Design (Working In The Theatre #223)

(APPLAUSE) This is an American Theatre Wing Seminar on “Working
in the Theatre.” It’s coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York, located on 42nd Street, New York City, the heart of
the theatre, where uptown and downtown and Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway and Broadway
all meet, to share the magic of theatre. The American Theatre Wing is perhaps best
known for its Tony Awards, which were named in honor of a woman named Antoinette Perry,
who believed in preparing and knowing your role, and everybody else’s role, in the theatre. It was created not for the longest run, but
to reward those who have achieved a degree of excellence in the craft of theatre, and
remains so today. We are an all-year-round program, and the
American Theatre Wing doesn’t stop just with the Tonys, but our year-round program continues
to service the community through the theatre. We have a “Saturday Theatre for Children”
program, an “Introduction to Broadway” program. We bring live theatre to hospitals and nursing
homes and AIDS centers. And we have these seminars here that are created
to give an inside view of what it is to work in the theatre. We’ve explored the performer, the playwright,
director and choreographer, and the production, the nitty-gritty of what it is to create and
produce a show. And now, we have a seminar on theatre design,
perhaps one of the most important, to bring all these elements together. Because without these people, there would
be no theatre. These are the people that create the magic. And, when they do it very, very well, many
times you don’t even know that they’ve done it. And so before I go any further, I’m going
to turn this over, this seminar on Theatre Design, which will be co-chaired by Tish Dace,
who is a theatre critic, and Jules Fisher, who is a wonderful theatre lighter. Tish, will you introduce your panel, please? Thank you, Mrs. Stevenson. I’m delighted to be co-moderating this panel
with Jules Fisher. Jules is the distinguished lighting designer,
who has done the lighting for over a hundred Broadway shows. He’s won six Tony awards, and he’s designed
such shows as GRAND HOTEL, THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES, and JELLY’S LAST JAM. Among the many shows he has designed the lighting
for away from Broadway, he probably had the largest audience in a single night, for his
portion of the lighting for President Clinton’s inauguration. He is also a Broadway producer and a magician. On my right is David Schulder. David has just won the American Theatre Wing’s
Noteworthy Unusual Effects Award for his props for MOVIELAND at the Ridiculous Theatrical
Company. He’s worked on props for several other shows
there, most notably right now, their current offering, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. David is also an actor and he has appeared,
among other places, with the Urban Guerrilla Street Theatre and with the Scum Wenches. (LAUGHTER) To David’s right is the veteran scene designer,
Tony Walton, who has, for over thirty years, produced dazzling designs for the theatre
and film and television. He won an Oscar, you may remember, for ALL
THAT JAZZ, an Emmy for his scenic design of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. His most recent American Theatre Wing Design
Award is for SHE LOVES ME, which he actually produced in London in 1964. He’s won three Tony Awards for scene design,
and his long string of Broadway credits includes such shows as CHICAGO, PIPPIN, GUYS AND DOLLS,
Hall of Fame in 1991. To Jules Fisher’s left, we have another lighting
designer, Beverly Emmons, who has won four Tony Awards, one Obie Award, two Bessie Awards,
and so on. She has memorably lit work in opera and dance
as well, and has lit such legends on the dance floor as Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham. Beverly Emmons actually was originally a dancer,
some years back. She’s also lit a lot of work in experimental
theatre. She’s done lighting for Richard Foreman, Meredith
Monk, Robert Wilson, and for such luminaries in music as Bette Midler and David Byrne. You may remember her lighting in STOP MAKING
SENSE by David Byrne. This season on Broadway, she lit ABE LINCOLN
IN ILLINOIS and Stephen Sondheim’s PASSION, for which she has just won an American Theatre
Wing Lighting Design Award. Ann Hould-Ward, in addition to designing at
many notable regional theatres and Off-Broadway, has designed an enviable string of such fine
which she won both the Tony Award and the American Theatre Wing Design Award. And to her left, we have one of her creations. Thank you! (LAUGHTER) This is Lumiere, from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,
otherwise known as Gary Beach, one of the leading actors in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Bonjour. (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) I think that we cannot ignore Gary’s presence. I hope not! And we really must begin by asking Annie about
her design of the costumes for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I’d love to know how many costumes you designed,
but then if you could perhaps talk specifically about all the objects. You know, things like the wardrobe and the
salt and pepper shakers and the cheese grater and that sort of thing. And of course, especially Lumiere, since we
have him right here with us. Well, I think there are about four hundred
sketches, in the development process of what the objects really turned out to be. And of Gary alone, I think there were about
fifty fully finished sketches of, you know, what would a candelabra look like if its candle
was bigger, if its candle was smaller, if it had four candles, if it had three candles. It was very much a development process that
went on like that, really fully finished drawings and being able to almost display them in a
graphic arts sensibility to people. So that in this instance, a large number of
people could speak about what their reactions and responses were to the designs. And I think that one of the things that I
felt was very important in the design process, and that I knew only I could be really responsible
