Author Archive for crboltz

Your Failing Faithful Correspondent.

This has been one heck of a semester.   I am Curriculum Chair Elect, teaching 14 units, plus designing scenery and lighting for two shows, and animation for one of them.  My husband is completing his MFA, and my cat was diagnosed with cancer.    All of which means, for a while something in my life had to give.  Unfortunately it was my blog.

Tonight I am overseeing a rehearsal where several of my students are on the crew.  I spent some time uploading new pictures to my portfolio.   Then I thought of all things I haven’t blogged about.

I’m taking a quick moment to post about future posts (in the hopes that I will get to them soon):

1. Old Hats and Testament at A.C.T.

2. Design Process and Collaboration

3. Rethinking my Scenic Design Class

4. Designing a brand new course

5. The place of reviewers/critics in the arts

6. More thoughts on Tik Tok Man Oz (a production that has remained in my thoughts for the past few months)


The above is not an exhaustive list, nor are they in order.  These are my ideas.  Let’s see if I can commit to blogging.  I am hoping to get in the habit before the craziness of next term gets going.

Tenure Review

Tenure has been in the news a great deal since a group in California has been attempting to end (High School) Teacher tenure through the ballot box, elected officials, and court cases.   I don’t know what the tenure process is at other institutions, but I know how it works at mine.

After a four year review process (that is fairly intensive), we are granted tenure.   After being granted tenure, every three years we are reviewed to make sure that we are still up to the mark.   I actually think this system is pretty good.   It is not an endless string of paperwork, and it still maintains a check to make sure that instructors are doing their job.

I don’t think our tenure process is flawless.   Prior to teaching in a tenure track position, I was a staff member of another teaching institution.  As a staff member, we went through an annual performance review.  This was a lower work process, but had some advantages over our tenure process.

For our tenure process, we provide two rather involved documents.  One is “Personal Growth” which is essentially a bullet point list of all the good things I have done beyond basic requirements since my last review.  Here I list things like conferences attended (or presenting at),  shows designed beyond my contract (i.e. publishing), committees I served on, and other special things I have done.   The second document is essentially proving that I have fulfilled my contract.   I have to state (demonstrate) that I maintain accurate student records, that I can use a computer, that I can…… whatever else.  (The questions I have to answer are listed in our contract).

The last part of the tenure review process is student surveys in addition class room observations and/or an in-depth discussion about educational issues with one’s review committee.  This is also sensible.

Where I think my annual performance review process had advantages over the tenure review process was a two sided discussion.    The whole tenure review process, as I experience it, is me proving to the school that I shouldn’t be fired.  There is no discussion about challenges I am having in the job.  There is no real ability to cover anything beyond those contractually covered categories.

Am I unhappy and frustrated in my job?  No, I’m not.    There are a couple of campus processes that make my job more challenging than it ought to be — but those processes are not part of the contractually mandated questions.  My (admittedly minor but very much on my mind at the moment) issues are far bigger than me.   They are likely far bigger than my division.   They probably need to be addressed in a bigger forum.   But I don’t know what that is.   And frankly, I’m so busy with my work, I don’t have time to find out.

My biggest feeling is that in the college’s and union’s desire to level the playing field for all evaluations they have eliminated an actual conversation — some actual dialogue.   I don’t want my review to be a complaint session (either complaints by me, or about me), but I’m really feeling that my performance reviews from when I was a staff member were more productive.   There we discussed some of the challenges I was facing (which my supervisors had not considered) and solutions were found.

What to do?   Well, I could go on  a crusade through the academic senate and the teachers union.   I could write a memo about the things that are bugging me (and sound like a complainer).  I could do nothing, and decide that in many ways I’m treated far better here over all than I was at my last gig.  (BIG NOTE:  At my last gig, the group I worked with personally treated me very well, but the University’s attitude towards its staff was not what I would call the foundation a great work environment)

So, tenure review.  I’m going through it.   I hope I have a job on the other side.



