Archive for Uncategorized – Page 2

The Week Ahead, and Looking Back

I’m in Los Angeles to participate in the United States Institute for Theatre Technology conference.   I used to attend USITT almost annually, and it seemed like it used to be in Long Beach at least every other year.    It has been a few years (three?) since I was able to attend.  The Long Beach location provided to big points of cost savings:   I could drive there, and I have friends in the area who are letting me sleep in their spare room.

Previous USITTs have been about (for me) job hunting,  product research, connecting with old friends, net working, and occasionally actually working the convention at a booth or table.    This time, while I am doing some product research, and I hope to see old friends, I have two main goals.   One is the classes, workshops, and sessions I am attending to become better at my job, and two is to talk to publishers (or a specific publisher), about the book I’m writing.   

To that end, I brought mostly nice cloths with me.  I remember running around past USITTs in ripped jeans, and old show T-shirts.  Not this time.  I have a suit, I have several kilt/dress shirt/vest ensembles.   

And because of hoping to do the book, I’m really nervous.   I wasn’t this nervous when I was at USITT to interview for jobs.  I wasn’t this nervous when I was representing an organization.

I always thought that once I reached my thirties, going to conventions and trade shows would be no big deal.  I would be cool and nonchalant.   Maybe that never changes.  I aslo figured I wouldn’t be nervous on opening night (or when presenting my design concepts for the first time).  I still am.  

So here I am getting ready for tomorrow.   My workshop/class thing tomorrow starts at 7 am — we were warned to be there, ready to go no later than 6:45.   I can’t get any information on if the convention center parking will be open then.  It had better be.  Tomorrow will also be my first day driving there.  I’m planning to arrive no later than 6:30 (and if google is right, i’ll arrive at 6:03).

I have lots I want to learn this week, and lots I want to do.   What it will be, who knows?   But I hope it will at the very least be a wonderful experience of learning.

And to that note, I may (if I’m awake enough), do daily blog posts about what I have learned that day, or a big wrap up at the end.

Reflection on “Almost, Maine”

Well, I haven’t written in a while, which typically translates to, I’ve been doin’ a show.  In this case, the show was “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, directed by Janine Christl for Fresno City College.   I designed the lighting and scenery, Deb Shapazian did the fun costumes, and Jeff Barrett the moving sound design.    

Here is what Donald Munro said of my work in his review:

“Christopher R. Boltz’s scenic and lighting design is wonderful. Three tall dark screens, each depicting spindly trees painted in white, can slide from side to side, opening up spaces for scenery to fit in. Whether they’re interiors (a living room, a bar table) or exteriors (an inviting front porch, a field covered with snow), these set pieces offer a unified sense of texture and proportion that gently and effectively insinuates the audience into the look and feel of this small town.The Northern Lights themselves pop up now and then to glorious effect, and Boltz’s lighting design subtly picks up on the image, often bathing a scene from the side with a mild, comforting green glow.”

Well Yippee for me.   I think the set was nice, and I was rather proud of some of my lighting.  This review, however, is much longer, and includes more praise than I typically get from Mr. Munro.   I am certainly not complaining — it is nice to read nice things of oneself.    However nice my work on this show is, it is not better (in my opinion) than many other shows I have done.   (In fact the concept was sort of stolen from two of my other shows.)   

Why did I steal?   Well the original set idea was cool, but too expensive and heavy.   At a production meeting, I developed a new concept, sketched it, and then overnight drafted it.  It was functional. It was pretty.  And it was far from perfect.  Sitting in the audience at the closing performance, I saw at least three things I should have done — each of which would have made the scene changes more elegant, faster, and saved money.

What I think I am most proud of on “Almost, Maine” is my crew.    They had a tough job.   There was a fair amount of set, and a a large amount of props, and oh yes, it snowed.   There was a lot to do durring the show.   The crew stepped up their game.   The worked together, and with very little leadership from the faculty.  The organized additional rehearsals of the scene changes.   The worked out better traffic patterns back stage.   AND if the show had run another 2 weeks, would have made the scene changes truly art.   I would have liked the changes to go smoother and quicker, but what I liked more was that several of my students stepped up and became leaders.    Students that I thought (or feared) were just in the production class to earn 3 units really cared about the show.   They promoted the show, they talked about the show, they took their work on the show very seriously.  And that, in many ways, is what college theatre ought to be about:  How much learning and growth happened within the students, regardless of what any reviewer says.

I’m also proud of the cast.   Janine, our wonderful director, took a large cast (19!) and made a town come to life.    Many of the cast were in their first college show, and had a lot to learn, bad habits to break, performance skills to master.   They did.   Some grew more than others, and maybe some had farther to go than others.   The most amazing thing I saw was the incredible growth I saw between the first run I watched, and final dress.  AND THEN, to my amazement, there was growth between final dress, and the final performance of the show, eight days later.

“Almost, Maine” is a production of which I am hugely proud.   It may be one of the most educational shows we have done since I have been at City College.   And this great work, is work that is hard for an audience to perceive.    Audiences see the finished product (and in this case, the finished product was pretty good), but they can’t (nor should they) see what went into it.   But in educational theatre, what went into is the most important thing.

Click Track, The Positives and Negatives

Over the weekend I saw a local, community theatre production of a fairly recent popular musical.  There were several of my current and (recently) former students involved.  I’m glad I saw the show.  It sparked several things I want to write about over the next few weeks.

The theatre where I saw the show has not used a live band for years (or at least that’s what was explained to me).  Typically they use (according to some in the know) some sort of click track — sometimes locally produced with a full orchestra, or a small combo (pre-recorded) or MIDI/Synthesizer tracks

The show used tracks from a company called the MT Pit, which provides this service.   On one hand, these tracks were some of the best backing tracks I have ever heard.  The orchestra sounded very professional, they had a nice swing, and a good tone and sound.

That said, the lack of a live orchestra hurts a musical so much.  I used to think, “well the tracks aren’t very good, but if they were….”  However, this showed me, that no matter how high quality the tracks, it sucks some of the life out of a show.   The recording can’t vamp while the audience laughs (or move ahead when they don’t).   The recording can’t feel when the performer wants a little ritardando or accellerando or whatever the performer needs to connect with that specific audience on that specific night.  The fact that theatre is live is what makes it magical.  Taking away the live musicians hurts a show so much.

The flip side, theatre is so expensive to produce.  Rights, physical production, staff, insurance, advertising etc. all cost a lot (and those costs are rising constantly).   I understand while theatres look at the orchestra and think it is a needless expense — or at least where the cost doesn’t equal the benefits.    Click tracks, especially beautifully  sounding tracks tempt producers to think this is better.  I’d rather hear a small combo, or even piano only so long as it is live, and there, and present with the actors.  Those few musicians make such a difference.

In educational theatre, while my over all opinion holds, if given the choice between students not learning about musical theatre, or doing theatre with a click track, I guess I would choose the click track — but really, I can’t imagine that the click track is cheaper than a small combo.

It was so frustrating in the theatre — great tracks backing the singers, but they were still tracks, plodding on at the predetermined tempo.   A machine trying to do the job of an artist.  It ends up being disappointing.

From the Blogmeister

Welcome to my blog. I’m a nice guy, I’m a smart guy, but I’m also a guy who is dyslexic. I try very hard to see the red squiggly lines indicating bad typing… but sometimes…. sometimes my typing is so bad that a right word pops up in place of *the* right word I want. So if you see a typo, don’t be shy, let me know!

OK, on to more important stuff. This is my little place on the web where I write about the stuff that interests me. What interests me is live entertainment, especially theatre, especially scenery and lighting design. It’s what I do, and its what I care about. I also teach about it, and so I may talk about methods of teaching it. I’m also writing a book about it, so I may wax philosophical once a while.

If you have an opinion, share it. I’m not shy. I do ask, however that all folks who comment be excellent representatives of the ladies and gentlemen of the theatre community.