for, was I was trying to keep in mind the actor inside of the costume. In other words, asking Gary to wear the candle
outfit, asking Beth Fowler to be inside of a teapot, all of those things, it’s a marvelous
experience visually to look at for an instance. But I must be able to perceive how the actor
is going to go through the entire evening in it, while everybody else is arguing about
whether he has three candles or four candles, I really had to make sure that Gary could
try to do his job properly. And so that, to me, became the essence of,
really, the preservation of the actor and the heart of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, so that
they can perform for you on stage. When did you start this? Did you start in California? Gary and I were just speaking about that. I believe it was about two years before the
Broadway production opened. And basically, how I got involved was because
Michael Eisner was very concerned about how they would manage to develop the project with
human-sized people, an actor inside of the candlestick or the teapot instead of the little
objects that they were in the film. And so they asked if I would begin to look
at what we call “the enchanted objects,” those major objects in the show. And I did the first baby steps toward what
I thought that design work could be, and then flew out to Aspen, Colorado, to meet with
the executives from Disney and really start to talk about what this would be in the theatre. And always, I mean, that was my cherished
responsibility in this, the preservation of the theatre. That they could perform and they could move? Yes. It’s quite a responsibility. Did it throw you when you first started? Well, you know, we all, I think, look at a
project and try to decide what the challenges of it are, you know? And if you’re going through a design process
with people who really haven’t been through it, at least in the Broadway venue, before,
you kind of have to say, “All right, these are my responsibilities for this project and
this is what I will manage to do.” We tried to do it. I mean, I’m sure Gary would tell you there
are things that we wish were more comfortable or more flexible or this or that. And we continue to work on that. He was talking about he’s just had a new pair
of arms done. And we continue to try to refine that. Constantly refining. And the one thing about Ann, when I was first
brought into a fitting, she kept talking about “Your comfort, your comfort,” and of course,
I was interested in that, too. But then, I began to realize, she was designing
not just a costume of a candlestick. In our show, I’m turning into a candlestick,
I’m really a man. So the human has to show through. And this was the problem that Ann met head
on, that I think people at Disney hadn’t quite thought of that. They’re used to seeing the little candle in
the movie and the clock. And our designer knew that, “No, it has to
be a lot more than that, for the human element to come through and for the second act to
work.” And I think Michael Eisner told Ann at one
point, “The success or failure of this entire production rests on your shoulders.” (LAUGHTER) Terrific! Congratulations! You met the challenge! That’s really the difference between movies
or television and theatre, that you have to see and you do see the human being there,
no matter what the disguise is, no matter what the costume is. And to be able to take that in this kind of
costume is fabulous. Well, and I think that’s the dedication of
our lives. I think that’s the dedication of the lives
of designers in the theatre. It is really our responsibility to that actor
and how we help them to [perform]. Very good. Did Disney express their appreciation of what
you’ve done? They have expressed that. (LAUGHTER) Actually, yes, yes. Gary, how does it feel to wear that costume? What’s going on in there? What’s going on in here? (LAUGHTER) You just tried to scratch your chin, I mean. I was very nicely given two little exits here,
And of course, you know if you see the show, midway through the first act, I turn into
a song and dance man. And I end up running up and down stacked dishes. I have a hat and a cane, doing kicks, the
“Be Our Guest” number. And all of this was on Ann’s shoulders, and
we would discuss this during the rehearsal process and she’d say, “Can you do it? Can you do it?” And I said, “You know, I don’t think that
we should make this too comfortable. This is not a comfortable position to be in
(DEMONSTRATES), turning into a metal candelabra. Let’s see what we can do.” And so it was a total collaboration in that
part. And I did tell her, I said, “I didn’t expect
to go into this wearing opera pumps and a smoking jacket.” (LAUGHTER) You know? And it’s been a gas, I must say. To be backstage at the Palace Theatre right
now– It’s a wonderful piece of magic. — is to see the clock and [everything else]. The rest of the cast wanted to be here today,
and the director and the choreographer, but they’re having a big casting for the national
tour at Williams Sonoma. Just kidding. (LAUGHTER) Ann, would you agree that it’s astonishing
to have a performer like Gary, as receptive and supportive of this? I did the Tin Man costume for the movie of
THE WIZ, and our actor in that case said, “I can’t move unless I wear this particular
brand of suede loafers, and I can only wear approximately twenty-three pounds of anything
on me before I just grind to a halt.” This is the Tin Man. So to have a Gary is something special. Well, I think, I mean, the whole cast has
been so dedicated to the design. And I think that there are many actors who
would like to express that dedication, but someplace along the process in the tiredness,
it begins to disappear. It clearly did not disappear from these people. Really, through the tech time in Houston,
they were my support, rather than the other way around. It has been a marvelous experience, and they
are a tremendous cast, I think. Yeah, it’s amazing. You can tell. Clearly, you have a special responsibility
yourself, Gary. Your hands light up frequently during the
show. How do you manage not to set people or costumes