“Tik-Tok Man of Oz”

I took a few days off from my teaching gig at Fresno City College to “present research.”   For many academics this means a fairly dry powerpoint in front of notable “experts.”   I teach design and technical theatre.  My research was a presentation of “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” a light opera written by L. Frank Baum and not seen in a full production since 1914.   My part of the presentation was the lighting designer.  The show was a success and I am thrilled (and really really tired).   Part of me being releaced from Fresno City College duties to do this was me writing a fairly dry report on what happened.   I wanted to blog about this anyway (and I am sure  I will), but here is an overview of my time in Oz.


Last year I applied for (and was granted) permission to attend/present at “Winkie Con:” a group celebrating the works of L. Frank Baum. This is a big year for fans of L. Frank Baum’s work as it is the 50th annual West Coast gathering on Oz fans and experts, the 75th anniversary of the 1939 MGM film of the Wizard of Oz, the 100th anniversary of the publication of Baum’s “Tik-Tok of Oz,” and 100 years since the original production of Baum’s musical “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” closed. According to press reports of the era, Baum began writing the light opera, “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” at a hotel outside of San Diego. Premiering in 1913 in California the production was unfavorably compared to Baum’s mega-hit play “The Wizard of Oz.” “Tik Tok” toured the U.S. and Canada until the beginning of 1914. Through out the tour, Baum and his collaborators were continually making changes to the show in an attempt to get the play ready for New York. “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” would never reach New York. As was not uncommon for the time, the various scripts, songs etc were tossed aside at the end of the production.

Author and illustrator Eric Shanower, along with his partner David Maxine, wanted to present “Tik Tok Man of Oz” in San Diego in 2014 due to the overlap of many important Oz anniversaries. Shanower collected the existing fragments of scripts, published songs, newspaper reviews and programs in an attempt to create a producible version of the play. In the fall, I was invited to be a part of the creative team to present Shanower’s adaptation. I would provide the lighting design for the event.

The play was to be presented in the Regency ballroom at the Town & Country resort in San Diego. This meant that there was no existing theatrical lighting system for me to use. Through out the Spring semester I worked with the venue, the producer and the director to design a system that could be moved into the venue in the limited amount of time we had, was within the budget, and would meet the needs of the show. Over the summer I traveled to San Diego to see rehearsals and meet with the other members of the creative team. At 7:30 AM August 7, 2014, Shanower and I went to the rental house to pick up the equipment we would need to create the lighting for the show. We returned to the Town & Country where myself and a handful of volunteers began creating a theatrical lighting rig in a small ballroom. By early afternoon the system was in and working. We began focusing the lighting and adjusting/updating the prewritten light cues in the lighting control desk. While I was working, Shanower and Maxine installed most of the scenery. At 7:30 PM the cast arrived for their first rehearsal on the stage. The rehearsal went very well despite two actors who were unable to be in attendance.

Friday morning was spent making adjustments to the lighting cues and the to lights themselves. I worked until early afternoon. In the evening, the official Welcome Celebration was scheduled in the ballroom as well as several presentations. I was asked to be on hand to turn on lights for that event. Two presentations were especially note worthy: Atticus Gannaway presented a 45 minute power point about L. Frank Baum’s connections to Coronado (the area outside of San Diego where Baum began work on “Tik Tok Man of Oz” among other works), and author Aljean Harmetz spoke for about 30 minutes about her research process for her book “The Making of the Wizard of Oz.”

Saturday morning was spent training my follow spot operators for the performance (a student from U.C.S.D. and a student from U.S.C.) prior to the afternoon full run through of the show. The run had an invited audience of friends and family of the cast. This was also our opportunity to put in the two cast members who had been unable to attend the Thursday rehearsal. Final costumes and scenery were incorporated into this rehearsal. Saturday evening was the performance. The ballroom was packed with fans and scholars of L. Frank Baum’s work. The show started a bit late, but was a great success. After the performance, myself and two volunteers packed up the lighting system.

