Design (Working In The Theatre #207)

(APPLAUSE) 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. The American Theatre Wing has a series of
programs that we do year-round. We go to hospitals. We bring live theatre to hospitals, live entertainment.
We go to nursing homes and to AIDS centers, bringing a little bit of magic into the lives
of the patients. We also have an “Introduction to Broadway”
program, which is done in conjunction with the New York City Board of Education and the
wonderful generosity of the producers. The producers give us the tickets at a minimum
price, and we in turn, give these tickets to the students, who pay a very, very small
price. But part of the program is that they learn to buy a ticket to go to a Broadway
show. And this they have done by the thousands. It’s a very successful program, and it’s a
very happy program, because it enriches the lives of students. It shows them what theatre
can bring to them, and it also helps create the audience of the future. We are perhaps known for the Tony Awards,
which is a very wonderful honor indeed. And it’s the highest honor in the theatre. But
it isn’t given for the longest run, nor for the best review. It is given for the achievement
of excellence in the craft of theatre. And we’re very proud of that distinction. And
so, it has gone on for years and years, since it was first created in honor of Antoinette
Perry. We’ve had seminars on the Performance, on
the Playscript and Director. We’ve had a seminar on the Production. And today’s seminar is
on Design, the people who bring the magic to theatre. In many cases, you see their work,
and when it is most successful, you don’t see their work. It is a very important part
of the theatre. It is that which, as I’ve said, brings the whole thing together and
makes theatre come alive. Today’s seminar on Design is chaired by Professor
Tish Dace, who is an author and a critic, Patricia Zipprodt, who is a Tony Award costume
designer, and Jean Dalrymple, who has done all of those things, from author, critic,
designer, producer, and, I’m proud to say, a member of the Board of Directors of the
American Theatre Wing. I will introduce Professor Tish Dace, and she will, in turn, introduce
the members of the panel to you. Thank you for being with us. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Mrs. Stevenson. I’d like to introduce
costume designer Elizabeth Fried, who recently received her M.F.A. from the Yale Drama School,
and who has designed, among many other productions, two at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company,
CAMILLE and, most recently, BROTHER TRUCKERS, for which she has just won the 1993 American
Theatre Wing Costume Design Award. Next, John Arnone, the scenic designer who
made a clean sweep of all the 1993 Scene Design awards by winning not only the Tony Award,
but the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics’ Circle Award, and just a few moments ago,
the 1993 American Theatre Wing Scene Design Award. He also won that latter award last
year, as well, for his design of PERICLES. Then, Jean Dalrymple, the legendary Broadway
director and producer. Thank you. Mimi Jordan Sherin, the lighting designer,
has just won the 1993 Lighting Design Award for WOYZECK at the New York Shakespeare Festival,
among many other lighting designs she’s done. Another one at that theatre, ‘TIS PITY SHE’S
A WHORE, and the Broadway show, OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD. Next, Wendall K. Harrington, who has designed
the projections for many Broadway shows, including THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG, THE HEIDI CHRONICLES,
THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES, MY ONE AND ONLY– I got that right, too!– and most recently,
TOMMY, for which she has just won the 1993 Noteworthy Unusual Effects Award for the American
Theatre Wing. And also, co-chairing with Jean Dalrymple
and myself, is Patricia Zipprodt, the Broadway costume designer, who has won not only Tony
Awards in Costume Designing, but also American Theatre Wing Costume Design Awards, and was
a nominee for 1993 for MY FAVORITE YEAR. Thank you all for joining me. I am very eager to find out what sort of budgets
you all had. (LAUGHTER) We have here two Broadway designers and a designer from the New York
Shakespeare Festival, which has a bit bigger budget than some non-Broadway shows, and a
designer from the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, who operated on a very small budget, but I’d
love to know– (LAUGHTER) — a ridiculous budget! How small was it, exactly? Do you
remember, Elizabeth? I tried not to keep track, but I think it
was about twenty-four hundred dollars. And I came in maybe two cents under budget. (LAUGHTER) Ooh. But, I mean, it was difficult, but I kind
of liked the constraints in a weird way. I mean, I look forward to having more and more
money as I continue in my career, but I really won’t look forward to that too hard, because
I know it’s not true. (LAUGHTER) But I mean, the tightness of the budget produced a lot
of creativity in terms of going to my friend in the community who aren’t working yet on
a very high level and who have a lot of ideas of their own, and maximizing their talent. For instance, there was a wonderful collar
that Everett Quinton wore, a huge collar, and my friend Chip, before he even read the
script, said, “I think that show’s going to be about collars. I think you should look
at the Mad Queen in “Snow White.” And that was the only outfit the press photographed.
So because I’ve had to establish all of these connections at a very low level (SHE LAUGHS)
and friendships, a lot of the creativity comes from all that. And a lot of collaboration
comes from sources outside the theatre that’s producing the show. And I think that’s always
good. That’s the way I did when I was eight years
old. (LAUGHTER) Out in the garage or the barn or that sort
of thing? Right. Yeah. No, in my grandmother’s living
room, I produced JOSEPH AND HIS COAT OF MANY COLORS, long before anybody in the theatre
thought of it. And it was a big hit. It cost ten cents, and sold out. (LAUGHTER) Cost ten cents for the audience or ten cents
to produce? (LAUGHTER) The audience. Oh, no, didn’t cost anything
to produce. I borrowed everything either from my family or the family of the actors. The
actors were all eight and nine and ten years old, also. I think that’s interesting, you know, because
I don’t know, I didn’t start off as a designer, but as an actor. But as a child, I remember
… what, you produced JOSEPH in the living room? Yes. I did THE NATIVITY (LAUGHTER) out in the back
yard, quite a bit. And I would … I know this is going to sound ridiculous … but,
you know, thrilled when I could find, like, a large refrigerator box, or a washing machine.
