Category Archives: Reviews

Traveling with a Decorator – Europe Day 1

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Kings Cross St. Pancras Station, London

M. and I (hereby renamed M&M) are on a tour of Europe. We once designed theater projects together in College and now work in two different design fields. This is our account of the trip.

Day 1: We arrived in London late on Tuesday night and headed to our hotel, a nondescript little hole in the wall on a row of similarly tiny hotels next to Kings Cross St. Pancras Station. Upon waking the next morning to a rather dreary, rainy day I promptly blew up my hair-dryer (but managed not to light the room on fire or blow out the electricity so I count it as a win). Appealing to the better natures of the hotel staff I managed to wrangle a new hair-dryer and proceeded with M. in tow to meet my old flatmates, C&C, in Kensington.

We headed to The Muffin Man for a delightful tea with scones & jam. It was a great traditional place with cozy seating and a great tea selection.

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Tea and Scones from The Muffin Man – Photo by Olivier De Man

Then we hailed a black cab and headed over to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A is by far one of my favorite museums, and houses everything from clothes and costumes, to marble statues, old tiles, pottery, stained glass etc. It’s huge and we hardly had enough time to begin but we gave it a go anyway. C&C led us through the Cast Room which I discovered back in 2004 during my study abroad years. One sections was being remodeled but the other was just as I remembered it. Then, we headed to the theater exhibit rooms (filled with costumes and set models) and the stained glass rooms (which were beautifully laid out).

Before we had even begun to take it all in it was time to head off. We bid a cheerful goodbye to C&C and went back to the hotel to grab our bags and catch the train to Paris! The train was exceptionally fast and not too crowded (4:30 on a Wednesday isn’t the most popular time for travel) so we were able to spread out a bit. By 11pm we were happily tucked into bed at our Friend’s apartment in the 16th and passed out. It was quite the start to our Europe Adventure.

Cinema Italiano

“Style is the New Content…” – Kate Hudson, Nine
Image taken from Youtube screenshot

This past weekend, while my man and I were trapped inside (thanks Irene), I did some catching up on films I have been wanting to see. Nine, the star studded musical directed by Rob Marshall was top of that list and I loved it. While I felt that there were some parts that could have been fleshed out more, and characters that needed to be re-addressed; the costumes, sets and cinematography were to die for.

Image taken from a Youtube screenshot

Kate Hudson rocked Cinema Italiano (see the youtube clip below) in white go-go boots surrounded by skiny-tie clad gents and had me wishing that I was living in an Italian movie.

From a design standpoint, the intermarriage of 60’s Mod costumes, Renaissance Italian sculpture and modern platforms that were sleek enough to be on any “Project Runway” set was extremely interesting. The three styles are hard enough to pull off on their own, so I had to go back and watch Cinema Italiano a few times before I figured out why I felt it all fit together so well (aside from the fact that it’s a fantasy scene).

The alternation between black and white (which plays well against the costumes) and color shots (which highlight the modern set) allows for the song to feel like it could belong in both worlds; And Kate Herself while costumed like a 60’s model and dancing like she belongs at a Beatles concert still screams ‘modern women’ in the way she carries herself. While this doesn’t help in the more ‘real world’ scenes for this number it lends itself beautifully to the dance sequence. But don’t take my word for it. Watch the movie yourself and see what you think.

Kate Hudson

‘Lucky Guy’ at the Little Shubert

Jeannie Jeannine (Varla Jean Merman) and Big Al (Leslie Jordan) -Image provided by the LuckyGuyTheMusical.com

What is big and sparkly, has a Drag Queen, a cut out poster of Willie Nelson, a hot hunk of a cowboy singing the blues, 4 Elvis’ and some tap-dancing Indian Braves? That would be the new production of Lucky Guy that opens tonight at the Little Shubert.

Billy (Kyle Dean Massey) and Wanda (Savannah Wise) -Image Provided by Luckyguythemusical.com

This lighthearted musical has some major talent performing on the stage. The songs are fun, the dancers are great, and the jokes kept the audience rolling in the aisles.

Image Provided by Luckyguythemusical.com

The show is set in Nashville in the late 60’s but the design take is a little liberal with the period. The sets, designed by Rob Bissinger, shift easily to allows for several different spaces from the Recording Studio to Ms. Jeannine’s 28 room trailer house.

The costumes by Mr. William Ivey Long are almost as much fun as the light-hearted banter that takes place onstage. Ms. Varla Jean Merman’s who plays the role of Country Music Star Jeannie Jeannine, is bedecked and bedazzled in fabulous country star dresses, while the men rock boots that would be the envy of any NYC hipster. And the wigs…oh the wigs…

"Warm Feet”- Image provided by Luckyguythemusical.com
"Warm Feet”- Image provided by Luckyguythemusical.com

Great for a date night or a night out with the girls, the show runs through July 24th. So check it out if you are in town. Below is a sneak peek of the “Osage County” number. Ticket information can be found here.

Free Drafting Program for Lighting Designers

I was very excited yesterday to discover LXFree, an application for creating light plots and corresponding paperwork that is FREE!!! Most professional designers work in either Cad or VectorWorks to draw up their Light Plots works but sadly my computer has neither and they can be very costly to acquire.

Sisters in Resistance-Space Section Hand Drafted by Meagan

In the past, I have been VERY old school and drafted everything out by hand. Hand drafting looks lovely and is easy to read, however in this day and age of technology it is much slower to send or correct if there are second drafts to do. I have yet to do more than play around with LXFree but so far I am enjoying the program. While it is fairly basic (it is a free program), it gets the job done.

LXFree Sample-Image from LXFree Website

What do you think of LXFree? Have you used it before? Are their other free drafting programs out there that you would recommend?


'Plough and the Stars' set by Tom Piper- Image provided by The Society of British Theater Designers

In honor of the Spring Exhibition Transformation and Revelation: UK Design for Performance 2007-2011 hosted by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and The Society of British Theater Designers, Tom Piper (Associate Designer at the Royal Shakespeare Company) recently did a piece for the Guardian on his favorite stage designs of all time.

It is always interesting to me to see how a designer has been shaped by others around him and this is a wonderful slide show. The exhibition also sounds quite incredible and I can’t wait to go see it when I go to the UK later this year. Thanks to the Guardian for posting this!

Theater Theory Books That Changed My Practice

Over the past 14 years I have studied theater in as many variations as I can possibly find. I took classes on design (obviously), historical dance, Shakespeare, modern dance, indian dance, theater history, playwriting, theatrical rendering, drafting, well you get the picture. During this educational process I read a LOT of books, on theater theory. Since I finished my MA, I find myself returning to a few books that really stood out to me and recommending them to friends and family that are interested in learning more about what I do. Her are 3 of my top Theater Theory book choices and why I love them.

1) Ways of Seeing by John Berger

  This book is a must read for anyone in the visual arts field. It is a study on the way in which we perceive the visual world and how that shapes both ourselves and our society.  Although it was written more than 30 years ago, this book still holds up in today’s art world (not a claim that all can make) and it is small enough (only 165 pages), and easy enough to understand that even the most art-illiterate reader can get something out of this book.

2) What is Scenography? by Pamela Howard

As a self identifying Scenographer this book was paramount in helping to shape my perceptions of theatrical design. I read this book in preparation for my studies in the U.K. and it helped me adapt to the styles that are in practice on the other side of the pond.  It was also an important reminder that theater design is not just about sets and backdrops but about shaping a space and creating a playground (so to speak) for the actors and directors to use.

3) Space in Performance: Making Meaning in The Theatre                    by Gay Mcauley

This book is a bit thicker then the previous two, I used it for research when writing my MA thesis. Still, it is a wonderful text which examines the relationship between performer, spectator, and space. I would highly recommend this for someone who is already familiar with theater design theory and wants to push their understanding of theater practice.

“Sleep No More” Reviewed in The New York Times

 

Yesterday the New York Times released their review of ‘Sleep No More‘ along with new production shots of the performance. While I know it’s a bit ‘meta’ to write a review, of a review, of a show I worked on (I assisted the designers). I might just have to, because I can’t help but think that thought he liked the show, Ben Brantley simply didn’t get it.

 

Macbeth and His Lady Dance -All photos provided by the New York Times

 

While Mr. Brantley was more than complimentary regarding the production design stating:

” The knockout set pieces (and the detail in every room is remarkable) include a painterly banquet scene and an unnerving black mass sequence led by three ambisexual witches. The lighting is ravishingly crepuscular. The mood-matching sound design includes period pop recordings (“Goodnight Children, Everywhere,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”), techno music (but only for the witches) and swoony, suspenseful Bernard Herrmann scores for Hitchcock movies.”

His overall take on the production was that Punchdrunk was attempting to elicit the feelings of guilty pleasure that accompany acts of voyeurism.  And that was really made the piece special was the audience.

 

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth -Image Provided by the New York Times

 

This IS partially what the production team strive for, however, the viewer’s voyeuristic pleasure, is certainly not the main goal for the production team. To me it is far more important that the audience see those moments of utter humanity within the play. The Bard is known for his use of language, but also his ability to and pull out the most raw emotions-the rage that come before murder, the tenderness of a husband trying to comfort a wife, or a guilt of a wife trying to wash away the sins of her husband. It is these emotions, that Punchdrunk is so adept at portraying.

 

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth after the murder of the King- Images provided by the New York Times

 

When it comes to the set and the design, even more important than Mr. Brantley’s obvious enjoyment of the overall construction of the space are the layers that reside within this puzzle of a building.  While one may find guilty enjoyment rifling through Malcolm’s files, or watching Macbeth kill the King, or seeing Lady Macbeth lose her mind and start scrubbing out the spot; The importance of those details are in the story that they create for the viewer (yes, you will learn more about the story if you read the files). As well as the emotional environment that they portray, and the total emersion of the audience into the world of the Scottish King.

Mr. Brantley is one of the most influential theater reviewers in the media-sphere, however, his limited descriptions of what is arguably one of the most layered productions on the boards, bothered me as both an artist and a viewer, hopefully other viewers and reviewers will not come away with such a limited take.