Design Awards (Working In The Theatre #239)


(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing Seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” These are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. And as we are about to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Award, I am reminded that this is the
22nd year that we have brought you these “Working in the Theatre” seminars. We are indeed pleased to bring you this unique
opportunity to look behind the scenes from the perspective of performers, producers,
playwrights, directors, designers, choreographers, agents, and set and costume designers, plus
the unions and guilds that work with and for these people. They provide invaluable insight and expertise
for theatre students, theatre professionals, and theatregoers. The American Theatre Wing, as many of you
know, is the founder of the theatre’s highest award. And we are justly proud of it, named in honor
of a woman named Antoinette Perry. But the American Theatre Wing works year round. It’s more than just the Tony Awards. It gives a great deal of background to the
Tony Award. And the programs that we do are all geared
to service, entertainment and education, designed to nurture and enhance excellence in the theatre
and to bring audiences to the future of the theatre. I might add, we’ve been doing this for over
fifty years, and doing it fairly well, I think. In addition to these seminars, our very successful
“Introduction to Broadway” program has brought over 50,000 high school students to
the New York City Broadway shows. And these come from the five boroughs of New
York, and they are brought to the theatres as a cooperative venture, with the Board of
Education and the generosity of the Broadway producers, who make tickets available to us
at a very, very small sum. And we in turn turn these over to the Board
of Ed, who make them available to the students. And the students pay individually for their
ticket, which is a very important part of this program, that they learn to pay for and
buy a ticket. They’re not brought en masse to the theatre,
they made the decision, they made the commitment. And it’s a very exciting thing to see these
students come and see the excitement as they see their very first Broadway show and what
magic the Broadway theatre– all theatre, as a matter of fact– but what magic the live
theatre has to give to them. We’re also very excited and pleased about
a new program, called “Theatre in School,” which is, again, just that. And we bring professionals from every area
of the theatre to talk to the students at schools and discuss with them what it is to
work in the theatre. Designers, playwrights, directors and producers
come as well, under the banner of the Wing. And it’s a very important program, because
it gives the students a language about the theatre and also an anticipation of what they
are about to see. These seminars are one of the most important
archives of theatrical history that I can think of. And as I’ve told you, we’ve been doing
them for 22 years, and in those 22 years we’ve had almost everybody in the theatre taking
part in it. And it’s a wonderful roster of knowledge
that we have. Today’s seminar is on that very important
part of the theatre. They bring the magic alive to you, and it
also carries with it an award as well. It is the set designers, the costume, the
lighting and the directors that bring the whole thing alive to you. And unlike the Tony Awards, this American
Theatre Wing award on design is given to both Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. And so, without further ado, I welcome you,
and I ask that George White, who is President of the O’Neill Theater Center and a director
and a very, very fine member of the Wing’s friends, and is also a very, very fine person
in his own right, is just man about the world, as George directs in both China and Russia. And Professor Tish Dace, who has organized
this for us, and is a theatre critic and has overseen the awards on design. I thank you very much for being here, and
I am going to turn this over to our co-chairs, who will then, in turn, introduce our panel,
who have earlier received an award and a check for their contribution in the theatre. Thank you all for being here. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, and welcome. It’s a great pleasure to be co-moderating
with George White today. I’d like to introduce you to our panelists. On my right is Gerald Gutierrez, who won a
Tony Award as Best Director for THE HEIRESS, and he also directed, of course, the show
which won the Tony for the Best Production of a play on Broadway last season. And he is accompanied by his friend– My attorney. (LAUGHTER) Your attorney, sorry! Your attorney, Phyllis [HIS SMALL DOG]. Next to Gerry is the scenic designer John
Lee Beatty, who has just won the 1995 American Theatre Wing Design award for the set of THE
HEIRESS. John Lee has had a lengthy career, designing
on Broadway, Off Broadway. Among the many things he has done, he’s
put in twenty seasons as a designer at the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Circle Repertory
Company. His designs have been honored before by the
American Theatre Wing, and of course, he’s also won just about everything else that a
scene designer could win: a Tony, an Obie, a Drama Desk award, the Outer Critics Circle
award. You get the idea. And next to John Lee is Beverly Emmons. Beverly works all over Europe and the United
States, designing opera, theatre, dance for famous choreographers like Martha Graham and
Merce Cunningham. Her work on Broadway has been honored by a
Tony and five Tony nominations on top of that, an Obie and two Bessie awards for her work
Off Broadway. And she won just last season an American Theatre
Wing Design Award for PASSION. She’s back with us this year, having one
for doing the lighting design for THE HEIRESS. On my far left is Ralph Lee, the artistic
director and designer for the Meadowee (PH) River Company. Ralph designs absolutely amazing masks and
costumes for puppets, which people wear. He has designed all over the country. He has designed for “Saturday Night Live,”
but mostly for theatre. And he started the Village Halloween parade,
I think 21 years ago, but he’ll correct me later if I’ve got that a little bit off. He also has worked for about six years now
with a Mayan writers’ collaborative in San Cristobal de la Casas (PH), and he will explain
to us later the relevance of that. But he has won the award this year for Noteworthy
Unusual Effects for his design of HEART OF THE EARTH: A POPUL VUH STORY. Next to Ralph is the person who, in my opinion,
is the great actress of her generation, Cherry Jones. I’ve been following Cherry’s career since
she appeared as the daughter in HE AND SHE at BAM, more years ago than I think either
one of us wants to count. (CHERRY LAUGHS) She then went up and appeared
in many, many wonderful performances at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
and has done some of the best performances I have ever seen since then in New York, in
plays by Paula Vogel and A LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE and OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD. And she has won a number of awards for her
appearance as the heiress. I mean, Cherry is “The Heiress” in that
play on Broadway. She won the Tony, the Drama League award,
the Drama Desk award, the Outer Critics Circle award, and she was good enough to join us
today to talk about the design of the show, along with Gerry and the designers. And finally, next to Cherry is Jane Greenwood,
the costume designer for many years on and Off Broadway. She’s also designed for the Metropolitan
Opera, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. She has received thirteen Tony nominations,
and in addition to winning the American Theatre Wing Costume Design award for her costumes
for THE HEIRESS, she also has won once before. When these awards were known as the Maharem
(PH) awards, she won for designing the costumes for TARTUFFE. Welcome all. Great. (APPLAUSE) Ralph, A POPUL VUH STORY, which is what it
was called when I first saw it at the Public Theatre, before it moved to INTAR and got
the name HEART OF THE EARTH, is about a Mayan creation myth. Could you tell us a little bit about this? For instance, what do the words “popul vuh”
mean? What does that refer to? Well, “popul vuh,” from what I understand,
means something like “the book of counsel.” And it was, in a sense, the Bible for the
Mayan civilization, or part of it, at any rate. And it’s a creation story insofar as it
talks about how the world was formed and why such and such animal has a stripe down his
back and why the sun and the moon are in the sky. It explains the universe for people, and it
also tells about the creation of the first humans, how they came about. And it’s also kind of like a book of the