Sunday, after loading the lighting system onto the truck for return to the rental firm, I attended a discussion on the making of the MGM film of the “Wizard of Oz.” Speakers included Aljean Harmetz (mentioned above), Robert Welch (editor of the memoir of the special effects designer of the film), and Priscilla Montgomery (dancer in the film). Following that discussion, myself; designers Eric Shanower and David Maxine; and several cast members were featured in a panel discussion about the process of reviving a lost play.


One final note.   It may not come through in the above, but I was so honored to be a part of this process and this production.  I have a deep love for the early days of what would become musical theatre.  “Tik Tok” was not a hit in its day — and it probably didn’t deserve to be, but there is a lot of fun there, and Eric Shanower and director Chrissy Burns really found the fun and the heart in the show.

What’s On STAGES tonight

I have spent the last two weeks working with an amazing bunch of high school students (and four fabulous faculty members) on a project for Fresno County Office of Education called STAGES.   This is the third year I have worked with them and each year it gets even more amazing.   The way it works (or at least the way it worked this year) is: We take the students to camp for a week.  We teach them things about movement, improv, storytelling, collaboration, performance techniques and more.   We make them write stories, poems, monologues and scenes.   We have them work with fellow students to perform the things they wrote using the things they were taught.  At the end of it, the faculty selects material that seems like it will go together and makes an evening of theatre.    After camp, we return to Fresno City College, re-block material without dirt and tree stumps.  We work out a show order.  And… Abra Cadabra:  Show.

We had our one and only run through last night.  It was beautiful and poignant.  Tonight is the show.

The material is largely improvised, meaning final lines, transitions and stuff are sort of approximate.  For that reason, I’m running my own light board and “calling” cues to a long-suffering, quick-on-his-feet friend and sound op.   We have another wrinkle to add to the show tonight.  One of the performers has had a tragedy strike in her life and may or may not make the show tonight.  One of the things she wrote, and was scheduled to perform, was a beautiful heartfelt song about teen-suicide (the whole play is about youth violence).   We videotaped her performing it last night.  If she is unable to be with us in person, her song will still be their via video.

As an arts educator I experience the tragedy that budget cuts to arts programs bring.  Several of our STAGErs are going back to high schools with no arts programs this academic year.   I see the difference that this program makes in students lives.   I watched students grow up, and become new people over two weeks.  I watched students find their voice and learn to use it.   Some students made great leaps. Others are just starting to take a few tentative steps.

Math, Spelling, Vocabulary (things the SATs test for) are all important life skills, but none of them lead to self discovery and self expression.   As a society, we are sacrificing the things that can make life exciting and rich so that we can test students more on fundamental skills.   These skills are meaningless if the students can’t apply them to something.  They are also pointless if we have terrified students so badly about spelling and vocabulary and math skills that they are afraid to try something the involves those skills for fear of making a mistake.

I hear lots of people complaining about the quality of today’s high school students.  In fact, as a college instructor I often join the chorus of complaints.  They can’t read.  They can’t spell.  They can’t think.    I just spent 2 weeks working with students.  They were not the academic cream of the crop (at least not intentionally as grades and GPA were not factors in accepting students to the program).   What I saw was that many of these students had never been given the opportunity to use their skills.  They had never been given the option of speaking the words in their hearts.  They had never been asked what their story was.

Once they felt like their story was valuable  what came out was an embarrassment of riches.  The show put together the last few years was about half an hour.  This years show is almost an hour.   Stuff we cut from this years show was stronger than stuff that made it into the show in the past.   (We had a slightly different process, and very different end goals this year so it is not truly and apples to apples comparison.)  Our goal this year was to honor their words, their stories.   I feel like we did that.