or whatever on fire? That’s what we did in Houston. (LAUGHTER) Every night a different person? We had a huge cast before we got to New York. (LAUGHTER) Gary, have you demonstrated the rest of your
magic? No, I wanted to stand up, maybe. Oh, please. (LAUGHTER) Ann, you want to stand up with me? She designed it. I think you both ought to sit down. Don’t move too fast. I won’t. It’s not just your costume, you’ve got a wire
on you someplace. All right. The interesting thing about this costume,
this is where all of the departments come together for Ann. We would be down in the bar (PH) room at Tara’s
(PH) and a problem would come up about pyro. (LIGHTS CANDLE) So all of a sudden, no one
in the room knew about pyro. So someone had to come in from another part
of town and tell us how to handle that. And of course, the prosthetic, the candle
head, which, if you can see, is my hair growing into a candle. And so, the Bob Kelly wig and David Lawrence
became part of that. And the prosthetic on the arms. And pyro, I carry butane on my back. And it’s handled by my friend Norman over
here, who hooks me up and unhooks me every evening. And Franklin takes care of– we were discussing
this upstairs, there’s no such thing as “Put on your coat and tie and get out there.” It’s me and four other people standing there,
getting ready for the show. But it all comes together into one costume. (LIGHTS CANDLES) How long does it take you to be hooked up
and get into all this? Oh, we’re very quick now. We can do it, I’d say in what, ten minutes? Really? Yeah. Shall we try it? (LAUGHTER) Thank you very much. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed this, and I think maybe
I should go upstairs. I’m opening a Zippo factory on the other side
of town. (LAUGHTER) But I’ve really enjoyed this, meeting
all of you. Thank you, Ann. Congratulations to you all. (APPLAUSE) Thank you so much. Thank you, Gary Beach, and we’d like to continue. Tish? Jules? All right. I wanted to ask Beverly first, because of
our relationship in lighting, were there specific things you had to deal with on PASSION because
[of] the work that Adrienne LaBelle (PH) did, which seems so closely related to modernist
paintings? With those paintings, did they require special
lighting? Did that involve special lighting as far as
integrating it with the stage show? I think so. Adrienne did take inspiration from paintings,
but not in the sense that some designers take an idea of a painting and make it three-dimensional. Her use of paintings was the painting, and
in fact, the backdrops of the piece are Turner watercolors of Italy and they’re largely blues
and golds in town. And then, in front of them, with panels, portals
that then close up as rolling walls in different scenes, the color changes, from the pink toward
a pink-blue and then it moves toward the reds and toward the deep red-browns. And one of the things about a red set is that
you can not use red colors to look warm, because nothing is as red as that red wall behind
everybody. And so, warm had to become the gold. And the gold of the sun, and you could see,
it’s about nineteenth century Italy, that all worked as an idea. But the problem for me as a designer is that,
in a three-dimensional set, you can vary the angles of light and the shutter cuts and the
shadows, and the audience can believe that it is real by the way you land the light on
it. But a flat surface is a flat surface. And these were flat surfaces with no architectural
features, but just painted rich, deep textures. So any light that hit it was a flat land with
shadows. So that that had to be very carefully arranged
in every scene, that we weren’t slamming into those walls, and yet could still see performers’
faces. The roundness of the performer and the believability
of the scene that they’re in, had to work even though the wall was red and was really
quite a painterly statement, almost as though they were doing that scene against a Rothko
or some other much more modern sensibility. Did the director in any way say to try to
make the lighting of the actors more like a modernist painting? No, no. They were to be in their own real world. And I think the painting idea intrigued him
because of its nonliteralness and that he and Adrienne really enjoyed making the scenery
and the play very fluid, to go from all of the different places it had to go, simply
by changing lights and rolling these walls into different spatial arrangements. I think that that released them from having
to worry about the detail of “Where are we?” It was left to me, in some cases, to say,
“Where are we? What time of day is it? Is it hot? Is it cold? And how are these people feeling about each
other? What is the atmosphere at this time?” And basically, there aren’t any unusual techniques
or modern devices, compared to some shows now. It’s really old-fashioned lekos and Fresnels. You had the opportunity on that show, which
a lot of us don’t get, to actually not only do a workshop of the production, which many
of us have experienced, but you had a chance to light the workshop. What did you learn in lighting the workshop
that you were then able to transfer to lighting the Broadway production? Well, one of the things that was wonderful
about lighting the workshop is that I could light it the way you do a dance concert. And by that, I mean I could go to rehearsal
and I could see it. I could see it. What do you mean by lighting the workshop? We did a workshop at the Clark Studio Theatre
at Lincoln Center, which is a black box theatre that is part of their education department
up there, the Lincoln Center Institute. And it is a small facility, a black box, a
room, with seating and a very flexible lighting system. So for very little expense, they could present
the rehearsal for invited people, so they could see how the show moved and how it developed
and played and we could light it. I actually lit it with thirty lights. And they wore black and white. How often is that used for shows? Usually, it’s gotten so that one commercial
production a year comes in and uses it to do a trial. And uses the lighting as well? Yes. Now, various directors choose to use the lighting