dead for people. It describes how you get through hell and
up to heaven. It sort of lays out a map, a way of succeeding,
to become in a sense resurrected. And the most interesting part of the story
for me, and the part that I felt was a really compelling story in itself and one that was
worth dramatizing, is the story of a pair of twins, who are young boys and they’re
great ballplayers. And they disturb the Lords of Death, who live
in the underworld, because they play ball so well and so noisily. And so, the Lords invite them down there to
play a ball game with them. And immediately they trick them, they decapitate
them, and you think that’s going to be the end, but it ain’t. (HE LAUGHS) The twins are reborn, and they go back to
hell a second time. And because they have this pre-knowledge of
what the underworld is like, through wonderful ways of trickery and outsmarting and pure
deviltry, they are able to outsmart the Lords of Death. And it’s a very compelling story, and you
feel that the Mayans must have had some really formidable Lords of Death in their society
(LAUGHS), just as maybe we do in ours. And by using their wits, they’re able to
circumvent them. And so, that’s the basic story there. And I felt that it was a story that really
had to get out there and that more people should be acquainted with it. And so, that’s why I set about dramatizing
it. You seem to have brought some friends with
you. Could we invite them up here without fearing
for our lives? Well, I talked to them beforehand, and I think
that they’ll be relatively good. I should give a little word of explanation
before they come up here. In my haste to come here today, I forgot one
essential element, which is an inner crown that one of these large puppets wears, whereby
his head attaches to his person. And so, when they are appearing on stage,
I am going to have to hold his head in place, so that you can get the complete illusion
of what they look like. That’s not usually part of the show, it’s
a bonus. That’s not usually part of the show. Before we get to that, George, are you going
to pick up with? Well, yeah, I would. Because we are talking so much about design,
I’d like to start, I suppose since I am a director, but I’d like to start with the
director a little bit, because so much stems from your basic concept, in terms of how you’re
going to do the show and how it’s going to look. I assume it comes from your head to these
people, or would you refute that? I mean, how did you choose the people, your
team? Well, I don’t know. (LAUGHTER) I don’t know how. I’ve done something like fifteen plays with
John and ten or something with– we’ve all worked together a lot. I don’t know or pretend to know how we work
together. I know that we share a certain esthetic. I know that it takes a lot of planning. We know each other’s taste. If we were to concentrate on the set for the
moment– I don’t know. Help me. (LAUGHTER) Well, yeah, you know, it’s interesting,
because that set for THE HEIRESS is marvelous. We had an earlier seminar and Heidi Landesman
was here and she was talking about her set for MOON OVER BUFFALO, which I loved as well. But she said, you know, the minute, from her
point of view, generally speaking, when the curtain goes up and there you are, you see
a basic unit set, her normal instinct is to just despair. And of course, I thought, particularly John,
your set, Brendan Gill earlier said, and I agreed, that’s a wonderful set. You want to get up and be in it. You would hope that you’d be invited to
tea there. I mean, it just is a comfortable one. And that’s very tricky to do. I mean, what is the process of all of you
working together on this? Who comes first, I think is what George is
saying. Exactly. Where is the chicken, where is the egg? I don’t know. I really don’t, because we’ve done so
many plays together. But I know that with THE HEIRESS, there were
modern, contemporary reasons for doing it. I thought it was viable and stageworthy. What were those? It’s a little play, you know. Well, damn good parts for actors, and I don’t
think there’s enough good acting on Broadway. It’s an American play. I don’t think there are enough American
plays on Broadway. And I thought that the Lincoln Center Theatre
is particularly supportive in seeing through the artistic visions of its directors and
designers. The thing about that set, though, it looks
like you want to live in it, but it’s a house of scrim. So it isn’t what it appears to be. I mean, it’s all cloth. And it’s a lace curtain, ghosty room. It gives the illusion of warmth at times. It does, yeah. Especially when lit by Beverly. But it’s a very courageous design, I think. [OFF MIKE COMMENT] When you see it? Yeah. Why? Well, two reasons. One, actually, the other designers helped
me. Jane Greenwood and I had a little heart to
heart in Seattle. I had done too many shows with sofas, and
I was feeling, “All I ever do are these rooms, and the reviewers always say, ‘Oh,
you want to live in them, and you could just move in.’” And I was so sick of that, and I wanted to
do things like Loy Arcenas gets to do. (LAUGHTER) You always want to be someone else. You don’t want to be yourself. But a few key things. Jane said, “First of all, it’s a good
play,” which was very helpful. (LAUGHTER) That it’s going to work, that
there’s something there worth pursuing. And also what Gerry said, that there’s a
reason for doing it now. And I started looking at the world we live
in and thinking about how much money Catherine Sloper has, and try to think of what we think
now looks “rich,” rather than going back and looking at pictures of– was the play
done in the forties? 1840’s. Originally? Yeah. The Wendy Hiller was the forties. 1947. Forties, or looking at the original period,
even, at first, but to actually look at what we think of as looking “rich” now. And I took that, and then, of course, I wandered
like a crazy person through Washington Square, looking in people’s windows. (LAUGHTER) All that, of course, and then reading. Jane had also just read the novella, I think,
and recommended that, so I went into the bookstore and bought that. Well, you know me, research. Always going to books. But I was going to get into that, because
you said that, and I want to get onto research, and I also am going to reveal a secret that
I was told just before we went on camera about the costumes. It’s okay, we’ll ask him. (LAUGHTER) No, but the thing that intrigues
me is when you said how things would look rich to a 1990’s audience. I’m trying to sort of get into your head
and the thought process of what kind of research went through your mind to make that happen? Rather than going, let’s say, to the equivalent
of “Better Homes and Gardens,” you know, of that period. What went through your mind? How did you do that? What was your thought process in that? Backwards, of course, like any designer. Well, of course. Well, first of all, I was conscious of the
1940’s, the play being written then and what they admired in that period. You know, there’s a whole style, I call
it “Hollywood Regency,” but it’s a whole style of interior decoration that we’re
very familiar with. Mostly our parents had it. It’s a lot of mahogany and sort of Duncan
Fyfe (PH) imitations. And I realized I had to discount all of that,
because we don’t have that today, except for the Bombay Company, sort of. How do you keep doing what you’re doing? Saying what you’re saying, how do you keep
the set from getting in the way of the play? Oh, that’s where he helps (POINTS TO GERRY). (LAUGHTER) And how does he help that? How does he help that? Because he keeps talking about the play and
doesn’t talk enough about the design, and you’re desperate to talk about the design,
and he’s talking about the play and the casting. Well, I’ll tell you, this is where– And of course, that keeps you thinking about
the play, rather than about the draperies, which really are the least important thing,
in the long run. But you eventually see that all the choices
relate to the script. And so, finding out that Cherry was going
to be the heiress tells me a lot about what the room can look like. So finding out who else is going to work on
it, whatever. Also, I think, though, wouldn’t you agree,
that as a kid I was trained, in working on a play and developing a set, to imagine the
set from the top down, not from the audience forward, not the elevation. Where is the room to act? And where is the furniture? It doesn’t really matter, I could care less
about the color. The ground plan, in other words. The ground plan. It’s critical, in my opinion. Because I’ve seen lots of beautiful sets
where there’s no room for actors. And I think we begin that way. And where the entrances are and where the
logic is. And then, trying to find– I didn’t want
a drawing room, either. And it was re-inventing a drawing room, which