But of course, you know, I was about two or three or four at the time, but I would get
the box and put it out in the middle of the yard. And it always had to be on a day that
the yard had just been mowed. It was very important that you gathered up all of the
cuttings from the day, put it in the box, and then I remember just sitting in the box.
(LAUGHTER) And I would do … some days I would be Joseph,
other days I would be Mary, sometimes I would be one of the animals. (LAUGHTER) But Mother
would pass by and she would say, “What are you doing in the box?” And I would just silently
sit there, very still, and not say a word. And I don’t know where I was (HE LAUGHS),
I mean, having an out-of-body experience. (LAUGHTER) But I would perform THE NATIVITY
frequently. Did you ever play the part of the baby? Baby Jesus was always, in my mind … you
know, when you first saw the first crèche, the first nativity scene in church, as a little
child you wanted to go see it. And we went up to the crib, and then in the crib, of course,
was a light bulb. So this was very difficult. For a long time, I thought Baby Jesus was
a light bulb. (LAUGHTER) And this was distracting. It’s a Catholic thing. (LAUGHTER) And of course … But still, I, at about the same age, produced
and starred in, HANSEL AND GRETEL. (LAUGHTER) Except I was the stepmother, so I rewrote
it, of course … Right. … so that was the biggest part. I also designed
the costumes and I don’t think there was any lighting at all. So, but anyway … What creative children we have here today!
(LAUGHTER) John, you make THE NATIVITY sound as if there
was no action, no plot, no character, only a set. (LAUGHTER) Well, I think all of that was in my head.
I mean, everything … you know, I mean, it’s like where we go to do whatever it is we do
… I mean, our instinct, our imagination. I mean, I think, even though I appeared to
be still, there was an entire story, an entire plot, you know, characters were going on and
whatnot. In your head. In my … yeah. Tableau vivant. Absolutely. Absolutely. Not very vivant, though. Also, I think it was a form of meditation.
I mean, I think we go in, you know, we have to go to a place … you know, you never want
to expect … you come to the studio and you see drawings and you see models, or whatnot.
But where you have to go … or to Wendall’s, it’s always a joy to go over to Wendall’s
and look at the books and see all of the slides being produced, and you’re fascinated with
the material, you know. But what’s on the other side of that, I mean,
the imagination, the instinct … you have to go … I mean, I think we all … I mean,
anyone who, in our field at least, you know, goes to a place that’s very quiet … you
know, at some point. It’s a reserve. It’s a moment in the day that you take just for
yourself, even if it happens in just (SNAPS FINGERS) a split second. But in that split
second, an entire vision unfolds itself. And it’s perhaps hard to describe, or it may seem
like nothing’s going on, but it’s what produces all the material that people recognize us
for what we do. Before we come back to the subject of budgets,
it occurs to me that we really need to find out what Wendall K. Harrington’s first production
was. (LAUGHTER) Everyone else was out there doing productions in their garages, how about
you? You know, the thing is that I come to the
theatre from another place. I was a designer in advertising, and so I’m, of all of my friends
in the theatre, the only one who never grew up thinking I would … Well, I remember in
high school that … I went to Catholic school … and I tried to convince the nuns that
we could, in fact, put on MARAT/SADE (LAUGHTER) for the senior play, because I had found a
bathtub. (LAUGHTER) And that was as good a reason as any. So that was sort of before
I had any kind of concept about using projections. I mean, it was just the bathtub that seemed
to be the beginning inspiration. But I came to theatre, in a way, late in life.
And now it is my children who are constantly putting on shows in the living room, so I
seek inspiration from them. They’re living out my childhood that … I was busy playing,
actually, “Office,” I have to admit, (LAUGHTER) when I was a child, which is why I’m so well-organized
now. Did you lock yourself in the closet with a
typewriter? Did you do that? No, no. My father was a printer, so I had
a lot of access to like, pads … I’m afraid I did a little of that. … and paper … carbon paper was a big important
tool Did you lock yourself in a closet with a typewriter? Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I see. But you know, you shouldn’t underestimate
the bathtub in MARAT/SADE. It’s the most difficult prop to create, because … I mean, it’s this
poor actor that’s sitting in a tub of water for the entire show, and so he has to be comfortable,
you know. So, the fittings that I did … we did a production of MARAT/SADE at the Guthrie
two Christmases … the Christmas show at the Guthrie (LAUGHTER) two years ago. And
I think the fittings for the tub were certainly as complex as any of the costume fittings,
you know. I mean, there were models that had to be made. His comfort, how he could shift
around inside of it, you know, all of that detail. So if you’ve got the bathtub, you’ve
got the production, I think. That’s what I thought. (LAUGHTER) There’s a point of view. (LAUGHTER) Now that
you’ve got the bathtub, you’ve got a production. (LAUGHTER) You heard it here first. Patricia, did you come to theatre as a costume
designer through Halloween, or what happened to you? I never indulge in Halloween. I don’t like
to wear costumes. I avoid costume parties. My approach was, I made paper dolls. Of course. I designed my own people. I had whole little
families. I had villains and gentle people and the whole thing. I clipped plot backgrounds
out of my mother’s Good Housekeeping’s and Town and Country or whatever I needed. I’d
go through her magazines and I’d get all of these things. Then I would invent a little story, and then,
having done all of that … and I would, of course, turn on a light, lots of slides (LAUGHTER)
… having done all of the necessities like that, I would then dress these people in what
was right for the occasion, for the plot, (LAUGHTER) for the scenic colors, for the
lighting, and all those things, and send them forth on a rainy afternoon, in my room or
in the attic or wherever I was dispatched to. (BUMPS MIKE) Oops, excuse me. Then after a certain period of time, I just
put all those things away, and by chance, my mother saved them, as mothers do. And many
thousands of years later, when she was closing down our house and going through the attic,
here are these little envelopes, filled with people. And she sent them to me. And I’m fully
in the middle of this insane career in this nutty profession of trying to put clothes
on people, and out come these paper dolls. And there is the little lady in the yellow
dress with the matching parasol and shoes. I regret to say their shoes matched their
dresses. We don’t do that any more. (LAUGHTER) And I suddenly realized where it came from.