in different ways. James said, “Oh, you’re here. Oh, fine, we’ll need some lighting.” (LAUGHTER) So why don’t you be the designer? “So why don’t you do it?” Whereas Graciela Daniele did one this summer
where we basically left the fluorescents on and enhanced with lekos, so that they looked
good, but there was no attempt at emotion or cueing this. But PASSION was such a deep, dark piece and
required so much fluidity that I like to think it helped sell the piece, that people could
see some semblance of what it moved like, instead of having it be too raw. But the opening scene of those two figures
in the bed, I saw in the rehearsal room, and I knew that in a scene like that, the light
has to look like it’s coming from between them, from them. It has to be there and nowhere else. And at the Clark, it was easy, because you
could put a leko over there and it could land over there in the wings and be gone and only
light those two faces looking at each other. And I think it was that angle. Then, what was frightening was once we got
it into the theatre, by the time Adrienne had brought in the walls to make the intimacy
of that scene, you couldn’t make the shot. You have to miss this wall and you have to
miss the back of the bed and you have to miss the wall back here, in order to make that
light beam not be there. And so, we did something which they rarely
let you do on Broadway, which is we took a rolling stand and we put a leko right out
of sightlines, basically on stage, to get that shot. And thank heavens, we have a wonderful electrician
who gets that focus every night. It has to be cut off of this and off of that
and this and this, exactly right, and at the blackout, there’s a man there to take it away. And most producers, you know, they don’t want
any electricians on the deck, you have to pay them. But luckily, there was a guy there anyway,
’cause he’s doing sound, it was fine. But that’s the kind of thing you have to do. How did you learn to articulate everything
that you needed in this, to do it? Is there a school for lighting now? Is there a university? I didn’t go to any of them. School of Jules Fisher. Yes. (LAUGHTER) I worked as an assistant to Jules
Fisher for quite some time. You had to go someplace before you came to
Jules Fisher. Sarah Lawrence. Yeah, I was at Sarah Lawrence as a dancer
and worked backstage at the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College, where the
Graham company and all of the major modern dancers came. And then Tom Skelton (PH) was the lighting
designer, and he’s the one who interested me in lighting. A spectacular man whom we will miss. Are there any departments of lighting now? Yes. NYU School of the Arts, the Tisch School of
the Arts, and Yale and Carnegie Tech. Jules went to Carnegie. Yeah. Boston University has a pretty good program. A lot of the universities purport to teach
lighting. (LAUGHTER) Northwestern. Yeah, Northwestern. Beverly, in that first scene– Let’s come over here. Well, certainly. Tony, the Roundabout Theatre Company had never
done a musical before you did SHE LOVES ME, and they have a rather intimate playing space. Yes. By my count, if I’ve got it right, there are
actually seven different distinct acting areas in that play, plus you had to make room for
an orchestra. Right. Those are amazing problems to solve in that
little theatre. How did you do it? It was an act of desperation, I think. (LAUGHTER) As you say, you start with the
predicaments and try to solve them. The first one being, this is the first time
we had to deal with an orchestra in this space. The thing that’s curious about the Roundabout
Theatre, for those who don’t know, is that it’s actually built into the corner of what
was the famous old Bond store there on Broadway and 45th Street. And many of us designers were actually invited
in to comment on the design as they were converting it into a theatre. Were you invited in, Jules? No. Well, they were talking about the possibility
of building the stage into the corner of this rectangular room. And all of us, I believe, said, “Oh, please
don’t put it in the corner!” (LAUGHTER) And of course, they did. So it’s a thrust that comes out of the corner. But it means you have no wing space, so you
can’t put the orchestra off in the wings, or any of the scenery off in the wings. You have no flying space, so you can’t fly
anything in or out. All you’ve got is this little corner to try
to make everything happen. And the fact that it was called the Roundabout
was helpful, in that it made me think, “Well, maybe we should design a little carousel,”
that in effect, delivered everything by being able to turn and open up. And the only place left to put the orchestra
was above them, playing above them. And so that sort of dictated the needs of
the production. And the strange thing that results from a
decision like that is that we are now playing in the Savoy Theatre in London. We got transferred to a conventional Broadway
musical house– Yes, I’ve seen it there. — which is nothing like the Roundabout, you
know. Yeah. And you have to try and adapt those shapes
and spatial relationships to these completely different environments. It’s playing very successfully in London,
so we were sort of lucky it worked out. Are you pleased with working that way? Do you like the challenge? I did enjoy it. I was panicked to begin with. But we had a remarkable director, Scott Ellis,
and a remarkable choreographer, Rob Marshall. And they were very, very inventive about what
we were doing. For example, the exterior of the shop is wrap-around
walls that come from behind this carousel, as it were. But they don’t leave a lot of space on the
forestage, because it’s not a very big audience seating arrangement. And needless to say, the management and producers
were not keen to give up a seat or two. So the space we had was the space they would
normally have for a single set, a straight play. And so the space on the outer rim of this
exterior of the perfume shop was small. There were some key scenes that took place
there in the original musical. For one thing, the final big number, the “Twelve
Days of Christmas” number. And our director and choreographer brilliantly
came up with a way of doing this within the shop, which actually not only solved my physical