was the hard part. And what scared me so much was when we came
up with the scrim walls, and everything that appealed to Gerry about the movie were impossible
things to put on stage. Seeing things in reflection, seeing through
things, and going around corners. And then I realized, “Well, there has to
be a way of doing this on stage,” which was mirrors where you can actually sometimes
see two of the mirrors through the back side of the scenery in this version. That came to me, and then I thought, “But
this is like re-inventing those horrible scrim sets from the fifties, that we had to imitate
when I was in college. And we don’t want to do this again.” I kept envisioning these reviews where they
said, “John Lee Beatty re-invents the fifties,” or something. (LAUGHTER) That’s what scared me so much. I actually went to Andre Bishop and told him
how scared I was, which was kind of a mistake. Because we all know and love him, and he’s
so supportive that he was scared for me, and we had a scared producer then, next. Hold that thought. I’ve got to detour us back just for a minutes,
because we promised these actors who are lurking offstage that they could go home right after
the beginning of this show, and we’ve forgotten about them. And even though, you know, I try hard to make
these costumes comfortable (LAUGHTER), they are big and heavy. Yes, and they’re standing there. Welcome, Creatures from the Underworld. (APPLAUSE) This is a first on these shows, I tell you. Wow! Aren’t they marvelous? Oh, they are. Fabulous! Ralph, can you talk to us a little bit about
what the design challenges were for these costumes, keeping them wearable and so on? Right. Well, I’m going to have to remove his head
in order to talk. Yes, all right. (LAUGHTER) But in developing these costumes, you know,
I’ve made a lot of large puppets in my life. And I’ve found that when actors have to
speak with these things on, it can be a problem. If they’re totally covered up, the voices
are muffled and all of that. And so, I sort of developed a kind of feeling
whereby you know that the actor is in there. You may be able to see part of him. And so, it’s sort of like he’s the core
in there, but then there’s this extension which is the puppet. And so, this actor’s face, for instance,
is totally visible inside there. Of course, with the appropriate lighting,
it doesn’t take the focus. But it’s there, and the audience can see
that his arms are manipulating the other arms, the arms of the puppet. But somehow or other, if the visual image
is strong enough, then your focus as an onlooker will go to that image and you’ll just kind
of forget the other person is there. And you can go back to him if you want to,
but he’s always there. And I’m not trying to pretend he’s not. And with these particular figures, that’s
what I wanted to do, because they have a lot to say in the piece. They’re real wise-ass kind of characters. And so, I wanted them, you know, their personalities
and the sense of them as actors to be clearly there. And with this guy, you can see his face through
his mouth very clearly when it opens. And of course, he’s just back to the lace. (LAUGHTER) He has just lace on his chin there,
which makes it very easy for his voice to come through. It’s just wonderful. Could you introduce the actors, too? And the characters. Yeah. Well, by way of introduction, they’re just
going to do like two or three little lines. WILL HOWE
We are still blood and broken bones! We are cancer and hemorrhage of the marrow! We drink pus and blood and like it! (LAUGHTER) Okay. (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) Bravo. So underneath this costume is Will Howe (PH)
(APPLAUSE), who has played this part since we started working on this show. And in this one is Bruce Barton (PH), who
has put this costume on for the first time in his life today (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE), because
the other actors weren’t available. And I must say, when I first made this toad
costume here, we were having auditions and I would bring in some of the masks as I was
making them for the auditions. And you know, when you’re making something,
you don’t necessarily know whether it’s going to work or not. And Will came to the audition and he put this
thing on, and it was like they came together immediately. And I said, “Oh, yeah, this can work.” So it was a tremendous relief. Thank you very much. Well, thank you so much. That was wonderful. (APPLAUSE) Does that mean that as you’re directing
them, your designs are already fairly well along and the performers can rehearse in them
from the outset? Well, usually when I start the rehearsals,
some of the design elements are cooking. And there are usually some elements that I
don’t really know how I’m going to do yet. And I sort of save that until the rehearsals
have been progressing for a while, and then I say, “Oh!” You know, some actor will say, “Well, couldn’t
we do it this way?” Or somebody will give you a little clue somewhere
along the line, and you begin to get a hunch as to how you should do it. And so then, you know, you can go home and
build it. And so, since I function in two capacities,
I’m usually working kind of double time. You’re very lucky. That’s right. Yeah. Ralph Lee the director is conferring with
Ralph Lee the designer. Right. That is tricky. Well, you know, we were speaking, and Ralph,
you had mentioned– parenthetically, by the way, you’re a real hero of mine, because
I never knew who started that Greenwich Village parade, but anyway, whoever did was marvelous,
so congratulations. But we were talking about costumes, and I
wanted to bring this up with Jane and also have you reveal, or Cherry did earlier, in
THE HEIRESS, those costumes are absolutely wonderful, particularly the heiress’ costumes,
your costumes. And they look like these marvelous velour,
heavy, wonderful designs. And yet, you solved that problem, because
running around, as you tend to do, moving very quickly, you know, unless you are in
incredible physical shape to run around that, but you revealed how you were able to do that,
how those costumes– You know, people always think that these clothes
are so heavy, and actually, they’re very light. And it was the underpinnings of the clothes,
the petticoats and the corsets, that created the shape. Therefore, the dress could be a very light
silk or a very light cotton or whatever. And really, I don’t think it’s too heavy. No! No, exactly, but I mean, that’s what is
so surprising, because you’d think they must. They have that wonderful power to them. Also, color is terribly important. Well, red helps. (LAUGHTER) Yes, exactly. But of course then you, obviously, have to
work with John as to making sure how all those colors interact. And also, the men’s clothes would seem,
which are not just black, you know, of that period. Well, that is important. And I think John and I, over the years, have
worked together a great deal and have really found most times to be very harmonious in
terms of the way we get together with the scenery and the clothes, for whatever reason. Right, we don’t talk very much. But very often, we don’t talk. And that’s what’s so amazing. It’s odd. It’s ESP, is it? Yes. No, it’s spooky. I’m not kidding. Tell them about the new one. Our new play, NORTHEAST LOCAL, Jane and I
did not speak at all. About colors. And the scenery and the costumes came up on
stage together in the first scene, they went together fine, no problem. And the second scene, oddly enough, they were
sort of in the same color range, but different enough that the actors stood out, and I thought,
“Oh, that’s great. It’s such a wonderful accident.” That was a maroon scene and then the next
scene came up, and that was pale blue and green, and the actor came out in dark green
gingham. and then the next scene came up and that was the red scene. And on and on it went. Red and rust, and then the next one was orange– We said, “Well, it really almost looks stylized.” And the orange and avocado, and orange and
avocado came out. It was bizarre, it was really bizarre. Well, that’s not to say we don’t talk
about things. (LAUGHTER) How did you first get together? But we’re so busy gossiping that the designs
are hardly discussed. (LAUGHTER) It comes out of the gossip, I see. Sure. But also, before we go any further, you have
to know that Cherry Jones is in extremely good physical shape. She bicycled here today. (LAUGHTER) She could have lifted a hoopskirt
of velour. She could have carried heavy dresses. Right. In fact, I got a most amusing letter the other
day from someone in New Jersey, asking me that they had had an argument with some friends
and they couldn’t solve it until I answered them. They were under the impression that I had
created some machine that carried Cherry Jones up the staircase. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, one of those little things that they
put on. Because she looked like she floated up the
stairs, and they were convinced to solve the argument I had to tell them about the machine. And I had to write back and say that Miss
Jones not only was in very good shape– What a wonderful idea. (LAUGHTER) — but she actually practiced, you know, that
Cherry practiced. You get that automated look. (LAUGHTER) Well, we did. We did rehearse that. You practiced that a lot. It’s very hard. The speed of her first entrance we rehearsed
for a long time. Yeah, she hurtles down the stairs, yeah. Slow, then it was fast, then it was slow. How did you do that? Well, the amount of fabric, Cherry and I,
the first time we were on the set, rehearsed that. Of course, I secretly wanted to wear the red
dress, so that I could wear that, because it’s such a beautiful dress. And you’d look fabulous. But I live through my actors, and so I let
her do it. (LAUGHTER) And if she starts slow, builds
up speed and then comes to a halt so that the skirts gather wind and so she appears
to float. And that was all rehearsed. Well, was it rehearsed in a rehearsal skirt? Or did you talk with Jane about that? You know, in the rehearsal room, the stairs
are just taped out. Yeah, sure. And we sort of forgot that there were even
stairs on the set. I mean, Frannie and I would sometimes kind
of pretend walking up and down those steps on the tape, you know. But it wasn’t until we got onto the set. In fact, I remember the first day. So many of my favorite memories from this
entire experience, not just because we’re here at a design panel, had to do with those
moments when everything was made clear to me through the design. I’m going to just take a tangent to say
that the first most exciting day was the day I went to sit for the portrait for the poster,
for that (SHE POINTS), for Mr. McMullan at his studio. And I had already had a couple of fittings
with Jane, and I had never had the privilege of working with Jane before, and I had heard
Jane’s name a thousand times and Beverly’s and Mr. John Lee Beatty’s. And I was so thrilled to be getting to work
with them. And we had had a fitting to get the silhouette
of the corset. I will never have a corset as magnificently
made as that one ever again, unless I get to work with Jane again. I mean, you know, right down to the hundredth
of an inch she got exactly what she wanted in the silhouette. Got me to lose just enough weight (LAUGHTER)
that she could get that waist to where she wanted it. She said, “Well, we will be down to 25.” (LAUGHTER) As I sat looking pretty at 29. (LAUGHTER) Oh, I didn’t. Yes, you did, and I took note, I took note! (LAUGHTER) But I remember walking in to that
studio and I thought, “Well, perhaps Jane’s assistant, Alona (PH), would be there, and
Mr. McMullan and his assistant. And to my amazement, I walked in the door,
and there was Gerry Gutierrez and John Lee Beatty and Jane and her assistant and Eric
Winterling (PH), who built the clothes, and Paul Huntley, who designed the wigs. And obviously, Mr. McMullan. And Beverly, you weren’t there, but I’m
sure there was a very good reason why you weren’t. (LAUGHTER) And I thought, “This is going
to be extraordinary, that all of these masters have shown up for a sitting for a poster!” It never occurred to me that you all would
all be there, making sure that everything was just perfect. Oh, but you see, it was a tremendous help
for us, because we were getting a head start on really the shape of her clothes and her
hair and everything else. And so, it was a great advantage, because
it is complicated when you look back at another period. And everybody has to work very hard to sort
of really get it right. So we were all delighted to be there. (LAUGHS) Well, you know, there is something, too, because
you were talking about the shape of the corset and all of that. But that has to start, I assume, and I’ve
always felt this, from character, “Why would she wear a red dress?” Is that between you and Jane, Gerry? It seems clearly Jane. Henry James, Henry James. And it is a perfect example of this woman’s
need to please her father, that she goes on her own and has a dress made the same color
that the dead mother used to wear ribbons in her hair, from the same color. And so, it’s slightly too gaudy for her,
and the dress overwhelms her. And that was the hardest part, I remember,
we had. Umm-hmm. Because it’s easy to make her look ridiculous. You know, we wanted it to look sort of unsuitable
but not a joke. Because she’s not. Well, that’s true, because I think a lot
of people, a lot of audience, don’t realize how incredibly important– It has to be very subtle. These clothes grow out of character. I remember, I thought I had done a terrible
thing. One of those very first fittings, Jane was
showing me, you know, book after book of these incredibly gaudy, horrible 1850 dresses with
everything but the kitchen sink, you know, on them. And I remember looking at them and thinking,
“Well, it has to be unsuitable, but not irritating.” And I remember Alona, Jane’s assistant,
looked at me and said, “Jane Greenwood could never design anything that was irritating!” (LAUGHTER) Unless the corset was too tight. Right. For the actor, yeah. But you know, I wanted to get onto lighting,
because we haven’t talked about lighting. And lighting, I think people, again, civilians
don’t understand how extremely important and how different kinds of lighting [are]. Now, you’ve designed lighting for opera
and for dance. And again, for THE HEIRESS, I thought it was
absolutely marvelous, because you couldn’t tell it was lit, in the sense you don’t
say, “My gosh, that’s lit,” unless you’re into it. But it all worked and it’s very, very subtle
lighting. And it’s absolutely marvelous. I mean, people don’t go in and out of shadows
and all kinds of things like that. Talk about how you approach lighting anything,
and also a little bit about the differences with dance. This was an interesting challenge, actually,
for me, because coming from dance and some of the avant-garde pieces I’ve done, where
basically the space is open and one can put lights anywhere one wants, this was much more
of a classic piece with a ceiling and with walls and it’s a closed box, with a very
limited place for lights, only in the front of the auditorium and directly on the first
and second electric. And so, I had to find a way into this world,
this set, when there was physically not much of a way in, and to be able to give some dimensions. And actually, lighting’s always an interesting
combination between what one imagines one might do and then what’s physically possible
and sometimes those are very divergent. But in this particular case, I found that
I could put a boom out of sight of the audience, off of those windows, where I could get, you
know, looking at the set, I felt, “There’s something very real here. Yes, the lace and the other ideas are going
on, but this play is grounded in a kind of reality. We have to believe this. This isn’t surreal, this isn’t weird. This is real, in a way.” And so, I happen to know Washington Square. I know that house sits on the north side of
the square, and so, those windows are facing south. And therefore, the script says in the second
scene, when the boyfriend arrives to overwhelm her and propose to her, he can be hit by sunlight
at three o’clock in the afternoon, coming from that boom right to the center doorway
of the arch. And so I said, “Fine. October, three o’clock? Yeah, okay. (LAUGHTER) The sun would be just there.” And so that sort of gave me my way in. And then thinking about that as an idea, this
man is an intruder from outside in her life. And so, in the two times when he comes, very
powerfully, you can get him from that same location with, the first time, golden sunlight,
he’s the golden boy, he’s coming. And then, at the end, in sunset, when he comes
to beg forgiveness, and he can be caught in that sun. So that gave me an angle and that gave me
a romantic color idea. It also gave me a way of connecting it to
nature. And so, then I said, “Oh, oh, okay. Then another scene, it’s eleven o’clock
in the morning, so the sun would be there. And oh, yes, I can put lights that will do
that in those windows.” The day he has jilted her is desolate and
grey. And so, the set will do that. And then looking at John’s selection of
colors. And then taking what daylight really is and
how it works. The trick, of course, is that the daylight
can only come through the windows. It can’t come through the lace walls, or
you lose that conceit of that you can’t see out there, except you can. And that’s where I built it from, basically,
was to go from nature. Which must have been fun for you to do, because
you have also a spectrum of times of day, which is a great challenge, and also character
and plot. But of course, when you’re lighting in avant-garde