I was telling stories with clothes when I was like six and seven and eight, you know,
whatever age you start cutting up your mother’s magazines. And really telling stories. They
weren’t just in clothes, they were in riding pants for the horse scenes, and if I could
find an ocean liner, you should have seen those outfits, you know. And so, someone once told me that a person
is most blessed when what they’re doing as adults has a deep, deep line with things that
occupied them natively, generically almost, as children. Because that source, if you tap
into it, and I feel that I was blessed in a peculiar way, tapping into that … that
source is always there. So you don’t go stale, you are always refreshed by your work. Instead
of thinking, “Oh, I’m tired of this. What’ll I do next?” You do it in another form, but
the freshness stays there. And all of us in the theatre, I think, have
the experience of always able to refresh ourselves in our craft and our hopeful arts by tapping
these deep … oh, almost like underground streams that never dry up. That’s enough of
that. (LAUGHTER) Excuse me. But I mean it very passionately. I do. Patricia, where did you go from the cutting
of dolls and … I went to art school and … of the paintbrush. Where? The Art Institute in Chicago, the art classes
at my high school in New Trear (PH) and Winnetka. And then from there into costume design? No. Then [from] there to a phase when I was
going to be a social worker and solve all the problems. And I worked with juvenile delinquents.
I did all the kind of Wellesley College activities. And then I recovered from that (SHE LAUGHS)
and was very restless. I knew I had to do something and get back to my painting or what
have you. And I just moved to New York, aimlessly. I just knew I had to be here. And I had no
idea what I was going to do. I was painting and ushering at Carnegie Hall and waiting
on tables at Schrafft’s and doing all the things that you did in the fifties. And painting
and wondering. And one day … I had seen a million ballets
of New York City Ballet … and one night, out came the world’s most beautiful dress,
that Korinska (PH) had designed. Beautiful romantic tutu, layers of net, silk nets, I
had no … the colors of which you’d never think of as a theatre colors. This was in
the early, early fifties. And I thought, “Well, I’ll paint with fabric. That’s what I’ll do.”
And that’s what I did. And that is always my approach into my work,
is from a … It’s just like when I was a little kid and the hunt scene was green, everybody
got clothes that looked well in green. Well, I paint myself a little scenic color rough
background and work out my plots and my scenes with color first. And then I move to character
and research and all of that. So it all keeps going in a circle. Came together. Yeah. Elizabeth, did you study or if … I’m just wondering if costume designers have
this much in common all the time. I come from the Midwest, from Deerfield, Illinois, ten
minutes away from where you’re from. I went to Barnard, another women’s school. But I
never was associated with clothing. I was an investment banker. Well, I started out as a ballet dancer. I
was ready to go into the Joffrey company and I injured myself and had to quit. And then
I went to Barnard in the eighties and I graduated at the height of the bull market and the thing
to do (LAUGHTER) was to get a job on Wall Street, so I did. And my first question was,
“How many zeros go in a million?” You know, and “How do I turn this calculator on?” I
had talked my way into the job. Then I got into Harvard Business School (PATRICIA ZIPPRODT
LAUGHS) and (LAUGHTER) Of course, every costume designer does that… And I thought, “I cannot do this, I want to
be a fashion designer.” (LAUGHTER) I thought it was fashion. And I moved to Paris, like
… you know, I just thought, “I have to be in Paris.” I studied at the Chambre Saint
Ecole dans l’Ecoutre Parisienne (PH) for five months, and at night ran to an investment
banker’s office and helped him pick stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. That just
lasted for five months, I couldn’t deal with it. I quit school. But during school, I realized that it was
the theatre … as you said, the seeds from being a ballet dancer. I had a problem with
the morality of Seventh Avenue. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Now I don’t. (SHE LAUGHS) I might go back
to it anyway. To support what you’re doing. Yeah. I mean, I love the commercial world
now, I think it’s fascinating. But that was my route. I was in advertising for a while,
at J. Walter Thompson, and little by little … I worked there? Yeah, I mean … it all feeds into the work,
though, I mean, It all adds up. Don’t you think? Well, no wonder you know how to manage a small
budget … Right. You were an investment banker … I love numbers. I love money. … you were investing in stocks and so forth
… The bull market was smart. Did you say four hundred dollars was your
budget? Twenty-four hundred. Twenty-four hundred. That’s not quite so bad.
Mimi, what was your budget for the lighting of WOYZECK at the Public Theatre? I have to say I make it a business of mine
never to know a budget. Oh, okay. It’s very important to me, and if somebody
says it, I start screaming, or pretend I haven’t heard. Next related question, if they had said you
had an unlimited budget and you could do anything you wanted to do, would you have done anything
any differently from that bright, white light which lent that eerie, sterile, deathly quality
… No, I wouldn’t have. … to the WOYZECK … No, I really wouldn’t have … … that JoAnne Akalaitis directed. I really design for a space more than a show,
I think, in a lot of ways. And I think my design would have been exactly the same, had
I known anything. And I really do make it a point not to know anything. Well, that’s all right… Now, I hope too many producers aren’t listening. That’s fine. That’s the answer Tish wanted. How much does
money come into it? Yes. Yeah. And it, in fact, doesn’t. In this particular
case, I have to say, in relation to the New York Shakespeare Festival, the money … it
seemed to be … the pit was bottomless. I kept asking for things, and they kept turning
up. And nobody ever said, “No.” And this is not a usual circumstance, but that happened
in this particular case. And so I literally did make additions as I went along, but never
encountered any problem with it, at all. I know it was a miracle. Wait till you get to Broadway. (LAUGHTER) Well, in fact, on OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, it was
a Broadway Alliance production, and I’m not going to go into that here. Are there different unions in Off-Off-Broadway?