problems, but made the number itself much funnier than it had ever been when it took
place in the exterior of the shop. Is that normal, that you work with a director,
a choreographer, in your sets? As closely as possible, yes. Everything springs from them or is filtered
through them. And in a case like that, when you’re lucky
to have people who are sort of visually responsive– Who know. — it makes a tremendous difference. Where do you build your sets? Here in New York or at the theatre? Well, in that case, it was a shop just the
other side of the tunnel, into Red Hook. But some places are a little more glamorous
than that. Some of them were built in the Bronx. (LAUGHTER) And some of them up in Newburg
(PH). And today, I was just visiting a scene shop
in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, which is a glorious place to visit at this time of year. You go through all the trees and the fall. Are there set designing schools? I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked
[Beverly]. Yes, essentially the same schools that Jules
and Beverly mentioned. But I actually studied in London, so I didn’t
have the advantage of learning the kind of nuts and bolts expertise that the schools
here do do for you. Did you study in school or in the theatre
in London? In a place called the Slade (PH) School of
Fine Art, where actually, the teachers were essentially painters who occasionally did
a W.H. Auden play or a Sherwood (PH) or something
that was essentially an artwork. And their attitude was, “It’s about the art. It’s not about learning how to do a ground
plan.” So they didn’t teach how to do a ground plan. (LAUGHTER) It was a rather tricky way to start
out. Whatever it was, they taught you very well. Well, I was lucky enough to be an assistant
designer concurrently, at Wimbledon Repertory Theatre, which is sort of like year-round
summer stock. And that was mostly a case of banging the
same old bits of scenery into new shapes and slopping some different color on them. So the two disciplines were so diametrically
opposed, that I think I had a useful collision there. Tony, you told me a tale once before, but
maybe you could do it again, about one of your first experiences with the actress who
you had to audition by bringing the costumes to her home? Oh, my goodness. (LAUGHTER) Well, this is a long time ago,
Jules, but it bears on what we were saying. This is a famous actress who, for the purposes
of this, shall be nameless. (LAUGHTER) But she was ultimately “Damed,”
so she was a very worthwhile person. But she had contractual approval of the designs
of the shows. So when I called the director to say, “I have
the set model and the costume sketches finished,” he said, “Well, our star has the right to
see them before you show them to me.” So I went to her house, and she came and I
put my little set model on the grand piano. And I laid out the costume sketches on top
of the grand piano. And she came sweeping down the staircase,
mysteriously without a big bouquet of flowers, but she might just as well have had them. (LAUGHTER) And she swept past the model and
the costume sketches and said, “Have you met Betty?” I said, “I don’t think– unless that was the
lady–” “No, no, Betty Bohr (PH), she’s been with me for X years and I don’t do anything
without her and I would love her to see your work.” She went (SCREAMS), “Betty!” (LAUGHTER) And she swept back up the stairs
without looking at anything. And Betty came out. So Betty was this little tiny, sort of dresser/associate-everything. And she came and sort of half-looked at the
costume sketches, and didn’t look at them all, and said, “Oh, this is going to be lovely,
darling. And I’ve worked with our star all these years,
and she has a real problem with her tummy. It goes up and down like a yo-yo.” (LAUGHTER) “So sometimes, during the matinee
and evening performances, if she goes out for a nice meal, it goes up so much you have
to put a bow on it.” (LAUGHTER) “So you just leave me your stuff
and I’ll take care of it and let you know when we’re ready to let you take a look at
it.” So I phoned up endlessly, saying, “Is there
a fitting I can come to?” And finally, it was dress rehearsal and I
still hadn’t seen anything. you now?. And this was a play that was ultimately made
into a musical by Kander and Ebb, called 70 GIRLS, 70, about a lot of elderly ladies who
got involved in a robbery, and so I had them all in autumnal colors. And dress rehearsal, of course, finally, amidst
all these autumnal colors, our star appeared and she was wearing (HE LAUGHS) turquoise
sequins. (LAUGHTER) And as she made her appearance, the director,
who was in those days– this is in the Paleolithic era– he was there and the directors used
to do the lighting design. And he called for every piece of lighting
equipment that was illuminated to be raised by, you know, five points or something. And so the whole stage lit up, like that. And I said, “What’s happening? What are you doing?” (LAUGHTER) And he said, “She has it in her
contract. Every time she sets foot on stage, we have
to raise her, so the press can say, as indeed they did, ‘Every time she sets foot on stage,
the whole stage seems to light up.'” (LAUGHTER) Oh, that’s wonderful. It’s a great story. It was amazing. David Schulder has won the American Theatre
Wing Noteworthy Unusual Effects Award for doing the props for a show called MOVIELAND,
which was essentially a one person show, written by, directed by, and starring Everett Quinton,
at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Everett’s character says she will sing and
tell stories, if the dragon, who has essentially enveloped her apartment, will just let her
live. And so she acts out every movie she can think
for designing all of the objects that this woman, who’s telling all these stories, uses
to dramatize all of these films and to play all of the characters from them. Now, I think David has brought us a few samples
of these props, which I hope he will show us. Yes, I have. And perhaps you could manage to help us all
learn exactly who’s responsible for what. What is a “prop”? When Everett had to act out the characters
from MADAME X by holding costumes, grabbing clothing from her closet and holding these
things in front of herself, were those props or were those costumes? Actually, those were costumes. A prop, basically, is anything that an actor
will handle or will have in his hands or use in any way. But props and costumes oftentimes can merge. And sometimes a prop will be half a costume
and half a prop, as well. The character, for example, grabs a Clorox
bottle, with part of the bottle cut off, and uses it as the Pharaoh’s headdress. Now, is that the costumer’s responsibility
or your responsibility? That was the costumer. That was a brilliant piece of work by Tony
Thompson (PH). Also, we have to give credit where it’s due. Eureka directed MOVIELAND. Oh, I’m sorry, of course. Of course, Eureka directed it. Would like to show us what you have? Sure, I will. Is it going to burst into flames? No. (LAUGHTER) No flames this time. No, we promised no fire. Well, part of the fun of working at the Ridiculous
is that no joke or pun is too low to have. (LAUGHTER) So, in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS part
of MOVIELAND, where Moses goes up into the mountains, he gets the Ten Commandments. He comes back down, lo and behold, the people
are worshipping a golden calf. (LIFTS UP A GOLDEN LEG; LAUGHTER) The Ridiculous is a fun place, because there’s
high camp and low camp all the time. And anything is potentially fabulous. And these are the two rats (THEY SQUEAK) that
live with Ruby in her kitchen, which have been made absolutely fabulous. Thank you, Daphne Bruce (PH), for working
on these as well. Speaking of bad jokes, in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS,
where the curses are being put on Egypt by Moses, “The river is going to run with blood
for seven days. There’ll be a plague of frogs. There’ll be snakes on Egypt. And Rudolph Giuliani’s toupee.” (LAUGHTER) That worked good, this show. Another thing, the biggest challenge in this
show was THE INVISIBLE MAN portion, because it was decided and made sense that it would
be done in darkness with fluorescent lighting and black lights. So all of the props had to be painted with
fluorescent paint. And Everett, to his everlasting credit, managed
to operate a whole table, a special table filled with props, completely enveloped in
black, with black gauze over his eyes. And watching him do that on the dress rehearsal
night was really about the ten scariest minutes of my life in theatre, because we had gotten
stuff to him that night, and somehow he managed to do it. And he had to do everything. He had to play several characters by himself. And one of the characters in THE INVISIBLE
MAN, of course, is The Invisible Man. And here’s how he looked. And the effect for this was, it’s under black
light, he has to disappear, so the glasses come off and they float in mid-air. You can’t see that, ’cause he’s completely
in black. And slowly, he unwraps himself. (DEMONSTRATES) And then, this disappears,
because it’s completely black. He’s in black. That’s wonderful. It’s essentially a puppet show that David
created for Everett. Yeah. The other puppets for that part– I’m making
a mess back here, I’m sorry– were these characters. There’s an officer who comes in to try and
hunt down The Invisible Man. And at another point, there’s the maid who
comes in. The funny story about these was, this is under
black light, so everything is fluorescent paint. But we didn’t want to have a bright blue or
bright pink officer. So I just started mixing fluorescent paints,
and it was a miracle as far as I’m concerned, but by chance, I came up with this mix. And under black lights, it’s the only color
I’ve ever seen that isn’t fluorescent but still shines. It comes off as a human face, although it
looks terrible under real lights. Now, I have to ask you. Where did you learn to do those things? What was your background? My background was really doing some street
theatre. A couple of years ago, during the Gulf War
and afterwards, some friends of mine had wound up in jail for protesting the war. And I and some friends, to support them, came
down to the courthouse and started putting on shows during their trial. And then that led into shows we did in the
parks. And I’ve done performance work with my girlfriend
in the Scum Wenches. But basically, as far as working in theatre
and props, it started at the Ridiculous, two years ago, I think it was, with BROTHER TRUCKERS,
which was a wonderful piece, which went to Edinburgh last summer. And I was the assistant to two of my prop
gods, Jamie Leo (PH) and Deb Scott (PH), who really introduced me to prop making and taught
me what I know right now. But you’ve had no formal training at all? No, no formal training. But the process for me, and I’m sure, every
designer, is every show you learn something new. You learn about some new material. You learn a new place to shop. And that’s how you learn. What would happen to unions if he was going
to work in a union play? If he was going to work, say, on Broadway? Do you have to go through any kind of apprenticeship? I would imagine that if you wanted to work
on a production that was a fully unionized production, you would either have to work
with another person who was already a member of the union, ally yourself with a union prop
shop. Or, if you could prove that what you did,
no one else could do, they would allow you to do it. I see. Would you agree with that? Yes. I also want to ask, because it’s interesting
to see that art and creativity are not necessarily related to dollars, what kind of budgets you
had to do this production? On the Ridiculous, we actually had a thousand
dollar prop budget. (TONY WALTON LAUGHS) That’s because the show was so heavily dependent
on props, I know. That’s a large [budget]. That’s a big budget show. Several props in Everett’s hand every minute
of the show. Yeah. How many props would you say you had to produce
for that price? I don’t know. Thirty, forty? Ranging from small, throwaway props to bigger
item props, to the biggest prop, which was the dragon, which quickly became “that damn
dragon,” ’cause he didn’t want to get made. And it was a dragon this big that someone