situations, people do want to see that there is a light, like it’s a spot or something
very, very specific. No, this had to match. When did lighting design come into its own
in the theatre? Gene Rosenthal (PH). He invented the leko. Well, there was usually just the pink spot
and you lit from behind or below. When did it become as much of a science as
it is now? Well, it’s been growing. It’s been growing as electronics have grown
and computer control has grown. I mean, it used to be, I worked with Jules
on a show in 1973 where 300 lights was massive for a musical. And now, musicals have 1,000 lights. Some. They do? Yeah, yeah. And they’re all controlled individually. She’s also able, because of light, for example,
what do you call, birdies? Small instruments that we didn’t use to
have. She’s able to put lights in places on THE
HEIRESS set where you would never dream that a light could be hidden. But we should also tell everybody, I think
if you’ve seen THE HEIRESS especially you’d be interested to know, there are some tricks
built into the set for the lighting. I don’t think most people, unless you go
backstage, realize that there’s one staircase for Catherine to go up, but there’s another
staircase behind the wall for a stagehand to go up, with a light in his hand. And he follows Catherine up the stairs. So her halo of light is actually going up
a second staircase. There’s a rear projection screen between
the two, so the back wall of the set is actually a luminous wall. It isn’t a solid wall at all, it’s a rear
projection screen. Right, right. So, there’s that effect. That’s the machine that gets her upstairs. (LAUGHTER) In answering your question, I did jump both
of these gentlemen’s intentions, in the sense that I was talking just light, completely,
what I brought to the party. Obviously, the necessity of the set, in its
translucency, to reflect and change its color subtly. Also, you can’t do that with an ordinary
set. The rear wall is translucent and changes. And so’s the ceiling, actually. The ceiling is translucent, and subtly changes
color to reflect what’s going on. We see through into the other room. And then Gerry had some very specific requests,
one of which is the light behind her as it goes up the stairs. What gave you that idea? It’s a wonderful idea. Well, because– He always works from a moment though. Because when you work with Gerry, he tells
you about a cool moment, and then you have to work backwards (LAUGHTER) and do the whole
rest of the play. Right, right. THE HEIRESS, by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, represents
the kind of play that made me want to be in the theatre. It was the kind of play I saw as a child,
going to plays. And I believe, with all due respect, that
the art of the theatre is the art of the actor. And I thought that the moment, the climax
of that play, is that incredibly complicated moment where you don’t know whether you’re
happy for her or you’re sad for her, you know? And it’s a moment of sexuality and complexity,
and I had to go back from that. I knew that eventually, I didn’t know how
we would do it, but eventually I wanted her holding the damn lamp, and I needed that thing
going up as she went. And at the end, as the curtain comes down,
that is all the light that’s left. Yeah, I remember. I loved that. So it’s a collapsing of light down to the
profile of Miss Cherry Jones, in a dress by Jane Greenwood. (LAUGHTER) Did you envision it like this at the very
beginning, that light would be that extra dimension for you? The light? I think the light, more so than other plays,
to a director, the lighting designer I have the most fun with, because they come on last. And by this point, we’re sick of each other. (GESTURES TO JOHN LEE BEATTY) At this point
we’re sick of each other. (GESTURES TO JANE GREENWOOD) And she’s dealing
with the actors who think, “Oh, you’re ruining my performance by making me wear this
color.” (LAUGHTER) So I get to have fun with the new
designer. She comes at the end. Because what I love in tech rehearsals is
sitting with a lighting designer, especially one as gifted as Beverly, and seeing what
you can do. And I remember that day, we were pulling all
the light, pulling all the light, pulling all the light, till the big jilting scene,
Cherry Jones plays it in complete darkness. And Frannie Sternhagen’s the one sitting
in the light. Yeah. Yeah, that was an important moment, because
people have spoken about it, “She’s sitting in the dark.” And that’s not something a lighting designer
can ever do by oneself. And in a way, without even talking about it,
we were following a similar line, because of my idea of the lit scenes being natural. Well, if she’s sitting in the dark, waiting
for her boyfriend at one o’clock in the morning, it is black in that room. Now, how do we play this? Yes, a little tiny candle comes downstairs,
but the audience has to see sufficiently to understand what they’re saying to each other. It’s just a technical problem, we have to
see them. And the laughs. The laughs. On the other hand, we have to understand that
she’s sitting in the dark. So that what was wonderful was my intention
was to see how low we can play it and therefore, I’m sneaking things up and listening for
the director to say, “More, more, more!” And in this particular case, she walked over
to the sofa where previously I hadn’t needed any light, and I went to make the next cue,
which was, “Oh, now we need a little light to fill.” and Gerry said, “No, no. No, we know what she looks like. Leave her there.” And I mean, that could only be done [with
a director]. Yeah, I noticed that darkness. And there were many times in the play when,
you know, there were dark shadows. I mean, there was no light in the alcove. And then that one light at the end. I mean, it was interesting how darkness became
a real element in the play. Of course, it also comes from the period,
too. I mean, that’s the last thing, you move
the light with you. But it was very effective in the way it read. Also, I think, it’s theatrical. Yes, very theatrical. And it’s a moment, and why I sort of am
uneasy on panels like this, because it sounds like there’s more theory at work than there
was– no, because there wasn’t. I don’t know how we did it. But the jilting scene is, for me, about resurrection,
and it’s about her coming from the dark into the light, and the reality that brings. And that the next scene is at dawn, there’s
a religious thing there for me. And I don’t know why. I don’t. And so, I’ll be quiet now. No, but that’s just terrific. The thing about the light, in 1850 those are
argon lamps, which are patent lamps of the period. It’s really, because of doing ABE LINCOLN
IN ILLINOIS, which we did together, we know a lot about lamps. (LAUGHTER) And the period, too. Same period. (LAUGHS) A little bit earlier, actually. Well, a continuum of period, because the 1850’s
is the last moment when you did have to live in the dark still. Right after that, we get into the sixties,
and you start getting oil lamps coming in, and everything changes. And then you get multiple light [PH]. And it was fascinating doing the research,
finding about how excited people were about birth of light, and reflections in the mirrors. The reason a lot of mirrors were there were
to reflect the light, and you see that in the play. And that becomes a very important element
when the light passes the mirrors. It was part of these people’s lives. But it is of this period. I always get sad in the last scene when he
comes in in the sunset. I think, you know, it’s really very sad,
what’s happening in the play, but also, this is a period in time that’s frozen here,
you know, these people. And James was writing about something that
was told to him. He’s remembering that time. And the atmosphere. As an actress, do you have any thoughts about
lighting? Does the lighting have to be important for
you, for your face, for your body, for any one thing? Or will you take the whole of the play? As an actress, the kind of lighting I like
most is just atmospheric, that puts you where you’re supposed to be. And that’s exactly what Beverly and Gerry,
collaborating together, did. I remember Lillian Gish saying that she stopped
working on the stage when they did away with footlights, because that was the only way
that you could be well-lit was from the bottom up, for an actress. And if you didn’t have footlights, then
you had, you know, not the proper kind of lighting. And listening to all of you here, on the change
in lighting, how important it is to the play itself, is just so revealing. It is. Cherry, I wonder if you could comment for
us specifically on the ways that the set and the lighting and the costumes helped you to
create your character. And I also hope that Jane will jump in and
tell us how she managed to make someone as good-looking as you are look so plain. (LAUGHTER) Obviously, the costume helped you
to do that. Ooh, ooh! (LAUGHTER) Stop, stop. (LAUGHTER) The hair, the hair. Yes, the hair. Well, you know, the hairstyle of the period
is a bit of a killer. I mean, they do have those strands there. And that’s your responsibility to do Well, originally I look at the period, and
you embrace everything about it. And Paul Huntley, who of course is the great
wigmaker of all time, managed to come up with some very interesting styles. Don’t you think he was instrumental– Umm-hmm. –in talking us into the fact that that was
really the way to go with the bare ears. I was really excited when I saw that style,
because I knew. And every night, when Elise (PH) does it for
me– here, I’ll give the television audience [a demonstration]. (DEMONSTRATES; LAUGHTER) It’s this pathetic
thing that wraps around the ears. And I fortunately have sort of elfin ears
that slightly stick out. And every night, I say to Elise, “I want
as much ear as we can get.” (LAUGHTER) Because I know. And then later, as the style changes, and
when she goes to Paris and she comes back and she’s much more aware, she has a style
which covers them and actually is more becoming in some way. It also makes her look a little more mature. And all of these things help. Did you two do a lot of research on this? Oh, well, I always do. I mean, they always say I’m hopeless. I have far too much research and far too many
books, but I don’t think you can ever have enough. That’s why I went back, when we first read
the play and went and read Mr. James that John was talking about in Seattle, because
I felt that reading the book that the play had come from would give us a lot. Right, and you found out where James’ aunt
lives. Yes. If you find out that, you realize which direction
the staircase goes up, because in her house, we know exactly where. And he talked a lot about the clothes, too,
which you don’t get in the play. I have to stop this for just one minute, while
everybody stands and stretches and does whatever they have to do and then come right down and
continue with this very important part of what goes into the making of a play, so that
the audience is not aware of any of this that goes in but is just aware of some kind of
magic that’s happening on the stage for them, which, as you said, is a play, is the
theatre. So please get up, stretch, do whatever you
have to do, and come right back again. Thank you, and we’ll continue with it. (APPLAUSE)
(MUSIC) MALE VOICE
This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American
Theatre Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” And this seminar is on design, and it is a
very, very important and exciting and revealing seminar as well. We left off with the importance of lighting,
for example, which the audience does not see. But the more that they do not see, the more
important it is, I guess you would say that. And Beverly, would you continue, and Tish,
perhaps you’ll reintroduce your panel as we go on. Certainly. Gerry Gutierrez, John Lee Beatty, Beverly
Emmons, George White, Jane Greenwood, Cherry Jones, and Ralph Lee. And Cherry, I think, had just been beginning
to comment on what she was able to use to create the character of Catherine Sloper from
the work of each of the designers. She made some wonderful observations about
the use to which she put the hairstyle in creating this shy, wealthy heiress. And I wonder if you could continue with the
other designs. Well, I said to Jane, “What will I say about
all of these different designs?” And Jane said, “Well, just say it starts
with the silhouette of the corset and goes from there.” (LAUGHTER) And it’s true, for an actor,
it does. It sort of begins with, first, we have to
deal with what it is we’re wearing and how that will affect our movement, and what we
need to know that we don’t know about how that should and will affect our movement. I know that Jane was a wonderful instructor. It’s very easy to come down a flight of
stairs in a 1850’s petticoat, and this predates hoopskirts by a couple of years, so this really
is still the languid petticoat and lots of them. But getting back up is the problem, when you
have that much bulk. It’s light bulk, but it’s bulky. And Jane, you know, “Always the upstage
hand, just one hand.” Because most American modern actresses don’t
have enough experience with large period skirts, because we don’t do as much restoration
or whatever, and we tend to always want to (DEMONSTRATES) grab with both hands and pull
up, and of course, the elegant way is just to find that. What I do is I know that I have to grab till
I feel my skin, so that I know that I have each and every petticoat, because you miss
a petticoat, you’re doomed, you’re on your face. (LAUGHTER) You get right till you feel the
skin and very elegantly pull. Frannie fell down the stairs at a preview,
remember? She kept walking on. Right, right. And it was in that cul-de-sac. (LAUGHTER) She said she was stepping on her
own skirt and she couldn’t get off it. Well, I think partly that was because we were
erring on a little longer than shorter. And also, her drinking. (LAUGHTER) Careful. Not true, not true. Joke, joke! Everyone who knows Frannie Sternhagen will
really know it’s true! We’re going to hear about that one! You’ve never tripped on your skirts then? Oh, last night, it was pathetic! What happened is, the petticoats, because
there are so many ruffles and layers, that if they ever fall flat, which they do unless
they’re starched and pressed twice a week, the hems, because Miss Greenwood is a taskmaster
and she makes sure that even on a raked stage, the hems are absolutely touching, just skimming
the carpet. (JOHN LEE BEATTY LAUGHS) So you have no room
for error. And last night, the petticoats had just gotten
flat enough and the hems had gotten long enough that when I went down to shakes Mrs. Montgomery’s
hand, I literally did one of these. (DEMONSTRATES; LAUGHTER) Twice! Probably every spectator thought it was part
of your character choice. Yes, clever of her. So they thought, “How wonderful! How does she do that?” And I literally, I landed on Liz McKay’s
hand, to stop me before I went into the pit. But Jane taught each of us so much about these
period costumes, because I think actors depend a lot on the research of our designers. So there was that. And then, I remember the very first day, I
mean, I’m pretty good at reading models and set sketches, but there’s nothing like
seeing the real thing. The first time you walk on a set, it’s like
Christmas morning. And you finally really get the world that
you’ve been trying to approach in rehearsal all those weeks. And I remember walking, I came down the alleyway
of the Cort Theatre, having never been there before, the very first day we moved into the
theatre, and I was too dumb to read the sign that said, “Stage Door This Way.” And I walked into the basement door, and all
the stagehand guys were going, “Oh, she’s a smart one!”, you know? (LAUGHTER) Because I came wandering in the
wrong door and I just said, “Where’s the stage?” And they just sort of pointed me up the staircase. And there’s many staircases on this set
that the audience doesn’t see. The front stoop staircase to 16 Washington
Square is actually through a trap, down into the basement. So we enter 16 Washington Square from the
basement steps. And then, of course, there was fortunately
another trap that suited the kitchen stairs. So there are kitchen stairs, front stoop stairs,
and then an access staircase to the stage right area. And I remember, I somehow wandered up that
staircase. And I didn’t really want to see the set
until I could really fully walk onto it, but I just glanced. And I saw the newel post of that staircase,
and the carpeting, and that front door, and there was even a plate on the front door that
said “Sloper,” that no one ever sees. Really? And then suddenly, I got so excited I thought
I was going to die. It suddenly dawned on me the world that we
were about to enter together, as collaborators on this extraordinary piece that none of us
had an idea anybody was going to– I was just talking to a nice lady in the rest room about
the fact that none of us had a clue the way this production was going to capture people’s
imaginations. Really, it’s sort of like the curtain going
up even for you. Yes, it really was. And it’s because every part of the collaboration
was, in a way by accident, this wonderful perfection. And it all just sort of came together. And it’s because everyone is so– I see Jane’s face. It isn’t quite by accident. (LAUGHTER) Well, no. I didn’t really mean that. I know. You were talking about the research and going
to Paris even for the change in the time that she’s an American going over to Paris and
looking at the change in hair, for example. Do you want to continue with that? Well, and also, you might talk about when
