Archive for creativity center

An Epiphany of …..

My stress level has been growing over the past year.   In some ways, it came to a peak last night and that made me realize something.    Last night I was in tech for a dance version of “Wizard of Oz” featuring over 100 kids between the ages of four and 18.    I am the lighting designer and also calling the show.  Tech was stressful.  The theatre is a rental, and the budgets are (like in all arts) tight — the producer cannot afford overtime.   At one point we were 40 minutes behind schedule. For lots of reasons, I am less prepared on this show than I like to be (although in this case I am as prepared as I can be).  I worked through our first two breaks of the evening (which is not uncommon).   Durring the third break, I decided to get up from the tech table, hit the restroom and water fountain. Those important tasks completed, I returned to the tech table and saw I still had a few minutes left, and decided to check my messages.

The messages had nothing to do with the show I was working on, nor any other show I am working on.  In fact they had nothing to do with my work or art at all.   They did send my already high stress level through the roof.  I quickly realized what was happening, and in trying to de-stress myself from the messages so I could focus on the show, I just sent my stress level even higher.

Well, I made it through the night.  We actually got back on track and finished 5 minutes early.  On the way back to where I’m staying through the Los Angeles traffic I reflected on what happened, and how to make it not happen again.  I came to the following conclusions:

1) Lighting dance (especially with talented dancers and great choreographers) is one the the most joyous exciting things in my life.   Yes it can be stressful, but the rewards are so great it is worth it.

2) A large part of my stress seems to be coming from a lack of releases for my stress.

3) I constantly decide that my time to do art for arts sake, and my time to get physical exercise should be subjugated to other commitments (i.e. they are just for me, and therefore selfish and therefore unimportant).

4) I’ve never been good at saying “no” to requests.   I have gotten better.  I have learned to figure out when I just cannot do a show, and I try to help the producer that wants to hire me to find someone else.   For a long time, I did what ever was asked of me at work regardless of what it meant.  In the last year or so, I’ve gotten much better at saying “no” there as well.   I need to get better at saying “no” in other areas.

5) My “selfish” stress relievers are not selfish, they are actually important.

This whole process got be back to thinking about a time several years ago when I no longer wanted to attend theatre in my free time.   Somehow my involvement and love of theatre resulted in me avoiding going to the theatre.  I found a solution to that — I stopped going to the shows that I “really ought to see,” and started going to the shows I wanted to see.   I’m now going to the theatre more.  (In fact, now the biggest things keeping me away from the theatre I want to see is the 3 hour drive to San Fran or LA, and the cost — not my dislike of theatre).  I’m enjoying going to the theatre more now as well — even when I am attending for professional/work-related reasons.

I found a solution to that problem that made me a happier person and a better artist.  I need to find a solution to the current problem, and I think I can.

I’m very simply going to set goals, and find a way to track them.  The draft version of the goals are three fold:

1) Art for arts sake 5 times per week.   Writing articles for theatre publications counts. Working on my text book counts. Composing music counts.  Painting, other writing, photography, etc.  counts.    Designing shows I’m being paid to design: Does not count.   Painting/building a set/hanging lights/installing theatre gear (paid or not): Does not count.

2) Exercise 5 times a week.  Riding the bike around Woodward Park or to Central Fish, or around down town: Counts.   Riding the bike to/from work: Does Not Count.   Going to the Gym: Counts.    50 Sit ups and 50 push ups at home: counts.  Long walks with the dog: counts (i.e. not just around the neighborhood).  I think the minimum requirement is 30 minutes of exercise per attempt at exercise.

3) Eat healthier.  I’m not sure what that means.  Less cookies.  Less red meat.  More vegetables.  This combined with goal 2 will help me loose 20 pounds by Christmas or 4 inches off my waist measurement.

With these goals, some other things in my life are going to have to give.   One organization that I volunteer a good bit of time with is going to be told “no.”   When my husband and I are on different schedules, if that means exercising without him, then I have to do it.

SO What does all this have to do with theatre design? (Since this is a theatre design blog after all.)

Well, the answer in one simple sense is:  Dying from a stress related heart attack at age 40  is not good for my attempt to become a famous writer about theatre or famous designer.

In the broader sense, every job in the world has its own unique demands and stresses.  Much of the work of the artist has the stress of the job *plus* the stress of the next job.  (If one design sucks, you have a harder time getting the next design gig.)  Forcing myself to have less stress allows me to focus on those things that are most important to me: My shows, my teaching and my family.

Healthy people have less stress.   I would feel better about myself if I weighed 30lbs less and could fit into mediums again.   I am happier and have great feelings of accomplishment when I work on my art and my writing.

Being happy and excited about design makes makes my designs much better than when I’m angry and bitter about designing.  I need to make myself happy.