stands inside and operates the jaw, and I worked and worked and worked on it, and it
actually got three seconds of stage time. (MURMURS OF SYMPATHY) Which happens a lot. The huge dragon’s claw that comes in to try
to grab Everett, that was a prop, also? Yes, that was a prop. And there’s a tail of the dragon that pops
out of the refrigerator and wraps Everett up and tries to pull him in. And Everett is really wonderful working with
props. And when you make props, they’re like your
babies. For costumes, I’m sure it’s the same. And you just have to let the actors work with
them. And Everett does some amazing things, things
you didn’t know that could be done with a prop, you know? Well, David didn’t always go after the flashy
effect. Sometimes, he helped to create a laugh in
the simplest possible way, the “less is more” way. When the Red Sea parted (DAVID LAUGHS), David’s
prop for that was, I guess, a sheet of paper with a C, the letter C in red, which Ruby
tears asunder (LAUGHTER), to part the Red Sea. And for “gave a fabulous ball,” David’s prop
was a beach ball. (LAUGHTER) Well, with glitter. Yeah. So a lot of the humor was visual and came
from the prop design. Yeah, that’s part of the fun of the Ridiculous,
you know, always searching out. Sometimes, the worst puns you can possibly
[think up]. How large a theatre is it? It’s a hundred and forty-five seats, I think. Beverly Emmons, at one time you talked about
your own philosophy as being something like– I don’t think you used those words in the
interview I read– but a “less is more” philosophy. And you compared yourself to Jules and his
great fascination with the technology and the equipment. Just out of curiosity, this may not reveal
anything about that, but how many instruments did you use, not in the workshop with the
thirty instruments, but on Broadway in PASSION? And how many did Jules use in ANGELS IN AMERICA? Well, before I answer that, we had the very
different physical problem, as well as a very different– I mean, you had eight hours of
episodic show to do. So this is sort of a “no fair” comparison. Whereas what we were doing on PASSION was
absolutely classical wings and borders. In my count, we had equipment that was actually
lighting each one of those legs and borders in a very old-fashioned kind of way, because
the different colors got thrown, even though it was red, there were deep colors in it,
and could be thrown to the cooler or the warmer or the golder or the redder. So counting that, what I would call “border
light equipment,” except that isn’t what I used, we used four hundred focusing units,
which for a musical is small. Jules, do you know how many lights we’re using
for CHRISTMAS CAROL? Oh, CHRISTMAS CAROL, well, that’s a switch
(PH), yeah. Okay, yeah. Just to make a comparison, Tony and I are
working on a musical of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the Dickens book. However, it also is not fair to compare (LAUGHTER),
because it’s at the Paramount Theatre. Yeah, but it might be entertaining. Just huge, the Paramount at Madison Square
Garden. Yeah. And oddly enough, the number is not so huge. The surprise is that the number is not such
a large number. I don’t actually know the exact amount, but
my guess is it’s under five hundred. Oh really? But the reason is, there’s a hundred Vari-lights
(PH). There’s a hundred lamps that are automated,
computer-controlled, moving instruments. So each one of those can be changed at whim,
all night long. So they represent hundreds and hundreds of
lights. Right. How many seats is the Paramount? Fifty-five hundred. And by the way, this is technical, but I’ll
take a moment, the amount of lights is often related to the amount of seats. If you have a theatre in which people are
only five rows away from the actors, you don’t need very much brightness to see them. If you are seventy rows away, to see the exact
same moment you need much brighter lights and more of them. So it definitely relates to the size of the
theatre. The peculiarity of this configuration is that,
although it’s about the same number of seats as Radio City Music Hall, in Radio City they’re
stacked up. And in the Paramount, they just go and go,
on one level. There’s no balcony. No balcony, yes. All fifty-five hundred seats are on one orchestra
floor. It’s a dish. Isn’t it curious that with footlights, years
ago when they had the footlights in the theatre, which was a wonderful form of lighting, you
know– It is. — you didn’t have to alter the footlights. In other words, you went back, back, back. If you had a theatre with five thousand seats,
I think you’d need brighter footlights, for the people in the back to get the same effect
that the people up close are seeing. In fact, it’s a technical problem, because
then it might be too bright for the audience sitting very close to the stage. Probing a little further at how your philosophies
are similar and how they’re different, you worked on HAIR together. You were Jules’ assistant in the sixties on
HAIR. Yes, I was around. You were around. (LAUGHTER) I wasn’t the formal assistant at that point,
I think it was Mark. If you had HAIR to do over, if you could turn
back the clock and this were the original production of HAIR, but you had all of today’s
technology to use and all that you know about lighting now, would either one of you see
doing anything differently? Let’s start with Beverly. My opinion is that it was perfect and I wouldn’t
change a thing. (LAUGHTER) That’s very sweet. Well, I was very happy with the way it looked,
but I think times have changed and we have a new expectation of what lighting should
do. I think it’s changed drastically in the last
fifteen years, and it’s changing even more rapidly today. We expect more movement. One is, let’s take brightness. A show like HAIR had probably two hundred
lights, as a musical in 1968. And today, most musicals on Broadway would
have five, six, seven hundred lamps. That’s three times the amount of equipment. But the other is the actual number of cues. I recently looked at some light plots for
some standard musicals. And when I say “standard,” it’s not a fair