Did you work through a union? No. No. In fact, I learned to write my own
contract on that show, so that was helpful. For TOMMY, would you care to discuss your
budget, or at least, its effect on the show? You know, the thing with TOMMY was that since
we had done it in La Jolla, initially, on a relatively shoestring budget … I don’t
remember what the budget exactly was for the projections in TOMMY, but we, you know, made
a lot of stuff out of things we had available to us that were easy to find, easy to make. And then, going to Broadway, we already had
a basis for where we were going, only it got to be twice as large and had to look a lot
better. So the budget, I would say, quadrupled from what we had. So I think … I can’t remember
… do you remember? Ultimately, the budget for the slides, for Broadway, were … A hundred and forty two. A hundred and forty-two thousand dollars to
produce. It’s over two thousand slides that are actually in the Broadway version of TOMMY. Had you ever done anything like that before? Well, I did THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG. It doesn’t
have two thousand slides in it. And I’ve done a number of industrial shows that … That have had that many slides? I did a forty-five projector show that was
like “The Swedish Experience” for a theme park in … outside Gothenburg, and I would
say that probably had in the vicinity of three thousand slides in it. I mean, it was a large
production because, though that seems like a lot of money, that’s not a lot of money
to work with for theatre, because of the level of perfection. Could you explain what the slides were, or
what they were like? Well, we’ve actually got some slides here.
Maybe John would like to say a little something about the set before we actually show them.
We’re lucky enough to have John Arnone, who designed the set for TOMMY, and Wendall K.
Harrington, who designed the slides, the projections. And I gather that the set got a little bit
smaller, is that true? Because the La Jolla stage was a little bit bigger than the St.
James? Yeah, the La Jolla stage is large by comparison.
It’s got almost forty feet worth of depth. And the St. James doesn’t come anywhere near
that. The width is fine. But in La Jolla we had a lot more room for projector throw, the
distance of the image from the projector to the screen, and at the St. James, it was greatly
reduced. So, you know, Wendall came up with, you know,
a technology and a lens that was able to produce the same thing with a shorter distance and
also, quite brilliantly, at the same time, affected the design and the configuration
of the windows, where the rear projection screens that we use had to refigure themselves
in a way that enhanced the design, which I was quite pleased to, you know, see happen.
And the rear projection screens are sort of a universal background, windows … windows
outside your house, whether you conceive of your house as the four walls you live in or
the interior house of your existence. And specifically, in this case, Tommy’s mind. So the rear projection screens are very important
in that they not only animate and provide the information that will get you from one
scene to the next, but will also give you something of the layering and the experience
that young Tommy, this autistic child who can’t see, hear or speak, is having at the
same time. Not literally, but in a symbolic sort of way. And at the same time, all of
this is orchestrated to the music, so that all of the images … the story all comes
out of the music. Nothing happens before the music begins. And also, all of these images
and the story is driven by the music. So you were talking about limitations in terms
of budget … the music is the framework for the piece. However, these windows refigured
themselves for the Broadway production out of necessity. And I think, look a lot better
than they do in La Jolla, at least metaphorically, they look a lot better. And so that gives
you the context for the background, for the projections. I know that we’d all be really interested
in how the two of you work together, what’s set, what’s projections, who decides like
… Well .. … for instance, if I may ask a specific
question, maybe we can spring off from that … I know when the father is in the prisoner
of war camp, it seemed that you had actual metal for the prison wall. That is, it was
barbed wire, I guess. Right. It looked like something that was supposed
to represent barbed wire, that was clearly a scenic element. And you were projecting,
along the top panels, something to complete the image of the prisoner of war camp. Who
decided who was doing what there? You know, it was just there, to be done. (JOHN
ARNONE LAUGHS) So, I mean … there’s actually a slide of that, if you want to see it. Yeah, why don’t we take a look at some of
the slides? Here, let me just get to … And perhaps you could talk about who did what
as you …you know … I don’t know … How are your slides worked into his set and
so forth? Something that might help you out a little
bit on that question was that when we began the designs in La Jolla, we had a very short
period of time to produce what, it became very clear, was going to be a gargantuan amount
of work. And Des and I and Pete, you know, began to work with this idea of projections,
which none of us were that conversant in or that comfortable with. And the more we convinced ourselves that projections
were going to be part of the vocabulary, and given the short amount of time, we realized
that we needed to get an expert and someone who knew what they were talking about to handle
it, and not just a graduate student, not that I have anything against graduate students.
(LAUGHTER) But … I have a few things against graduate students. (LAUGHTER) The cameras will now be turned off. (LAUGHTER) Cover your buttons. But … so we called Wendall. I said, “Des,
we need Wendall.” So Wendall came down and Wendall … I mean, that’s what’s interesting
about the piece. I mean, because we had all worked together, all knew each other to some
extent, and were somewhat, in a generational way, related, and all had worked at the Playhouse
and all had worked with Des, there were common denominators that helped … I don’t know
… facilitate a common voice, or common vision. And Des is, you know, very specific. You know,
he’s, God bless him, visually-minded and can, you know, has in his mind, I think, a very
clear sort of vision of the direction we were to take. And because we were able to work early on
and because, for some reason, the pieces fell into place, you aren’t able to separate the
projections from the set, from the lighting, from the costumes, from the direction, from
the acting, from the music. I mean, it’s one of those occasions, I think, where it worked.
You know, where it all came together. You know, there’s a cohesion and a unity of vision,
so that when Wendall says it’s difficult, you know, I think it is difficult, and we’re
not being coy or self-congratulatory. It’s very difficult to separate it, I mean, but
the process was very specific. I mean … Just one other thing first … for me, this
was one of the most interesting things about working in TOMMY was that the color palette
came entirely from the costumes, for me, early on. I mean, Des and John are working in La
Jolla, I’m working in New York, I’m making story boards and faxing them and having phone
conversations. Pretty odd way to work, with a very short period of time. And most of the scenery was black and white.
It’s grid, it’s … in our P screen (PH) there was no … so, “John, what color?” “I don’t
know what color!” (LAUGHTER) “Call Woolard (PH).” You know, I called Woolard. Woolard
sent me color chips, scene by scene breakdowns, while he’s working on this. “This is what
I’m thinking of,” you know, “the doctor scene looks like this,” little Pantone (PH) chips.
“This is what it is.” So I’d take a look and started to work with those colors to adapt
the slides. And we got out to La Jolla, having never seen
a piece of clothing that he had done, and he hadn’t seen anything that I … he was
not privy to the story board conversations, you know. Costume designers are generally
left out of that, aren’t they? I know, I know, I know. (LAUGHTER) You know, you know! Suddenly we end up in
La Jolla. The image goes up, the first day of the costumes coming out there. It was the
top of the second act, this Laundromat, big yellow and blue laundry machines. The clothes
walk out … ohh! They are perfect! It vibrated because it was exactly dead on. The great thing for me was that there’s a
lot of very odd imagery in TOMMY. Things get warped, we’re looking at the world through
an autistic child’s vision. I struggled with how to make that as odd as possible and still
make it acceptable. And the thing that happened was, as I understood the … what happened
when the costumes walked out in front of that odd imagery, it was grounded. It stood up,
didn’t matter what it was, just you know, raw egg would have been right, if the clothes
and everything else seemed to ground it. And for me that was the most exciting part of
the collaboration, because I had never really worked that closely with a costume designer
before. But also that lesson of how color … I mean,
for me, working with lighting designers, it’s quite frequent. “What gels are you using?
What color are you using in this scene?” This I understand. But that idea that you make
the whole world vibrate in unity … Yeah, yeah, yeah. … because everything is the same color,
you’re working together. Or maybe it’s not the same color, you say, “Oh, you’re going
this way, I’ll go that way,” because, you know, if you’re red and I’m green … Right, it’s all … … this is going to happen. You know, this
is going to shake for everybody in the house. That was great, a great experience. It’s very often a happy mistake, too. I mean,
so many things are not planned that look planned. And you know, you turn around, go to the costume
designer (LAUGHTER), “Good color you chose! I chose it too,” you know. And I find that’s
true all the time. Especially if you work with people over and over again … Yeah. … you tend to … not that they do the same
things at all. You just tend to get to know each other and … Your vocabulary, visual and otherwise. What’s the ABC’s of putting this all together?
Who comes first on the production? Set designer, costume designer? I would say set designer. Where does the director and the producer come
into this? Who sets … Well, I mean, I can use an example. Right
now, I’m doing a couple of productions that are at the beginning of the design, and I
don’t have a lighting designer. I’ve met with the costume designer, and we’ve shocked them
into next week because of the color palette, but there’s no lighting designer yet. And
it’s scaring me, because I know, you know, when I have to accommodate them in terms of
positions. I’ve designed lights myself, and just from experience, know that there at least
have to be, you know … these positions, here, here, and here, and here, and here … if
anyone’s going to see anything. Especially if it’s a dance piece, which this
one piece I’m doing right now is, it’s the tour of GREASE that’s going to go out and
come back to New York in the summer. But we don’t have a lighting designer right now,
and I’m in front of the producers every day, saying, “We’ve got to make a choice,” because
I’m going to bids on Thursday with it and I’m afraid, you know, I’m going to bids with
incomplete information. What happened before there were lighting designers,
as such, in the theatre … Jean’s time, for example, you didn’t have something called
“a lighting designer.” There was an electrician who turned on the lights … Essentially, you had a technician … … and you said, “I’d like some pink, instead.” … or a stage manager, literally. Stage manager. Don’t forget Jo Mielziner, who always did
his lighting. Boris started out … Right. … having to do lighting. I mean, all our
predecessors had to deal with that. There were no costume designers, either. Right. Wasn’t there just a single union exam … Yes. … so people really had to master … Yes, earlier days. … various skills. It’s also a question of volume, I mean, I
know I had tried … when I first started designing, I did lights for a few shows. I
did costumes for a few shows. And it got to the point where it was just too much. Yeah, it’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming, but also you begin to recognize
the fact that the idea of collaboration in the theatre is so limited to begin with. I
mean, either you have this sort of idea that … it’s what you were asking. It’s three
designers, and a director, and they’re all hidden away in some sort of cave and you never
see who they are. And it’s one thing I’ve been thinking a lot
about in the past three years, to try and change the direction of how we work, or at
least how I work. I mean, I can’t do it for anybody else. But I’ve sort of made somewhat
of a commitment to try and clear my schedule so I can be there for as much of the rehearsal
period as possible, and be there every day. And start part of the day at the studio, but
then check in at rehearsal every day, just to sort of get a little bit of … you know,
not only to feel as if you’re participating in the creation of the actual event, but that
you’re not such a stranger. Like, the actors never know who you are and
you can’t remember their names. Then it all comes together magically, somehow, and I’m
thinking, who is fooling who? Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) That’s simply not the way it works. And we’re
always, because we have to work multiple jobs, I mean, you know, throughout your career,
you don’t get the luxury of doing this. And I’m not saying I get to work this way exclusively.