On top of that, we did it in two weeks.   I wonder what kind of change we could impact on Fresno county if every high school student at an opportunity of self expression and creativity in theatre or music or art or dance for the full academic term.  For some students that isn’t their thing, so we also need to provide opportunities in sports, journalism etc.   High school shouldn’t be just one size fits all.   But as a society we have to get away from the notion that reading, writing and arithmetic are all high schools should offer.    Those skills are the foundations.  But all those things relegated to “extra-curricular” are where the skills are applied.   Students seem to lack the skills because they don’t understand why they need them.   Give the students the skills, and give those skills a use.   That’s what it takes to engage their brains.

Sound design isn’t an art?

Immediately after this year’s Tony Award celebration the Tony committee announced that they would no longer be awarding a Tony award for Sound Design for either a Play or a Musical.    The committee offered several reasons for their decision.   The decision has been debated, discussed and dissected.  I’m not going to go into it.

I am going to talk about what Sound Design is about and how it differs from base-level sound.   I spent a good part of last week at a conference, where I learned all about what good Sound Design can do.  The conference had nothing to do with sound, yet the sound during several events showed what good sound design is not. The keynote addresses were given during the lunches.   This is not ideal.    Ideal or not, sound designers have been doing the less than ideal for a long time.

Competent sound technicians can make the sound audible.  Competent sound technicians make sure there isn’t feed back.    And if that was all sound designers did, maybe their shouldn’t be a sound design Tony Award.    But hearing the words from someone’s mouth is not all sound design is.

A good sound design would give the impression that the sound was coming from the direction of the presenters.   A good sound design would make the audio sound natural.   And that is just for sound reproduction.

If the conference was a play, the sound designer would add subtle music or effects to build excitement or underscore key moments.   The sound designer could make small changes to the way the source sounded when it came out:  Boosting part of the signal, adding a bit of reverberation.   The sound designer could create deafening silence at the high point of the speech.  This is the art.   This is the design.

Good sound is something most people take for granted when they watch Television, Film and (yes, even) theatre.  Just because the designers are so good at what they do, you don’t notice it does mean you wouldn’t notice if it were lacking.   I spent a weekend with not-very-good sound technicians, and longed for the true magic of good design.

I don’t know if the Tony Committee will come to their senses or not — the outcry has been great, but I do not know if was great enough.   What I do hope is that everyone who reads this will take a moment to truly listen the next time you attend the theatre.   Is there sound reinforcement?  Is there careful underscoring?  Do sound effects happen at the right moment, and do they sound like they are being created on stage?   In short, don’t just watch the next play you see, but listen to it.

I can rant about how important sound is, but all that noise from me will never convince anyone else.   So don’t take my word for it.  Go to the theatre.   Then listen.

And think.

And analyze.

Then track down the sound designer and say “Thank you.”

Forgetting Theatre

“You’ve forgotten more theatre than most people have seen” is a common accusation that my husband levels at me.   It is not an unjustified accusation.   I spent a whole seven seconds on google trying to find a statistic of how many plays or musicals most American’s see in a year, and couldn’t find it.  I’m probably glad I couldn’t find it, because depressing news makes me want to eat, which hurts any ambitions I have of loosing weight.  I do go to the theatre.  Not as often as I would like, but I go regularly:   usually 1 or 2 times per month.  Unlike most people, I spend more time in live theatres than movie theaters.  (Yes I am a snob and spell the two differently).

I see plays for fun. I see plays for work.   I see plays to enrich my mind and soul.  I see plays because we have tickets as part of a season.  I see plays I really want to see.  I see plays that my husband really wants to see.  I see plays that I have no advance knowledge of.  I see plays that I know intimately.  I see plays that friends are involved with.  I see plays that I am involved with. I don’t limit myself to plays.  I see dance.  I see opera.  I see musicals.  I used to see a lot of experimental theatre (I don’t see this as much anymore.)  I see comedies.  I see dramas.

Back to my husband’s accusation: Yes, I probably have forgotten more theatre than most have seen.   I remember the great shows.  I remember the disasters.   Those in the middle… not so much.   I was looking through a previous blog of mine (searching for some reviews of my work for this new portfolio and blog site you are currently on).    I read a review I wrote of a show.  I have almost no memory of the show.  I remember that I did see it, and what theatre it was at.  My review raved about two of the performers.  I have no memory of them.   My review complained about the lighting (in one scene).  I have no memory.

When my blog was hosted on, I had “Blasts from the pasts,”  which were re-blogs from older blogs. (All of my blog posts have been ported over here — for very good reasons of not necessarily being on topic older blogs will not be ported in total).   I think I’m going to continue the tradition.  I’m going to continue searching for my old writings about theatre, and bring them here.   Some things are reviews.  Some are observations.  Some have to do with my own process.   I promise not to let them overrun new writings here.  But every once in a while, I might go searching.    Plus if I get all my thoughts here, maybe I’ll remember.

And as I am making promises about this new place on the web:  I’m going to try to blog weekly.   This makes it the worst time to try to set that goal, as I leave Thursday for 10 days away from home, 6 without internet.    I will either have to figure out how to make a blast from the past upload itself, or figure out how to push publish with one measly bar of 3G on my phone.

I like seeing theatre.   I’d also like to not forget it.   Every show I see from here on out, gets a blog post of some sort.   Every show I do, gets one too.   No more forgetting theatre.   Theatre is too precious and too transitory to allow it to escape.

From The Other Side

I have been silent for almost a year.   There are lots of reasons:  Being chair of the Theatre Arts and Dance Department, designing tough shows, dealing with a husband in Grad School, working on my book and more.   The real reason, I think has more to do with trying to figure out where I see myself in the future.  I spent a good chunk of the last year writing songs.   I spent time writing other things.  I spent time working for my family.   All important things.   I have come out of the year with a few decisions and revelations:

  1. I like being a designer (yes, this was in doubt)
  2. I like teaching students (this was never really in doubt)
  3. I want to do more academicy things (write articles, develop courses, maybe go get my PHD)
  4. I don’t like being even a quasi-administrator
  5. I want to write more theatre (plays and especially musicals)

I stepped down from being department chair (Point #4 taken care of, which gives me more time for #2).  I have just a few chair duties left.   I’m designing more (#1 being advanced), and I’m doing some more academic projects (#3).  I’m working on writing an original musical (#5 — as soon as I can figure out the complications on the second act I’ll be in great shape).

The real point of all of this intro is to talk about what changes I’m going to be making to my life to make #1 and #3 happen more.   I wanted to redesign my on-line portfolio, and I wanted to update the look of this site (and I wanted new business cards — but I’m not discussing that in this post).   To update the look and feel of the portfolio, I hired a web designer.   My old portfolio (still up, but out of date) was coded largely by me, with a bit of help from my husband who helped by creating CSS.   This was eight or nine years ago, which in web-years is a millennium or two.

I’m used to being the designer.  I’m used to working with the client (director, producer, etc.).  I’m not used to being the client.   From the start of this process it has been  a fight of two forces within me.   Force 1 is the “I’m a designer, I know what I want, I should be able to execute it.”  Force 2 is the “I don’t want to be that client (director, producer etc.) who tells me how to do everything even when that isn’t the best way or up to current standards or whatever.”    It is hard for me to relinquish control.

Once I found a designer I thought I wanted to work with, I did some research.  I looked at 30 or so theatrical designers’ websites.   I looked at big famous designers with Tony Awards.  I looked at designers who lit teeny tiny clubs in the middle of nowhere.   I took notes.  I examined trends.  I figured out what I liked and what I didn’t.   I wrote a memo.

You didn’t read that wrong.  I sat down and wrote a memo about what my goals and dreams were for the new design, and what my minimum requirements were for the new design.  I also included 4 or 5 designers’ web address with notes about what I liked and didn’t like.   Despite my fears of looking like the controlling-client-from-hell, I met with my web designer.   She took the time to look at the websites with me.  We talked about what I was looking for.  Then she went away and designed.

I know that design never happens fast enough for a director after we have had our concept meeting.  I also know that it takes time to design.   Not just to do the drawings/renderings (or in this case coding), but time to do the thinking, the experimenting — you know, the design.  I sat around on pins and needles waiting for my site to be created for me.

The great day came, and I looked at it.  I was thrilled.  I was overjoyed.  It was great.  Except for….   I had notes.   Some of the notes were major.  Some were minor.  Some were miscommunication.   I sent them.  And I waited.   Because I did not get a response is .023 nanoseconds I was sure I had offended my designer.  Darn it.  Luckily, she was not offended.  She made the changes.  They are wonderful.   We have a few tiny things to work out, and I have to start loading content.   (And content… And content… And content… And content.)

I’m planning for the website to go live on or about August 1, 2014.   I’m learning that I’d rather be a designer than a client.  And I’m hoping this keeps my writing, designing, and sharing my work with the world.

World Building

I have been trying to do more academic writing.   I’m struggling with it.   Mostly my problem is I like to write short, tight (1500 word) essays on ideas about theatre.  Heck, my blog posts are even shorter than that.  Over the summer I was working on an essay on a concept called Worldbuilding.   I was never able to get it to the length I really needed it to be.  I took about 500 words of it, and shoved it into the longer work I’m working on where it fit nicely.    I had all but abandoned the article, but I needed to reference it for some reason tonight.  I decided I like it too much not to share.  So here it is.


I should start with a confession:  My husband writes Science Fiction.   I don’t mean he writes stories as a hobby, I mean he writes them, and gets people to pay him money to publish them.   Part of the job being a science fiction author is to attend conventions to speak to readers and aspiring writers, and to make a name for oneself to hopefully sell more books.   He was heading to a “con” (as the insiders call the conventions) and was leaving right after I opened a show and in a block of time when I was actually going to be “off” for a weekend.  I decided to tag along.

I could write about lots of things that I saw, and that happened, but one single discussion caught my attention because it applied so much to theatrical design.  Juliette Wade and Deborah J. Ross led a discussion and reading about “Worldbuilding.”   Wade and Ross, aside from being prominent Sci-Fi authors, are experts in the concept of Worldbuilding — and they opened my eyes to a new way to discuss and analyze what theatrical designers do.

Worldbuilding is the art of telling the readers about the world in which the novel (short story, etc.) is going to take place.  Often this world is not our world — instead it is an alien planet with different life forms, or a fantasy version of earth with magic and wizards.   In essence, Worldbuilding is setting the scene of the written world.  Ross and Wade emphasized the art of showing the readers what the world is like not by merely describing it, but building scenes and moments that organically take the reader on the journey through a new and exciting world.

Suddenly in this presentation, I was led to think about the similarities and differences that theatrical designers face when compared with prose writers.   Worldbuilding seems to be a popular topic within the science fiction community, but any play (and I would suspect any book) must engage in a fair amount of Worldbuilding.   Wade shared a rule that she lives by:  If there is technology in a Science Fiction or Fantasy story, you have to tell the reader on the first page, preferably by the end of the second paragraph.   In fact, as Wade shared the opening of her forth-coming novel, she described “electric chandeliers” in the underground cavern/concert hall.  In her experience, if the level of technology isn’t clearly demonstrated up front, readers are shocked by its existence later in the story.  The reason for the shock is that readers take what information they have at the beginning of a story and begin, in their mind, to build the world of the story.   Once they have decided what level of technology is available, any deviation from that shocks them out of the story and forces them to rebuild.

