle. That’s what all designers do. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) That’s terrific. How did you actually make those doors appear
to just materialize out of nowhere? Doors or windows? Windows, excuse me, windows. Well, there were two windows. Do these open even? They do. They actually do in the model. Yeah, there they are. It goes over into there. So now you see it and now you don’t. There’s another window up here. There’s another window there. And then the frame hung in front of it. Yes. And the frame was on something that moved
it. So it was either here, or it went down there,
turning as it went. And then I had some moving light equipment
that had a gobo cut, also to match that frame. And we had two of those kinds. So that as the window moved, in a sort of
a stately move from one place to the other, we suddenly lit it with two more frames. So suddenly, it became like three frames,
one of them tumbling and moving, and another one moving with different colors. That’s great. Yeah, so it became surreal that way. Which again, strangely, is what made it possible. Because when the window moved by [itself],
I have to say, you know, it’s always those things in theatre. I imagined a puppet. I imagined a little puppet bridge, and there
was going to be a little puppet window. And I was informed, I guess, quite logically,
by the shops, they said, “You know, that’s a window, it’s traveling a long way. That’s a long line. That’s long arms!” (LAUGHTER) Right. So then they created this mechanism. Well, the mechanism, boy, I mean, it sounded
like a jet engine taking off. It was clumsily done by the shop. It was clumsy. I mean, eventually they figured it out. But what happened was, we realized that the
movement wasn’t what we imagined. Because we imagined the window sort of tumbling
like a puppet and everything. So you know, Beverly added these things, and
suddenly then the window seemed like we imagined it. Well, there was a step in between, and that
was that Jules Fisher was going to design the lighting for this piece, because he had
been very involved with the ideas with Graciela. And I got a call from him in May, April, something
like that, saying, “Please, please!” He had to go do VICTOR/VICTORIA, whose dates
had changed, so he couldn’t do CHRONICLE, but he very much wanted to do CHRONICLE, because
he’d been so involved. And so, he had the light plot essentially
finished, in his head, if not entirely on paper, but would I cue it? I said, “Sure!” (LAUGHTER) What an up to work in a light plot
designed by Jules Fisher! I mean, it was extraordinary. He has the imagination and the strength of
character and the reputation to get the kind of equipment that normally managers don’t
want to pay for. So we had four moving lights, and the template
that matched the window had been specially etched to match exactly that window. We had five K fresnels, with color scrollers
on them, on diagonal, for diagonal back lights and diagonal front lights. And we had about 400 lighting units, which
isn’t a lot for a musical nowadays, but 138 of them had color changers on them. So each of those 134 [SIC] lights had a choice
of 38 colors. So it was just delicious. You could really paint the play. That must have been fun. Wow. Yeah, it was fun. You know, the one other thing that’s funny
about the walls, like you’ll notice there were some, as she mentioned, templates. You know, we had to decide. At one time, well, bird imagery was something,
just subliminally for Graciela, that was really, important. I mean, it was subliminal, and it was actually
painted into the walls. You can see there’s a strange kind of change
of texture. There are actually three birds that create
a flower. You don’t really see it, and I’m not sure,
actually, most of the audience ever noticed that. What was good about this, I’ll never forget
it, there was one moment we flashed these templates of birds on there and we all went,
“No.” (LAUGHTER) “No, no.” It’s one of those ideas. That was one of those things. In some plays, you can’t be too literal. Yeah, well, also it is a little bit about,
you know, when you asked about magic realism, that word, I know both Graciela and I, and
I think other people, you want to embrace the word on one time, but at the same time,
you kind of want to go like this. (WARDS IT OFF WITH HIS HANDS) Yeah. And I think it’s because it doesn’t necessarily
talk about, you know, what it is that you’re trying to do, you know what I mean? Or the action or the event you’re trying
to create, and it’s become a kind of catch phrase for certain thing? A catch-all for a certain way of imagining
things. And so, it’s interesting, most of the things
we did actually came out of necessity, and those were the fun things. Like the food, you know, people are always
talking about the food jumping off the table, “Why did you do the funny [thing]?” Well, I was sitting in rehearsal, and there
was 28 foot long table, (LAUGHS) covered with food. That flew in. Well, it didn’t fly in originally. It was sitting there, you know, in rehearsal. In the workshop, there’s this huge table. And I felt like, “Well, in our imaginations,
what would this table do? Because I can’t get it anywhere. I can’t go anywhere with this table. It doesn’t fit over there, or over there.” (LAUGHTER) So it had to dance. So it needs to dance, you know? It need to float away. And people needed to dance. Isn’t that what happens in our dreams? Things float away, you know, something else,
or in our memory. And the food was completely out of these two
dancers jumped on the table and danced, you know. They got up on the table and danced. So you had to get the food out of the way! And actually it was Graciela who said, kind
of sheepishly, because she thought God forbid anybody would do this, she said, “Well,
couldn’t the food just kind of like go like this?” (LIFTS UP HIS HANDS; LAUGHTER) And they did it! So it floats. No, it was puppetized in a way. It was puppetry. Well, the entire table flew in with the food
apparently sitting on it. And then they all had their own strings, and
then brrroop! They all just took off from the surface of
the table. It was wonderful. That’s great. Angela, has Bloomingdale’s really created
a RENT-inspired line of clothing? Umm-hmm. (LAUGHTER) How do you feel about this? Do you get any kind of money out of this? Not yet. There are lawyers involved. (LAUGHTER) Otherwise, are you flattered? Pleased? It’s so hard to talk about this, because
in a way, it was flattering. On the other hand, if somebody just goes ahead
and, you know, imitates or copies what you did on stage and puts it in a store, like
Bloomingdale’s, especially with a play like RENT and what RENT stands for, it really was
very strange. You know, gives you a very weird feeling. Just exactly the fighting, selling out to
commercial interests that the show is about, to start off with. So it’s ironic. How did you get hired? You hadn’t done a great deal of work in
the New York theatre. We all know that actors go and audition. How do designers get hired? I worked with Michael Greif, the director,
before. We did MARISOL at the Public Theatre. And he called me up and he said, “I am doing
this workshop. We have no money. Can you do the sets, too?” (LAUGHTER) So I did set and costumes, after
I read the script and I liked it. And that was one and a half years ago. That’s usually how, you know. You work with somebody once, and if it worked
out, you look for a chance to work together again. How did you get the original job, with MARISOL? Through Gabriel Barre, the designer who I
assisted, you know, which is also the other way how you get jobs, with hopefully the people
you assist, who will also recommend you for jobs that they don’t want to do or can’t
do or whatever. Christopher, you’d worked with Graciela
before. How did you get the first job working with
her? Well, you know, strangely — it’s the oddest
thing, always, divulging these things. Well, it doesn’t matter. It was very funny. I did a musical, that I didn’t do, about
six years ago, in which Jules was involved. A musical that I didn’t do! Stop! What does that mean? It means that I got involved with it, and
then I decided — and I’m going to not mention it, because I think that would be wrong — but
it was a particular director and we just didn’t see eye-to-eye, and I very quickly said, “Look,
I’m not the right person for this. You should find somebody else.” But in the meetings that I had with Jules
on that, for some reason, (LAUGHS) Jules decided that Graciela might like to work with me. And that’s actually how it happened. And I really respect Jules for that, because
I was a pretty youngish person the first time that I worked with Graciela, and you know,
she’s worked with Santo [Loquasto] and a lot of other designers. And I feel that it was a privilege for me. And he was right, we loved [it]. Well, I love working with her. You know, it’s the energy. When we talk, we both talk at the same time
and we both listen to each other at the same time. I know that’s something that maybe some
of us know happens a lot. We just manage to continue that on for hours
and hours and hours, and it’s the greatest pleasure you can have. Karen, how did you hook up with Gertrude Stein
originally? I went to school with John Reaves, one of
the artistic directors. And I did several of his plays at Yale. And then when he and his wife Cheryl started
their company, I started working with them. And they were also working with Lee. And we did a workshop, reproduction, I guess,
of RED HORSE ANIMATIONS, using some World Wide Web technology to do projections for
that. And so, that’s how I met Lee. And Julie, how about you and Mabou Mines? How did you originally get with them? Well, like I said, I came to New York and
had a friend who was working with the company and sort of hung around. I was an artist, a sculptor, at the time,
and Ruth asked me — well, I started out as a babysitter, actually. Ah, see, I knew! Took care of the children. It was great, actually. And Ruth asked me to design the set for a
project that she was doing at Recherché , a studio that Mabou Mines started, and then
asked me to design the lights for something else. Didn’t know how to wire a plug, didn’t
know the first thing about it, but. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, Julie’s a real original, because if
she doesn’t know how to do something, she figures it out. Usually the hard way. Rose is the first puppet in a production that
Julie’s made. The first that she’s made that’s been
in a production. Wow. I have to be rude and bring to this panel’s
attention the fact that we have to close it. I couldn’t be sorrier, because it’s been
absolutely fascinating to hear what goes on behind the scenes and before it becomes the
scene. This is the American Theatre Wing’s seminar
on Design, and the panelists today have all won the awards from the American Theatre Wing
on the 1996 Design. They are lighting people and costume and set
and special effects, and they have been absolutely fascinating as they’ve explained their craft
to you. This is one of a series of the American Theatre
Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” coming to you from the Graduate Center of
the City University of New York. And today’s co-chairs have been Professor
Tish Dace, who is a theatre critic, and Beverly Emmons, who is lighting design. I thank you, and I thank this panel for being
with us and sharing your knowledge and techniques with us. Thank you very, very much. (APPLAUSE)

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