I don’t. None of us do. But I find as I … when I can, I try and spend more time in the rehearsal
… In the actual theatre. Yeah. I mean, you sort of see what’s going
on. And as Wendall was saying, “What’s the color going to be?” Well, you ask yourself,
how do you, you know, form those decisions just from reading the script and just from
talking to the director or talking to … I mean, if you’re actually in the rehearsal
process to some extent, I think that adds to your ability to choose. It gives you some perspective … Definitely. In TOMMY, it must have been complicated by
the fact that there wasn’t exactly a script, was there? No. I mean, the people who give the directives
in TOMMY, I suppose the particular person would be Des McAnuff, who directed it and
co-authored the script. But then, it’s a sung-through show, so Pete Townsend composed it and co-authored
the script with Des, as they put together a sort of new story line for it. But it must
have been tough working with that. It seems to me that the designers of TOMMY conveyed
the plot and the emotional impact, the characterizations, the situations, just as much if not more than
the lyrics and the music and what the actors were doing. Could you tell us how that worked
with these slides? There’s a tantalizing slide over there on the projector showing. Well, actually the thing is that during the
overture … I can run through some of those slides, in the beginning. We go through the
whole … that Mr. and Mrs. Walker, they meet, they marry, they’re separated, all of that
is told wordlessly … All visual imagery. … in the overture of TOMMY. It’s done through
action and … they meet, she’s working, making an airplane, they go to a dance. This all
happens … what? How long does the whole thing take? Seven minutes. Seven minutes. They go to a dance, they dance,
next thing you know it’s a church. (LAUGHTER) They get married, they go home, he kisses
her goodbye, he gets up in an airplane, jumps through a hole in the floor, and lo and behold,
comes flying in behind a scrim, only to be shot by Germans. It’s a very sad thing. You watch the actors, you hear the music,
see the scenery … You see the slide. … see the costumes, and the projections.
Visual and then the music. Then you see this scene here. He’s gone to,
clearly, a prison camp, and someone comes out and sings, “It’s a boy, Mrs. Walker, it’s
a boy,” right? And there you are, really the first real music of the piece … oh, I guess,
“Captain Walker didn’t come home.” Yeah, that comes first. How long did it take to put that seven minutes
together? Mmm, good question. I mean, besides your whole life, we know.
(LAUGHTER) Well, John and Des had pretty much had an
idea about that … We worked on it. … before I even came on board … Right, you said … … you said what was going to happen. … that there wasn’t a script. I mean, I
was living in Los Angeles at the time and was commuting. The commute from Los Angeles
to La Jolla would simply be listening to the music. And would go to Des’s home and, I mean,
there wasn’t any script. I mean, he would just talk me through it. And one day, we sat down and said, “Okay,
now we have to do the prologue. We have to do the introduction.” And we worked out the
story line, the information that we wanted, and said, “Okay, well, for this, you know,
how can we represent this in not only the most economic way possible but also, how can
you get rid of that image and bring a new image to bear, you know, for the next sequence
and tell the story as you go visually?” But I mean, also, it’s important to know that
the music all through this is really what’s driving these images. I mean, without the
music, these images wouldn’t appear, the story wouldn’t appear. I mean, so you say there’s
no script, but there is a script, and it’s the music. And you sense it. I mean, even
the rhythm, the pulse, the tone, the melody, whatever is there is very real. I mean, that’s
what … I mean, if we recognize anything, you know, in terms of the quality of the piece,
it’s all born from the music. Did you have something to listen to? Because
the album, of course, has been rearranged, plus you got what? One new song? Yeah. But the order of the songs in the album is
quite different. Well, it was, you know, you jumped around,
listening to it on the album and then you’d have to, like, pull over to the side of the
road when you had some emotional recall from a, you know … (LAUGHTER) As you were shuttling back and forth between
LA and San Diego, yeah. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, absolutely. I had not listened to the
music since college days, and I remember … you know, I won’t get into it specifically, because
it’s too personal, but there’s very personal responses in my life to certain sequences
in the music that I had not listened to in a long time. And all I had to do was hear
the musical phrase and I was off to the side of the road just boo-hooing. You know, just
like … it was very deep. It was very interesting having that on Broadway,
too. It was a very exciting thing. Yeah, it’s difficult to watch the show. I
mean, what’s nice is to go back and watch the show, which I do. Because while we were
working on it, in tech rehearsals, and I’m sure everyone can attest to this, it’s the
least enjoyable event in your life. Oh! Oh. I mean, a musical … there’s something sort
of entertaining. I mean, I know when we were doing CANDIDE at the Guthrie, Garland said,
“Isn’t this just the worst experience you’ve ever been through in your life?” “Why are we doing this to ourselves?” Yes, why do you do it. (LAUGHTER) I mean,
it’s very difficult, it’s arduous, it’s … you think, “How many … am I going to kill an
actor today?” Yeah. Or should I? Yeah. (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s very interesting. Patricia, how
often do you go back and look at the costumes in a show, after it’s had a run? Or don’t
you or do you? Oh, I do, I do. I think, in a funny way, we
all have to patrol. I look at myself as patrol. Yes, patrol, exactly. Because … Whose responsibility is that, as a matter
of fact? Well, I think for all of us, each department
head who’s maintaining the show in the theatre, it is their responsibility. But beyond that
technical point, responsibility lies with the designers to see that everyone is not
letting the show slip. I know … I’ll give you a silly example.
It goes back thousands of years to a show called FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. And I began to
watch and … oh, I don’t want to discuss the hands-on of the making of those clothes.
But I began to watch it sort of drain in color and drain in color, and I’d go backstage and
the wardrobe people were fabulous. Everything was clean and hung up, and this and that,
and there were no complaints. I thought, “Something’s the matter.” And it
took me about a year and a half to suddenly realized they were being dry-cleaned. And
I thought, “But most of it’s cotton or silk.” And all of this stuff is sort of slowly accumulating.
It is not cleaned out. So, I said, “It has to be washed.” “Washed! They would have to
wash it! I mean that … Good God!” So we began a little process called, “We’ll take
it back to the shop,” and we had big barrels filled with soap and water and I’d take it
blouse by blouse and skirt by skirt and apron by apron and I watched the colors come back
to the original colors. And if, for any reason, in the dry-cleaning process, they had dropped,
we dyed them over again, put them into the Thintex (PH), because we kept records, and
they went back. And slowly the show came up to this feeling
of ghetto, peasant, rural, pressed-down people who still sparkled in their souls. And therefore,
in their hankies (SHE LAUGHS) and their little scarves, these little clarities of color could
puncture through. But what I was doing was watching it get dimmer, and not really seeing
it, because if you watch it, you don’t see these subtle, subtle shifts. Well, I did, as a producer, and I considered
it up to me … Uh-huh. … to make sure that it was always sparkling. Wow. And my productions ran a long time. Yeah, that’s right. Well, that’s why you’re
Jean Dalrymple, you know. Thank you. It’s true. I mean, that kind of compassion
and love for the craft of maintenance … Yes. It’s wonderful. But what about today? Do you still go back
today on a large production … Oh, yeah. … or are you busy doing something else? Well, both. Both, both. Elizabeth, BROTHER TRUCKERS ran, what? Maybe
six weeks or something like that? Actually, the run was extended. I think it
ran several months and it went to England and then to the Edinburgh Festival. So did you have that kind of responsibility
for … I couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to look. (LAUGHTER) They had to take care of it themselves. Yeah, and there’s a wonderful wardrobe mistress,
but there’s not enough money to properly maintain a staff that could properly maintain the clothing.
So, no. That’s why I didn’t bring anything. Have to let it go. How many costumes did you have to construct
for that show. It wasn’t a very large cast, but it seems to me they switched costumes
rather frequently. Yeah, because drag queens love to wear different
clothes, you know. Yeah, right. I mean, that’s what’s so great for a costume
designer. That’s why I do so much drag work, because they don’t care about the character,
they just want to look fabulous. (LAUGHTER) And there’s a costume change every time you
blink. So, as much as you don’t keep track of the budget, I don’t know how many clothes
there were. I just kept doing them. Well, there were four performers who cross-dressed.
I guess there were two women playing men and two men playing women in BROTHER TRUCKERS. That sounds about right. Yeah. Is there a particular challenge for
designing for the opposite sex to what the character is? Little things that you have
to do differently? Yes. There are little tricks that you have
to do with undergarments, particularly … well, for a man for a man going into a woman’s body,
often you’ll pad the hips or pad the bust and it’s a major drag queen decision whether
to shave or not, whether you want that total illusion of change. Charles Ludlam, I think,
never shaved. Never shaved. Never shaved, because it was all up here. Uh-huh. And I will always regret never having seen
him on stage. Oh, he was great. Everett doesn’t shave. I understand he was
just … He was amazing. Absolutely. CAMILLE was just astonishing. I mean, I remember
that being one of the first … JoAnne Akalaitis dressed like an egg, Charles Ludlam doing
Camille, were like, I think what launched me into New York. And the CAMILLE was … it’s
just like … you know, you look at people who haven’t seen it and you go … Oh, too bad. Sorry! (HE LAUGHS) That’s right. Well, they revived it … I’m not even going to try to describe it. … they revived the CAMILLE for Everett,
Everett played Camille differently … And I did the clothes for that. Right. … and Elizabeth Fried did the costumes for
that. Absolutely. It was a great … it was awesome.
Super. They were remarkable. They were so funny,
the costumes, and yet they fit … when the mood shifts. You know, there’s this wonderful
tension in CAMILLE, between it being hilariously over the top, and then the pathos of the original
story taking hold. And when it needed to be sad, the costumes were sad. And I think Everett did a good job, too. Yeah. Yeah, but what we were talking about at the
beginning of this afternoon was, you know, doing stuff in your living room, doing … he’s
someone who never left his living room. He never left. And that’s his whole house, too, it’s just
a living room. And you felt that you were on this turf … That’s right. That’s right. … and it was just the most delightful experience. Well, I always thought the Ludlam’s costumes
were among the best in the world, and the ones that Everett did. And I think you are
such lucky person to inherit that. Thank you. I feel the same way. Very, because the work was absolutely top.
Just the best. And you get to keep it up. Wendall, do you think you could show us the
slides of the “Pinball Wizard” section? I’m sure everybody would really like to, if you
can cut … We don’t … actually, there’s … What did you bring us? Here. Oh, well, you’ve got the mirror. The wardrobe
with the mirror on top. No, the wardrobe … well, you should see
the fabulous wardrobe. But we don’t want to tell anyone about this who hasn’t seen it,
then we’ll give away the plot. (LAUGHTER) There’s a scene that takes place in a courtroom
… Oh, yes … and those are your wildest slides,
I think. Yeah, where the flag mounts, which is one
of my favorite things. It’s one of the things that I experimented with early on, in trying
to think of how to approach the artwork for TOMMY was, actually, photographing in reflections.
And trying to melt imagery, and that was very unsuccessful in my studio. But anyway, with
a computer here, you can do it, it’s a lot easier. This is one of the … these are the fabulous
John Arnone doors that have won the Choreographic Award. You know, it wasn’t really the dancers
that won that Tony Award. (LAUGHTER) It was the doors. Free-standing doors. It was the dancing doors. Free-standing dancing
doors. Well, the pinball machine that dances, too,
is really quite miraculous. And here are the fabulous CAT scan machines.
And the illuminated doorway. I don’t have any of the … this is the last one I have.
This is the end, where Tommy has become so famous that his face is everywhere. Which
is an interesting dilemma, because you could not use the actor’s face. Because if he got
sick or was replaced, it would become a very expensive process. Oh, my God. So in La Jolla, we actually used the actor’s
face, because we thought, “Well, it’s only a couple of weeks, he’ll be fine.” (LAUGHTER)
But on Broadway … So, guess what happens … That’s why there’s the hand in front of the
face … So, you know, what am I going to do, what
am I going to do … Yeah, and the shadow profiles and so forth
… So that was why we came up with that idea. Impressive. Otherwise … Have two sets of … You just wouldn’t want to go through the effort
of having to change … it’s eighteen screens. Every single image is eighteen slides. So
… Where were the screens created? This screen is just … it’s actually one
big piece of screen material. It’s just divided up into eighteen different screens. Oh my God, I have to go see this. (LAUGHTER)
I am like the only one in the world who hasn’t seen it. And I’m awfully sad about that. Well, you’ll get there now. But that’s the last of the slides that I have. John Arnone, you won our award last year,
as well as this year, for PERICLES. And you live in California, you work all over the
world, it seems, you weren’t able to come. Your director, Michael Greif, came and represented
you admirably, but I’ve been dying to know, all these months, the answer to a question.
On the set of PERICLES, the fragmented terracotta wall had handprints all over it. Right. Does this in some way convey the thematic
material of PERICLES, about losing and regaining, about life and death and so forth? I mean,
is this a set metaphor? Or what exactly inspired you to put those handprints all over that
set? I think it has more to do with my subscription
to National Geographic Magazine than anything, quite … I mean, it’s an image that we saw
… it’s about presence. It’s about witnessing. It’s about the idea of … what you’re talking
about is a wall in which there are a lot of white, sort of ghost handprints. And it’s
simply an image of a silent witness, of people that have been present at one time, who are
no longer there to tell the story, but are there to bear witness to the story. So, even though you see like one person on
stage, you get a sense that there’s an echo, there’s a depth, there is a historical recurrence,
a multitude that has visited this plot, this point in time before. Basically, it’s about
witnessing, I think. And testifying to one’s being around for the event. It would be nice to have a program note about
that. Well, (LAUGHTER) you know, some theatres do
have liner notes. You know, put their dramaturgs to the task … Right. … and that’s always exciting to have that.
I mean, I know when I … I think it is. Yeah. Most theatres, except for the Broadway theatre,
do provide that sort of surround … Yes. … of information. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Mimi, are you inspired to go back and do another
Broadway show after hearing Wendall and John talk about TOMMY, or are you just as happy
working on your infinite budgets in smaller theatres? (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s an easy answer. I’ve only done
one Broadway show, and it was under the Broadway Alliance. So I can’t say I’ve really done
a Broadway show, if you will. Are you eager to? No. (JOHN ARNONE LAUGHS) Would you like the challenge? No is the answer. A lot of politics. No? A lot of politics. Harder and harder, less fun. And I find regional theatre and regional opera
and international opera the place I’m most comfortable in. What are you working on right now? About twelve shows. I’m doing the next two
shows at Hartford Stage. I just came from Baltimore, Center Stage. And I’m doing opera
in Houston, Dallas, Edmonton, Munich, San Diego, blah-blah-blah. Quite a job list. And I’m sort of in the opposite place which
John is, in a way, because I would absolutely love, I think, once in my life, to be able
to go to a place and actually be a part of the long process … Yeah. … but I’m a hit-and-run. I mean, I literally
come in, never know anybody’s name or anything. Tish, could we go around and find out what
everybody’s working on now? Well, I think we’ve heard from Mimi. Yeah, my next show is called KEELY AND DU,
and it’s at Hartford Stage. Wendall? I’m doing NIGHT AND HER STARS (PH), the new
Richard Greenberg play at South Coast Rep. Patricia? On December 9th, MY FAIR LADY, a whole new
way of looking at it, we hope … (LAUGHTER) will grace the stage of the Virginia. It’s
been out on tour. I’m also working on something that has me completely enthralled. It has
had me enthralled for the last five years. It’s a black musical theatre opera, having
been written by a man named Walter Robinson (PH), that will have a very, very definitive
run for a week up at the Wang (PH) Center this January, hopefully to launch it into
regional or Broadway, or good Off-Broadway homes. Elizabeth? I’m working on FENCES at Center Stage. And John? Len Jenkins’ (PH) CARELESS LOVE at Soho Rep,
and the tour of GREASE that’s going to go out in January. Is that what it’s called or are you touring
Greece? GREASE. The tour. GREASE, the musical. Oh, GREASE. GREASE, the musical. Touring Greece. (LAUGHTER) It’s not by design … Post-apocalyptic GREASE, touring Greece. I’m sorry, it really is not by design, but
I am going to have to bring this to a close. And this has been the American Theatre Wing
Seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” and this seminar is on Design, the people that
bring the whole magic to you. You come into the theatre, and before you unfolds lights,
music, costumes, sets, and you’re in another world. There is nothing like it. And these
people on the panel today have all been recipients of the American Theatre Wing’s Design Award,
which goes to both Off-Off-Broadway, and Broadway. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, and I’m President
of the American Theatre Wing. And the seminars are coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. Thank you for being here, and thank you, wonderful,
creative, designing panel. (APPLAUSE)

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