expression, but more traditional musicals, including something like WEST SIDE STORY. And in the WEST SIDE STORY prompt book that
I had an opportunity to look at, it says, “The song starts,” and there’s a light cue
for the lights to change at the beginning of the song. And the next light cue is at the end of the
song. And today, on a Broadway musical, there might
be thirty light cues in a song. Is that necessary, do you think? I think so. When I say “necessary,” it depends on the
content of the material. It depends on the song, it depends on the
play, it depends on the musical, do you need all this? Could I give an instance of that? It involves you, which was on MY ONE AND ONLY,
there was a number that ultimately became an enormously successful number and was featured
on the Tony Awards show. “Kicking the Clouds Away,” was it? Mmm-hmm. (AFFIRM) And it was a number that, out of town, sort
of laid there. And although it was worked on somewhat choreographically,
it was essentially the same number. And Jules came in and changed it from a number
with perhaps two or three cues to continually changing cues, which gave the illusion of
the number getting more and more and more exciting. I see. And so people literally were crazy by the
end of it. Well, Tommy Tune had something to do with
that. (LAUGHTER) He did have something to do with it, but he
didn’t certainly stop you. (LAUGHTER) That’s very interesting. Does that happen very often, that the lighting
works in tandem with the number, the dance number? Oh, yes. Oh, it’s essential, I think. I mean, the lighting and all our– Who decides on that, the choreographer or
the light[ing designer]? The choreographer. I mean, the choreographer and the director
may turn to the designer for “How would you do this?” and suggestions. But we’re basically trying to amplify on their
ideas. We’re trying to make more expressive what
they’re doing through dance, by adding light to make each moment mean more, have more import. You can speak to that, because you’ve had
so much experience with all the choreographers. Well, it was interesting, also, the idea of
technology changing. I had a wonderful opportunity to relight the
Graham repertory in 1982. And I had grown up, when I was just beginning
as a college student, had met Jean Rosenthal (PH) and the Graham company came through,
gods and goddesses, you know? And Jean was such an astounding, important
designer. And what she did, when she would relight at
the dance festival a piece that had been created in 1946, she would take out the cue sheets
that were dated “1946,” and she would be reproducing, moment by moment, the lighting that she originally
did. Which, in that case, was one six inch Fresnel
in the wing and one pipe-end up there. One. And it was all designed for one electrician
to run on a manual board. And so, the cues were structured, this much
and then that much and then that much. And in 1982, I said, “Well, Jean hasn’t been
gone that long, and in her position, she would be coming here to City Center off of a thousand
lamp musicals.” And she would not, she could not, because
our eyes demand something different, I saw that lighting recreated by somebody purportedly
to be doing Jean’s work in the mid-seventies. It was too dark! And yet, here were people saying, “Jean Rosenthal
did such beautiful work,” and you look at it and you say, “It’s too dark.” It’s like the sound designers that took forever
turning it up. I think also, our expectations of how much
work we have to do, physically I’m talking about, how much our eyes have to interpret
what they’re seeing, is different now. And I mean, if you go to Drattining Holm (PH),
Sweden, and see a one candlepower lit space, you think, “That’s very dim.” So the sheer expectation of what you’re going
to see has changed. And for Graham, what I did was to take those
essential concepts of angle, and where she had one lamp, I would do three, but organized
across the space so that I could then control the space in a more elaborate way than she
could, but kept the same colors. And kept the same visual ideas, if I could. In the first scene of PASSION, you’re lighting
two nude singers, who are fairly motionless. They’re not dancing, and they get up and move
around just a little bit. How many light cues? The lights gradually get brighter during that
scene, but how many separate cues? Before they open the drapes, before they let
the sunlight in. Oh, the drapes get opened on cue five. The drapes get opened on cue five, there are
only seven in that scene. That isn’t a lot, but the first cue is, I
think probably two minutes long. Just very slowly ticking along. That’s what I wondered. Yeah, yeah. Beautiful. Let me ask Ann, is there anything as a costume
designer you would want a lighting designer to do? Twenty-five minutes or less. I mean, what would you like from a lighting
designer? I would like the lighting designer to be there,
understanding and thinking in the painting terms that I think occupy my brain, about
how things are painted. Now, that may have a lot to do with my own
work and the fact that I tend to be very painterly, in relationship to my clothing. But really, I think, early on one of the lighting
designers that I worked with who is very missed by us now, is Craig Miller (PH). And Craig taught me a great deal, as I was
really beginning to do lots of very painterly clothing, about how he used shadow. And to me, those are the greatest collaborations,
when a lighting designer can kind of capture the poetic nature of how I think light goes
on a person. I am so sorry to interrupt you, but I have
to do it. We’re going to continue this, I’m sure, afterwards. But this has been an American Theatre Wing
seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” and this has been on theatre design. This seminar has been on the costume, the
set, the lighting, and the prop designer, all the people that make theatre come alive
to you. This is coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York, and it is one more of the American Theatre Wing’s
seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” Thank you for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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