she comes back from Paris. Not only the hair, but the clothes. Yes. Well, of course, she’s had such a change,
and she’s had a chance to see something of the world. And it makes a big difference. And the European clothes were definitely more
sophisticated than the American clothes which she had seen. In fact, everything that was stylish was in
some way brought back from Europe at that time. It was way before we had our own American
designers. When you say research, where do you go to
look for a period like that? I mean, I know that if it’s 1950’s or
something that’s easy, you just go to the Saturday Evening Post or Ladies Home Journal
or whatever. Well, paintings of the period, and magazines,
periodicals. I remember Alona, Jane’s assistant again–
she’s getting a lot of coverage. Yes, a lot of mileage. I remember when we were in the muslin, because
in the fittings you’re, more often than not, in– We do a muslin first, yes. — a muslin first. And I was just in the muslin of the Paris
dress that I return in to Washington Square. And I remember Alona just looking dreamy-eyed
and said, “Oh, there’s nothing like a Paris cut!” (LAUGHTER) It was almost as though she’d
forgotten that Jane had designed it. It was almost like she was getting caught
up in it. But that’s how authentic it was and she
just, “Oh! Ah, a Paris cut!” I understand that you’re such a stickler
for detail that even the underwear of a modern dress has to be exactly right. I was telling a story about a musical we did
and how you designed the underwear for the chorus, because she felt that if they didn’t
have the proper underwear, they couldn’t behave properly. They couldn’t feel. Well, I think for any actor, they need to
have it all right and then they feel as though they are the character. Yeah, but that’s, you know, why you’re
so good. (LAUGHTER) No, it is. It makes the actor good. I mean, the awareness, sensitivity to the
actor. Because after all is said and done, it’s
about that. No matter what we do, they come to see her. I mean, it’s the same as the set design,
and John Lee putting Dr. Sloper’s name on the door, that the people in the audience
don’t see but the actors know. It’s the same thing with what’s underneath
the clothes. You know, it’s all part of making the actors
feel, as well as we can, that they are those characters, and then they are able to give
those glowing performances. But you know, all of us together, I think,
in some way, make it [work]. It’s not just one aspect or individual,
it’s that wonderful kind of group that makes the wheel turn round. Where did you study? At the Central School of Arts and Crafts in
London. And then I went to Oxford Repertory, where
we designed a new play every three weeks. That’s a hard job, and once you’ve done
that, it’s sort of experience for life, really. A year of that! Where would future costume designers go today
to study? Well, there are many good schools today. Like Yale. Do you teach? Like Yale. I teach at Yale. (LAUGHTER) I think it’s a good design school. Thank you, George. I think NYU is a very good design school. There are many. But I must say, I am partial to Yale. (LAUGHTER) What about lighting? Where would one study lighting today, for
the theatre? I didn’t study lighting. I studied dance at Sarah Lawrence College
with Betsy Schomberg (PH) for three years, and worked. Assisting Tom Skelton (PH), assisting Jules
Fisher, and worked as many little shows as I could for myself. It’s interesting to sit beside the master,
just one seat away from the hot seat, and watch how they deal with the problems. It’s an old-fashioned apprentice kind of
system that works very well. Well, you know, we were mentioning, and you
alluded to something that I wanted you to do a little bit technically. You said, “Well, it all began to change
with the invention of the leko light.” And for our audience and for our edification,
would you explain that a little bit? A leko is a specific unit that was invented
in the forties. But mostly, it’s the control of light. We’re getting better and better at it. The equipment is more and more sophisticated. So prior to that, there were the footlights
we talked about and some lighting of the scenery with a few general sources and soft-edged
things. And now, one can be extremely precise. And there’s equipment now that will change
the color, so that if you have a small space and only enough room for one light there,
as on THE HEIRESS, you can change it and have three or four colors there, or twenty or forty,
in a machine that changes the color. There’s moving lights now that you also
can control with computers, and we use that. It’s very realistic. You might talk about that opening thing with
the coach going by. Yeah, in this very realistic play, we do use
a couple of Intellabeams that give us the impression that there’s a carriage moving
out on the street, because you can see the light go across the ceiling. But in a play like this, you don’t want
anyone to know that you’ve done anything as complex. Beverly, in THE HEIRESS, we were talking earlier
about the fact that you create the illusion of sunlight and a little bit of moonlight
coming on from stage left. You also use the fireplace, firelight, and
lamp light to appear to illuminate the stage, but you do have quite a few instruments out
front, supplementing what looks like natural light. How many are out front? I don’t know how many are out front. I think overall, there are about 400 units
on the show. I also wondered, you have the stage fairly
brightly lit at the end of the first act and then of course for the curtain call. Are there instruments that you use only at
those two points and not anyplace else in the show? Yeah. I had the feeling. What about those lamps? How do you make them go on and off on cue? And then of course, Cherry carries one upstairs,
so it’s obviously not tied down to wiring. There are some duramell (PH) batteries in
tiny little sources that look very good, as if they were candles. But John Lee provides the lamps. I mean, he’s done the research on what the
fixture should look like, where the source should be, and my job is to find a bulb that
fits in there and then can be controlled with the board. Well, that’s what drives me crazy in THE
HEIRESS, and Gerry had to punish me during rehearsals, because it really would take them
a lot longer to light all those lamps. You know, that would be a big project. And that’s why we would have a maid go around
lighting the lamps. But it turned out to be rather tedious to
see someone– (DEMONSTRATES, PAINSTAKINGLY) Turning the wick down. (LAUGHTER) Yes, it would have added ten minutes’ running
time to the show. You know, with seven lamps on stage, that
wasn’t a good idea and Gerry just had to stop complaining. It’s a play. (LAUGHTER) It’s not a light show. You always have to find the balance between
the reality and what’s going to make the magic. I mean, I think none of us can be too dogmatic
about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s got to be what makes [it work]. On the other hand, I’m always fascinated
with people who say they don’t know anything about anything, but we’ve been exposed to
so many movies that actually are fairly well researched. The movie version of THE HEIRESS is quite
well researched, actually. Yeah, yeah. And people who say they don’t know anything
about it, it doesn’t matter– it does matter a lot of times, because people feel what’s
right and wrong, because we’ve been exposed to a lot of things and we know a lot. As a designer, I have to believe that we know
a lot more things visually than we are aware of ourselves knowing. That’s why people can look at something
and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but something’s wrong.” And there are a lot of things that we collectively
recognize. One thing on THE HEIRESS was Cherry mentioned
the stairs going up to the front of the house. I think whether you remember it or not, that
everybody in New York really knows that those houses on the north side of Washington Square
all have a flight of steps going up to the front of them. And even if you didn’t remember it, when
you saw it, you might think there was something a little strange if the people didn’t go
down when they went out the stairs or up to enter. And it’s an instinctive lack people feel,
when you get things a little too wrong. You can get them a little wrong, like getting
the maid with the lamps, but you can’t get them way wrong or people get uncomfortable. Well, it affects the actor, too. I mean, if an actor is going to enter from
a long stoop in the period, you don’t just step over a threshold and say, “Hi.” They swear. I think they do swear when they start up the
stairs. It’s a long climb. (LAUGHTER) With the skirts. The skirts, yes. Upstage hand. Right. I didn’t know that, I’m fascinated. I was teaching her one day how the lady of
the period would carry her little bag. How to what? Cherry, how a lady would carry her bag. You’d carry your little bag like this. (HOLDS HIS HANDS IN FRONT OF HIS CHEST) Because I have my little traveling case and
I think Morris has arrived, and I go and I pick up my little traveling case. And of course, I was carrying it like I was,
you know, going out to Long Island for the weekend. (LAUGHTER) And of course, John Lee Beatty
told me that I had to carry it this way because, in the first place, the skirts are so big
that she would really have to be a weightlifter to carry it, you know. So that of course they would carry it here. And when you see them carry it there, all
the clothes make sense, because they’re made to fall properly for her. Yeah, right. And in those clothes, you can’t do this. It’s all just in this small range. Right, right. That is the other thing, the practicality
of that controls a lot. (TO GERRY) Would that not be your role, to
teach her how to hold the bag? Well, I think it’s a shared thing. I trained as an actor and I know a lot about
period. And the way people behave in different periods,
Jane was my teacher. She wasn’t teaching at Yale then. Where was she teaching? She was teaching at Juilliard. (LAUGHTER) And she was our costume teacher. And it all makes sense. People behave in a way that the clothes allow
them to behave. And there’s all reasons for it, all of them
organic. I used to have the actors sort of put clothes
on and behave as they would in different periods. And they loved to do that. And I would say, “Now, look in the mirror
and look at your silhouette. And don’t be frightened to look at yourself. This is the time to really concentrate.” Not that actors are ever frightened to look
at themselves, I don’t think. (LAUGHTER) But I really wanted them to look
at their silhouettes and see how they behaved. I must tell this little story, that Christopher
Reeve was at Juilliard at the time when I was teaching. And a couple of years later, I was out at
BAM with my daughter seeing a Twyla Tharp ballet, and Christopher was in the audience. And he came up and said hello and she’d
just been to see “Superman,” and I could see her eyes were out on stalks (LAUGHTER),
that he had come up and said hello to me. And I introduced her to Christopher and he
leant over and he said, “You know, it was your mother that taught me to use a cape.” (LAUGHTER) I thought she was going to die
and go to heaven. And she looked at me in a totally different
way. (LAUGHTER) It’s called “respect”! (LAUGHTER) That’s wonderful. John Lee, we’ve talked about the fact that
the scrim– Uh-oh. Brown University, English Literature. Yale School of Drama for design. (LAUGHTER) And do you teach? I taught for nine or ten years at North Carolina
School of the Arts, and I am taking a break right now from teaching. I got taught out. (LAUGHS) Did you do anything before? Were you an actor? I acted and directed and wrote in college,
but I have absolutely no retention of anything ever said to me, and I can’t speak any lines,
I can’t remember what to say. So it was very useful to have done it, but
I always wanted to be a set designer, since I was seven years old. But didn’t you do puppets? Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry. For many years, I had my own puppet– I’ve heard this story a thousand times. Let’s hear it. Tell it once. No, he has his own little puppet theatre. I was very shy and at a certain period of
my life, I didn’t talk to people a whole lot. (LAUGHTER) So I made puppets and I had little
hand puppets and string puppets and rod puppets. And this is so embarrassing, but I took over
the garage of my house, and I had my own little theatre with a fly system. Actually, it was a complex, it was like Lincoln
Center. I had the big stage (LAUGHTER) and I had a
little one for the miniature sets and then a medium sized one for the marionettes. So it was an arts complex. I think turn about is fair play. I want Ralph to comment on the sets that he
designed at the Monomoy Theatre in Chatham years ago for THE HEIRESS. VARIOUS VOICES
Oh! He designed THE HEIRESS, you designed puppets. Good for you! Well, it wasn’t for puppets. (LAUGHTER) I remember the staircase, but that’s
about all I can remember. It seems like it was a drawing room! But no, I did some set designing in days gone
by, in a previous life. Where did you study? Well, I never studied much theatre. I always just did it. And for instance, all this stuff is self-taught. I mean, maybe now there are places to study
it, but there weren’t years ago. I studied with Harry Burnett (PH), you know? He was with the Yale puppeteers? Oh, sure. Not at Yale, in California. But he was a famous puppeteer. It was very weird, though, to have a puppet
school. It was very odd. Right. Well, I grew up in Vermont and there was nobody
there to study with. And I had a puppet show when I was a kid,
too. I was one of those strange kids. (LAUGHTER) But I would take my show, I guess
I still tour, but I would take my show to birthday parties and to schools and do little
productions there. I must say that the first year that I, as
a so-called adult, started doing these shows that incorporated masks and giant puppets
and so forth, I was sitting there watching the play one day and I thought, “Gee, this
is just what I was doing when I was twelve! Only the scale is a little bit changed now.” And I think there’s a definite link there
still. I want to know, though, whether Cherry was
like doing little plays in her garage. (LAUGHTER) Well, I was. Jane was dressing up paper dolls and Beverly
had flashlights going. I mean, that’s the thing about the arts. We just make our childhoods last. I did marionettes. You did? I did, too. Yeah, we had puppets. And the rubber balls with the thing. I remember, yeah. It is true. It’s actually that, what Cherry is saying. You make your childhood last forever. Because I started designing scenery when I
was seven. I have to say, we did a play, it was really
a horrible experience, I won’t mention it. But in the middle of hell, we were in the
middle of hell, there were puppets in this play. And we were in the middle of hell– did I
mention that we were in the middle of hell? (LAUGHTER) And it was a filthy, awful, terrible
place to be. And there was John Lee Beatty in the corner,
happy as a clam, putting red hair on the puppet. (JOHN LEE BEATTY LAUGHS; DEMONSTRATES) Fitting
and combing the hair on the puppets, and he looked like a five year old. In the middle of hell! (LAUGHTER) John Lee, I have to know how, with a set that
has walls with big chunks just scrim, so that we don’t have flats and we don’t have
all the wood– What’s holding it up? What holds up the ceiling? Do you have it suspended? And the candelabra, do you have it suspended
from the flies or something? Yeah. You know, it’s really scary. If you analyze THE HEIRESS and you build scenery,
there’s very little holding it together. Philip Bosco noted that one day. (LAUGHTER) I’ll bet. The ceiling is hung, and the ceiling is totally
translucent, so there’s no framing over the center part. And that chandelier, they tried to be very
accurate and drop a line and cut a little hole and go right through it and hold the
chandelier up to it. And one day, they had a little accident and
it ripped. But it was very scary, and the lace had to
be installed in the theatre, because there really is no frame holding anything together. So it was stretched from place to place to
place. And of course, if you think about it, those
mirrors which are actual real glass are very heavy. And they’re self-supporting, but– and the
paintings are actually made of scrim, because we have to see through the paintings as well. And they’re computer printed on scrim, with
a layer of brown clear Plexiglas behind them to look like what an oil painting would look
like if it were transparent. Wow! And those, of course, have to be suspended,
too. I have to interrupt at this point, unless
you’re willing to spend the weekend with us– (LAUGHTER) Sure! — which I would like very much. I think even then we wouldn’t have time
to continue and explore this. But this has been the American Theatre Wing’s
seminar on Design. And earlier, we presented to these wonderful
artists the American Theatre Wing’s award and check for Design in the theatre. And unlike the Tony Awards, it’s going to
Off Broadway as well as Broadway. And the American Theatre Wing has long believed
that talent has no boundaries and this panel is a very, very good example of that. It’s coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York, and it is just one of the all-year-round programs
of the American Theatre Wing. I thank you all for being here, and I thank
this wonderful panel for their generous time, examples, and the wonderful puppets that we’ve
had here, and also, your knowledge. Thank you so much for being here. (APPLAUSE)

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *