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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.

“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.

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.

The Art Bug

In all honesty, I don’t use this blog as a blog.  I use it as a place mostly to post short articles on what ever topic I want to write on.  Today, I’m really writing about me.

I usually focus on design, not art.  Design is about creating items (in my life scenery or lighting) to support concepts or ideas developed by others (the script/the playwright).  The difference is art is about creating items to share your own ideas.

I have been working on  a project for the last year that I will hopefully be able to fully talk about soon.    A few years ago I did a 365 project.  A 365 project traditionally means creating a work of art everyday for a year.  What I really did was try to create 7 a week.  My work schedule meant that I got a lot of art done in tight blocks and then would go days without doing anything.

It was fun focussing on art projects that I wanted to do, that expressed what I wanted to express, that used techniques that I wanted to explore.   As much as I would like to do that again, I am no longer largely living on my own, my duties have expanded both at home and at work, and another 365 isn’t in the cards for me now.  However, the art bug is back.

I have a handful of small projects I want to do (and I suspect I will have a BIG project connected with the project I can’t talk about yet).  But over the next few weeks, I hope to do an art piece.  An art piece for me.

I have an idea — something I want the piece to be about.  I have a form I want it to be (a variation on a triptych).   I will have some experimentation of media and supplies to get the look I see in my head.  But for a change I working on art for me.

In the end the idea may not be earth shattering, and the methodology may not be as ground breaking as I think — but it will be momentous for me. . .

. . . Because I will be an artist again.

This is something I need in my life now.