Higher at American Conservatory Theatre

Last Saturday (Feb 11, 2012), I saw “Higher” by Carey Perloff at A.C.T. Unlike the other shows of the season, this play was presented the Theatre at the Children’s Creativity Center instead of A.C.T.’s main theatre. The Theatre at the Children’s Creativity Center is a charming 150 seat proscenium theatre. The only really unusual thing about the venue is this catwalk/ramp over the upstage portion of the stage. On Stage Right it is about 14′ or so above the ground, and across the stage goes up at an approximately 30 degree angle towards Stage Left.

“Higher” is a new play written by A.C.T.’s artistic director. “Higher” is a truly exciting new work. The play concerns itself with two architects (who happen to be dating) who, unbeknownst to the other, enter the same competition to design a memorial to group of people who died in a terrorist attack in Israel. Add to the mix, the Israeli son of one of the victims, and the American wife of another (these two are the co-chairs of the committee of judges for the contest), and the son of one of the architects and you have play that examines the sacrifices artists make for their work (and weather they need to), and a meditation on grief and remembrance.

Perloff’s plot is excellent, and mush of her structure is to be admired. I have three (very minor) quibbles with the play as it currently stands. First, I’m not sure the intermission is in exactly the right spot. The person I attended the performance with seemed to think it belonged one scene earlier. I almost think the play would be strongest without an intermission. Secondly, I feel that a scene is missing. An interesting dynamic is created between the two architects (Michael and Elena), and Michael’s son, Jacob… but the dynamic is never fully explained or explored. Jacob has scenes with his dad, and a scene with Elena, but at no point in the play do we see all three interact together. I would love a scene where the three have to walk the tightrope between polite conversation and the varying likes, dislikes, oppositions and allegiances between the three. My final wish for the script is an over all tightening. There are not scenes that need to be cut — but many of the scenes could have 30 to 90 seconds trimmed from them with no ill-effect, which would make the play fit nicer into a long one-act type of presentation.

The cast was excellent. Rene Augesen, and Andrew Polk as the architects (Elena Constantine, and Michael Friedman) had great chemistry and a great skills at both the comedy and the drama involved in the story. Ben Kahre and Alexander Crowther as the Architect’s Son and the Victim’s Son (respectively) were also wonderful and provided some of the most sensitive moments of the evening. Concette Tomei as the Victim’s Wife was the only person who didn’t seem perfectly cast. She was a fine performer, but I felt the actress’s natural good nature was coming through the “tough-as-nails” character and somewhat diminishing the power of the character. (That said, I have seen Tomei in other plays where she was fabulous, so I do not wish to blame her). Mark Ruker’s direction kept everything moving and believable. Rucker’s direction mixed with Perloff’s script mixed comedic moments with serious moments very skillfully. (The assault with the bagel being a perfect example of the blend of the two.)

To my (highly biased) mind the star of the show was Erik Flatmo’s set. So many of the key ideas of the play were expressed in that deceptively simple set. In the play, the two competing architects have radically different ideas of what the Memorial should be. Michael Freidman’s idea is a soaring glass tower, which is canted at the top, and has the names of the victims etched in such a way that they glow at sunset. Elena Constantine’s idea is a low building in the shape of a grieving praying man. These two ideas, and what they mean becomes the dramatic fodder seperating these two in the contest. Michael thinks architecture should impose its new order on its location, Elena thinks that arhictecture should integrate with its site. On stage, Flatmo uses the competing ideas to create a marvelous tension in the set. Tall steal and glass walls flank the set in an asymmetrical pattern. Between these walls is a graceful sloped wooden wall. The glass connects to Michael’s entry in the contest, the wooden wall, Elena’s. Remember that strange catwalk I mentioned in the theatre. To connect more with Elena’s theory of integrating with the site, the brown wooden wall is at the same angle as the catwalk above it, making a living example of the character’s theory. On this basic set, a few simple items were brought in to suggest every other location. The three offices in the play used the same desk (and in a brave move the desk wasn’t always in the same place even if it was to be the same office). Each office had its own 2 chairs. A bench in a hotel later became a foot board. The Bed was used for thee different hotel rooms. A marvelous simplicity! And in many ways, I loved that visible deck hands came and moved the set. I honestly think any slick automation would have hurt this production. The last thing I loved about the set was the small indent down stage containing “dirt” which allowed the director and actors to make real the feeling of burial and digging so central to the play’s plot.

Gabe Maxon’s lighting was subtle and beautiful. The play of light off of the set made the set (either the wooden wall or the glass towers) come alive. Much like the set, the lighting was kept simple, not drawing attention to itself, but never being less than all it needed to be. The same can be said for David F. Draper’s costumes. They told their part of the story without being intrusive. Will McCandless’ sound design was lovely within the play. I have become more and more disenchanted with “pre show” and “intermission” music. If it is not absolutely completely right it ends up being a distraction to the play rather than an aid. In this case, the music, while lovely, did not mesh well with the play I saw. All of the music during the play itself was wonderful, as were the subtle sound effects.

I recently received word that the play has been extended to Feb 25th, if you are in the San Francisco area, or can get their, I highly recommend it. And I eagerly await its next production. After any first production writers generally take what they have learned about the play and make small (or major) revisions. I would love to see what Perloff does with this play. It should have quite a life.