Theatrical designers often have similar challenges.   Plays, and designs, need to set up the rules at the start.  Theatrical designers rely on the audience’s willingness to accept the conventions of the design, but consciously or not, good designers let the audience know what they are in for up front.   Extrapolating Wade’s advice-to-writers to the theatrical designer, we need to tell the audience what is up with our world in the first scene (or certainly by the end of the first scene change.)   Are we in the world of the unit set where every location in the play will happen in this one space with just small property changes, and major lighting changes?   Or are we in a world of ultimate reality?   Whatever world the audience is about to engage with, designers need to let them know up front.   If a production design begins realistically, then suddenly changes to extreme abstraction we will jolt the audience out of play because we broke the rules we established at the start.   Breaking the rules is something that should only be done with extreme deliberateness.

The biggest lesson I learned from Ross was to present the world incidentally through the action of the story.  I don’t want to imply that Ross was Worldbuilding by accident, far from it.   Instead she introduced readers to the complex concepts of an alien world as she was dealing with other writerly stuff such as plot and character.   While Wade’s reading demonstrated rich narrative passages that allowed the reader to see the world, Ross’s reading jumped straight in to the action, but carefully crafted that action and her telling of it to expose the world we were visiting.   Ross’s approach is also one that relates organically to the theatrical designer.    Theatrical designers do not get to give the audience a two minute guided tour of the design so that they can take in what it is and what it means.  Instead, the curtain goes up, the actors enter, and the play is off and running.   The audience has to pick up the world of the play while following the action.  Is this the sort of play where a Styrofoam cup and some string symbolizes a phone? If so, designers show that to the audience.   Whatever the world of the play is, it is important to show it through the action of the play.

Taking Ross and Wade’s ideas together is a major part of theatrical design.  The opening moments of a play — the opening actions must be very carefully conceived to build the world for the audience.   Prior to attending the panel on Worldbuilding, I had an intrinsic understanding that the rules of the play had to be presented up front, but not a clear comprehension as to why.  The rule was drilled into me by several design professors,and I had seen from the audience what happened when the someone  broke the rules, but not reasoning behind the rule.   But following Wade’s ideas must also be tempered by Ross’s diving-in approach.   Although novels have a luxury of time with their audience that theatre lacks, Ross’s approach tries to get the action moving without obvious descriptive sections.   In one sense the theatrical designer does not need the narration since the audience can see the visuals of the design.  But even with the visuals, designers must present what the world is through the actions of the actors.

Worldbuilding, as applied to theatre, is not merely for one designer.   Although my initial thoughts were about scenery, I suddenly remembered a production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice that I lit.   In my thoughts of the play, the underworld had no sun (since there is no sun underground).   I attempted to light the scenes in the underworld with an ever changing mix of very low angeles of side light.   When, in key moments,  the sun could penetrate the earth’s surface to get down to this underworld, the light was in tight pools of golden light piercing through the jewel-colored textured lighting from the side.

Designers on every show build the world of the play.    The colors of that world, the rules of how it behaves, how it looks, how it reacts to the actions of the characters — all of this is the Worldbuilding.    Is it a world of blackouts, and corseted figures?  Is it a world of mechanized scenery and melodic sounds?  The designers are not even alone in Worldbuilding.  As most things in theatre are, the world of the play is also guided by the director.

Ross and Wade’s in-depth exploration of Worldbuilding at the conference and on their individual blogs, is not a new concept in either the world of literature or the world of theatrical design.  What these literary concepts and constructs create for designers is a new way to look at an old problem.  How do we tell our audience the rules of the world they are going to interact with for the next few hours?  How do designers collaborate to give the information to the audience in the most effective and efficient manner? And do the audiences care?

Wait, do the audiences care?   About Worldbuilding?  No.  Not as such.   But Worldbuilding is the work, the backstory, the result of the analysis.   Without it, the scenery is just a room, the lighting is just illumination, the sound is just noise, the costumes are just cloths.   With Worldbuilding the room, the illumination, the noise and the cloths transcend their individual natures to become a world — a theatrical design.

For more information:

Bay Con, where I heard this talk:

Deborah J Ross’s blog:

Juliette Wade’s blog: