Design (Working In The Theatre #276)

(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 25th year, coming to
you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These seminars offer a rare opportunity
to explore with the panelists the realities of working in the theatre. This afternoon,
at the Design seminar, we are pleased to announce the winners of the American Theatre Wing’s
Design Award. We will learn something about how they became professionals, their work
ethic, and their reasons for being in the theatre. We hope that you will enjoy and learn
from today’s experience. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, chairwoman of the Board of the
American Theatre Wing. And now, I would like to introduce to you our moderators for the
seminar, Professor Tish Dace and previous Design Award winner, lighting designer Beverly
Emmons. Thank you so much for being here. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Isabelle. I’m Tish Dace, and
I’d like to introduce everyone. On my right is Jules Fisher, who in addition to being
a lighting designer, is a producer. He has designed over 150 Broadway shows and won seven
and BRING ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK. He’s also won innumerable American Theatre
Wing Lighting Design Awards, and has just received another one, as co-designer of RAGTIME.
And in his spare time, he designs for rock groups such as KISS, the Rolling Stones, and
David Bowie, and he’s also a magician. (LAUGHTER) Sitting next to Jules is Eugene Lee, who has
just received an American Theatre Wing Design Award for his work as production designer
of RAGTIME. He’s also won Tony Awards for CANDIDE and SWEENEY TODD, as well as Outer
Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards for the 1995 revival of SHOW BOAT. His extensive work
includes a lot of design in film, and for fun, he’s the production designer for “Saturday
Night Live.” (LAUGHTER) On my far side over here, Mary Peterson is
Julie Taymor’s associate costume designer on THE LION KING. She tells me she has been
designing for about fifteen, sixteen years professionally. She’s worked a lot as an
assistant and an associate costume designer on Broadway, for instance, for AMADEUS as
well as THE LION KING. ARCADIA. ARCADIA, excuse me. Yes, AMADEUS is a little
too far back! (LAUGHS) ARCADIA, I’m dating myself. And she’s worked in regional theatre,
particularly around New Haven, where her husband was a student of Min Cho Lee’s.
Which brings me to Ming, who is sitting next to her. Ming has been on the faculty of the
Yale Drama School for twenty-eight years, twenty-three as co-chair of the Design Department.
And he holds there the Donald Oenslager Chair in the Design Department. In the mid-fifties,
Ming apprenticed to Jo Mielziner and later he designed for Martha Graham’s dance company
and he designed for eleven years as the principal designer for Joe Papp, both indoors at the
Public Theatre and outdoors in Central Park in the Delacorte Theatre. For Papp, he did
twenty-two Shakespeare plays, as well as work on new shows such as HAIR and FOR COLORED
GIRLS. He has won a Tony and a Maharem (PH) Award.
The Maharems were the predecessor award for the American Theatre Wing Design Awards, for
K2. Ming is famous, or infamous, for having designed this enormous mountain for K2, very
impressive. He has just received a Special Achievement Award for Outstanding Service
to Theatrical Design, by providing assistance to young scenic, costume and lighting designers,
with his annual clambake, the Stage Design Portfolio Review, which is both a showcase
and a colloquium, where top designers and directors see the work of the next generation
of young designers. He’ll assemble around fifty of them from a dozen or so universities,
and for two days, they get intensive comment from important professionals.
Donald Holder, sitting next to him, is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, where he studied
with Min Cho Lee. This is the Ming side of the stage. (LAUGHTER) And he has just won
an American Theatre Wing Design Award for designing the lighting for THE LION KING.
He sort of swept the awards this year. He won a Tony for that, he won a Drama Desk Award
for that, and he won an Outer Critics Circle Award for that. He’s worked with Julie Taymor
on a number of other shows, including for example, JUAN DARIEN and THE GREEN BIRD. He
has designed on Broadway, shows like HUEY and EASTERN STANDARD and SOLITARY CONFINEMENT.
And many plays Off-Broadway, such as ALL MY SONS, AFTERPLAY, SPUNK, JEFFREY, many shows
you’ve seen. He’s designed in many resident theatres around the country, as well. And finally, sitting next to me is my co-chair,
Beverly Emmons, who lights theatre and opera, in Europe and all around the United States.
She’s won a Tony, an Obie, two Bessies, and at least three American Theatre Wing Design
Awards that I can think of right now, for PASSION and THE HEIRESS, and for JEKYLL AND
HYDE and WHEN THE WORLD WAS GREEN last season. She is also an important dance designer. She’s
worked with legendary choreographers such as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham and
also with legendary figures in the avant-garde theatre world like Richard Foreman, Meredith
Monk, and Robert Wilson. And in her spare time, she’s Artistic Director of the Lincoln
Center Institute. Welcome, all. (APPLAUSE) I’d like to begin by asking each of you
what challenges your latest show presented and how you solved them. Jules? You and Peggy,
both. All right. I’m speaking on behalf of my
partner, Peggy Eisenhauer, who couldn’t be here today, as well. Challenge. I guess
the fact that there was such a large stage space, not a dramatic space but a physical
stage space, that had to be changed over and over again to provide variety. It was a stage
large enough to have sixty performers on at one time. So this large space needed to take
on both dozens of different locales, as well as intimate, emotional places of a single
performer. And the lighting, I guess the challenge was to make each one of those different and
do it in a way that was visually rich and exciting for the audience. Also, I think another
challenge was to find a style that could be both period, because the musical play begins
in the beginning of the turn of the century, and at the same time, find a way to make it
contemporary. Those are the two things I think of as a challenge. Eugene, also on RAGTIME? The challenge? What was the question again?
(LAUGHTER) What problems or challenges or whatever did
you face on RAGTIME, designing that entire production? Boy, I don’t know. I find it hard [to say].
I think the challenge was getting the job in the first place. (LAUGHTER) You know? I
had done SHOW BOAT, that Harold directed, and I kind of really enjoyed that, because
I like boats. And then, when they were doing the second one, you know, I thought they’d
just give it to me, you know? But it didn’t quite work out that way. They called me up
to Canada, you know, and I met the director and had lunch. And then, at the end of the meal, they said,
“You know, could you –” Designers hate to hear this, you know, you want them to say,
“Yes.” But actually, they said, “Could you just draw something? You know, draw some
little thing up.” And “Knock my socks off” is what they actually said. So I don’t
know, I tried to do that, and they hired me. So that was the hardest challenge. (LAUGHTER) That’s appalling. And then, after that, designing a show with
that many different scenes was nothing at all, a piece of cake? I’m only finding my way in this kind of
theatre, you know. (LAUGHTER) It’s new to me. (LAUGHS) Okay. Don, on the lighting for THE
LION KING? Well, I think in a lot of ways, I would say
a lot of what Jules mentioned about his production is interesting. I mean, I think I had the
same kinds of concerns. Again, a very large scale production, with multiple locations.
It seems like a lot of lighting challenges these days are related somewhat to that core
issue, which is how to create an entire world on stage or evoke a world on stage with a
very kind of open environment, where scenery is only suggested or is fairly minimal. THE LION KING is a huge production, but it’s
essentially a box, a white luminous box in which the lighting needed to evoke the sunlight,
the natural light of the Serengeti, and also create kind of a magical, mythical, fantastic
place where this fable, this sort of passage of the mantle from one generation to the next
and this incredible story could take place. So, the lighting, it was a challenge trying
to fit all that in, trying to make it all work, and trying to stay within Julie’s
very, very specific vocabulary and vision for the piece. And it was a lot of fun, but
a long, long intensive process. Ming, do I remember correctly that you have
a show opening tomorrow in Arizona? I guess. (LAUGHTER) Apart from what are you doing here? We’re
glad to have you. Well, no, usually, since I’m getting pretty
old, they allow me to leave after the first preview. Actually, it went well enough that
I left before the first preview. Goodness. What is the show? LONG DAY’S JOURNEY. I must say, I agree
with Eugene. The hardest thing is to get a job. And he is succeeding and I am not! (LAUGHTER)
But I think, for me, what’s more important is to remain fresh. And to have a point of
view. To be kind of truthful to oneself, and to actually enjoy the work. And to let the
play kind of just carry you, rather than trying to impose something. And that’s not easy.
That’s not easy, but it’s a good life. It’s a good life, it’s very rich. Not
monetarily, (LAUGHTER) but very rich. So that’s the challenge. Mary, how about the challenges that you and
Julie faced on the costumes for THE LION KING? Well, I think Julie, and Michael also, I started
with them early in the process, so I heard them talk a lot about this. And Julie was
facing two very specific challenges. She had been hired by Disney. They had really taken
a chance, stuck their neck out, someone who was very avant-garde, not at all what was
expected of Disney, to reproduce on stage their baby, their most successful animated
feature ever. And so, she had to live up to the expectations of some very influential
producers, Michael Eisner and Tom Schumacher and Peter Schneider. And she also, right from the beginning, was
determined not to do what anyone expected. She was determined to maintain the actor within
the animal character. And so, to never lose the actor’s face, the actor’s personality
underneath the puppet or below the mask or behind the mask. I think everyone, when they
first heard that Disney was doing LION KING, expected fuzzy little animals on stage. And
that was one of the first quotes that we all put up on our board, as soon as it came out
in the newspaper, “There will be no actors in animal suits.” Because she was very concerned
about that, that this was an actor’s show. This was about the people and not about merely
the animals. It was about the story, and the animals were the characters in it. She said what attracted her was the humanity.
I mean, the fact that at the core of the story it’s a very human story, a very human tale. We have a guest. I’d like to welcome Mena
T. Jahey (PH). Would you like to just walk around a little bit before you sit down? (LAUGHTER)
And just show everyone — You have to work for it! Show off the costume. Yeah, she’s our Sarabi, currently. What is that from? What is the costume from? This is THE LION KING. LION KING, LION KING. This is from THE LION KING. She plays the
mother of Simba and the wife of Mufasa. She is sort of the queen of the pride of lionesses. The beading on the front of that is just beautiful. Yes, yeah. Can we get a close up of any of this costume work from these cameras? Yeah. She should stand up. It’s such beautiful work. And you know,
it’s somebody dabbing paint on something. That’s all real work. Yes? You get it? Is your headpiece very heavy? No, it’s not. And it attaches in the back
and there’s a crank. Could you sit down and we’ll mike you, so
that everybody can hear this? Her headpiece is molded out of carbon graphite.
One of my big concerns on this show was because they would have to be performing eight times
a week and they would be in these costumes repeatedly throughout the evening, that anything
that he was providing for them in terms of masks and puppets would be as light as he
could make it to date. And he’s constantly refining that. But it’s a carbon graphite
mold. Julie did the original carving, and then it was molded in carbon graphite. Michael
gets into the ounces all the time. I think they’re like seven or eight ounces. Yeah, it’s certainly less than a pound,
until we start dragging her down with all of the silk. (MENA LAUGHS) With it this close, it makes you respond to
it. Perfect! It really is so interesting that there’s
that much expression on the mask. Also, if you look at the research of African
tribal culture in the Serengeti, a lot of the ritual garments and the ritual costume
that they wore sort of evokes this. This is kind of inspired by that research. Right. This would have been carved wood, and
much heavier for the tribal performer. So we tried to give them a break. Wonderful. Have you experienced any kind of difficulties,
any sort of technical challenges, just wearing the headgear and dealing with the costume,
or is it just easy? Oh, no! (LAUGHS) Not easy! You can get caught in your silk (LAUGHS) and
almost fall. That’s happened to me a few times, but I’ve managed to learn how to
walk with the silk and the way that the wind goes through the silk. And they also provide
you with mirrors during the rehearsal process, so you can see how you need to move and move
your arms, in order to keep the flow of the costume without tripping yourself up. And
as well, there are tears that come out of the eyes. They can get tangled once in a while,
and you can be caught on stage with one tear in and one tear out. So that happens periodically. You were also talking earlier about learning
that your head gestures could be different than what you might normally make if you were
unencumbered on stage. Yes. For instance, if I just look a little
to my right, it’s so large with the headpiece on that I had to learn to make my movements
very subtle, or else it could be just too much, really, from the audience. How many dressers are needed backstage for
that? Oh, gosh. Sheila (PH)? How many of you are there? There are about
twenty-one? SHEILA
About seventeen. Oh, seventeen now? We started with a larger
number in Minneapolis, because it was a brand new show and we really had no idea how we
were going to accomplish this. But we’ve narrowed it down. And I will brag a little
bit. Now that we have New York dressers, we were able to also make it a more efficient
process. (LAUGHTER) Thank you! Yes. How many costumes are there for the seventeen
dressers to be putting on and off of people? I think there are about two hundred and forty-five
costumes? Yeah. How many do you wear? Sheila? (LAUGHTER) Oh, gosh, I would say — you
know, a flower? I think it’s six. Six, I think? Yeah, I would guess. Five or six. So the head stays and new pieces change? Or
just six different? Oh, no, no, no. This is her only appearance
as a lioness. I see. And this is when you appear as other
characters, in other costumes. Yeah. Right. This is the image for Sarabi. We have
an unusual show in that our principals don’t have all the costume changes. There’s one
look for Mufasa, there’s one look for Simba, you know, etc. Interesting. It’s the poor ensemble that suffer through
rushing around backstage, and you know, throwing off one thing and dragging on another and
hoping they make it to stage on time. Did the dressers have to learn special skills
to help people with all of the hard puppet and stilts and elaborate [things]? Yes, they did. Yes, Kjeld Andersen is our wardrobe supervisor.
And when he was interviewing crew, instead of the expectation that they would have a
lot of stitching skills and the traditional skills needed backstage on the wardrobe crew,
we were looking for people who had their own tool kits! (LAUGHTER) And who could lift heavy
things, you know? So slightly different job description on this show. And high energy.
And good disposition. I will say we have a wonderful, wonderful cast and crew, and just,
it’s such an ensemble that the show really depends on that. You can feel it. And that’s been important to everyone involved,
I think. (TO DON) I expect, for you, too. How do you get up to the top of Pride Rock
in that outfit, with that on your head? Practice! (LAUGHTER) The first time up, I
think left no blood in Mufasa’s hands. (LAUGHTER) But it’s balance. You go up a few times,
just regular clothes. Then you add the costume, and then you add the baby. And it comes out
of the basement. So the rock not only lifts, but it spins and rotates as you’re walking
up it. As you’re on it? Oh. (LAUGHS) So, practice. It’s extraordinary, really extraordinary.
Now, we’re going to go back to lighting, if I may, Tish. You said something about style
in lighting. What does that mean, “style in lighting”? You had to find a style for
RAGTIME, in all of this. What do you mean by style? Lighting is often thought of as just illumination,
putting light on a stage so that you can see people. You can see the actors speak, or see
the scenery. But it’s applied with more artistic levels than that. Theatrical lighting
is more artistic than engineering. It isn’t providing only a certain amount of light so
you can see someone, it’s how do you see that person? So that you could say a style of lighting,
the turn of the century was probably very flat. Light came from the front, either from
footlights or lights mounted on a balcony rail, a low position in the theatre. So everyone
in the scene, the lighting was flat, it had very little shadow, it had very little chiaroscuro.
So a style would have been to add backlight, so that people are now seen with greater dimension.
I think the word “style” is probably the same in any art form, whether you think of
what’s the difference between one painter’s style and another painter’s style? I think
that would apply to the lighting designers. To what extent are you using light to affect
our mood and to affect us emotionally, as opposed to illuminating? It’s a huge element. A lot. I think it’s probably the biggest of all
the functions of lighting, if they are to be able to see, so that you have enough brightness,
so that you see people. Probably the most important function would be to evoke a mood,
to create a feeling of something. It’s not just to picture people in a certain setting,
but it’s to picture people as they would feel in that setting. There’s a famous quote
of Adolphe Appia, that it’s not to light a person so you see that person standing in
a forest, but to make the audience feel as if they were standing in the forest. What
would that actor feel like if he were standing in the forest? So that I think the major element is to try
to evoke a mood throughout the play. How do you change that? If the actor wants to portray
something about sadness, how can you pick the right color that will say something about
sadness? Or what is the angle of light that will make you feel more sad than another angle
of light? And so the tools of lighting, each one is analyzed or dissected to say, “Does
this evoke the mood that the director and that the playwright want to express at that
moment?” It is really all about feelings. It’s much less about intellect. So that
when you leave the theatre, as a lighting designer, you want to have contributed to
the audience saying, “I felt something. I was moved. I was emotionally involved because
the lighting helped to do that.” Do you have something to say about that? I agree. I think that by nature, the reason
that lighting is such a powerful emotional tool, really, or component of a theatre experience
is that we’re all very sensitive to light in nature. I think that we respond, that we
have a very kind of subliminal emotional response to different light in the world. I think that
lighting designers often study the way light functions in the world and sort of store that
in their visual vocabulary and pull it out at times to really apply it to a moment or
a section of the piece. Somehow, that the light in the world provides tremendous inspiration,
at least for me, I know others, in the work that we do on stage. Because we respond to
light in the most basic kind of psychological way. And so, what the lighting designer does
is very powerful. And as Jules says, it’s very emotionally based. Well, and I think that, and I don’t know
if John and Ming would agree with this, but I think as costume and set designers, we are
totally dependent on our lighting designer to finish our work for us. And good lighting
design can make a good costume or a good set better, and bad lighting design can absolutely
destroy it. So you know, the relationship is really important. And these are the people
that really pull it all together for us. I was saying that I’d seen something last
night, and my first reaction was how disappointed I was in the lighting design, because I was
looking at scenery that had real promise and costumes that I thought were lovely, and I
thought the lighting design — And you’re not going to name the play. I absolutely won’t! (LAUGHTER) But I thought
it was a big mess. I thought that the lighting design had really changed so much about how
I felt about what that production should have been. Go ahead. I wanted to say one other thing. One of Ming’s
colleagues, Jennifer Tipton, who teaches at Yale, my former teacher, had a very apropos
statement. She said that ninety-nine percent of the audience is unaware of the lighting,
but a hundred percent is affected by it. And I think that’s very apropos. Sorry, Ming. Oh, no. I think the lighting is actually the
glue that eventually puts everything together, including actors and so forth. Without lights,
you won’t see anything (LAUGHTER) and so there will be nothing. I just like being a
teacher, so I can’t stop talking. A lot of people feel that us designers are essentially
problem solvers. And I think that is a little bit misleading. The challenge seems to be
solving problems. I think we are actually problem creators, to be solved. (LAUGHTER)
Because it’s all about our ideas. It’s all about how you instinctively, impulsively
relate, connect with the piece of work. And therefore, the directors, the actors, the
designers, are really problem creators. If you don’t create problems, there is no problem
to be solved. And I think this is something that once you
start thinking that way, you kind of free yourself from solving problems. And to be
a director, to be a dramaturg, how do you read a play? And there is this vision, there
is this goal, there is this connection, and you have to somehow do a transformation from
words into life, into imagery, into human events. And you have to get there, and that
is creating problems. And I think that makes designing a much more exciting work and life,
because we are the problem creators, and then we solve them. One of the things I remember from graduate
school was “There are no problems, just solutions.” That was a big watchword of
mine. What did you study in school, when you decided
to be a lighting designer? Were you an engineer first or what were you doing? I was a forestry major. (LAUGHTER) We knew it was something. I got a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry,
at the University of Maine. But of course, I was always interested in lighting. I mean,
just as anybody does, I mean, especially when you’re a teenager, you have a lot of interests.
And forestry, being in the outdoors was one, and theatre and lighting, actually, was a
very big interest of mine from an early age, because my parents took me to the theatre
starting when I was very young. And I remember a lot of productions that I saw were kind
of pivotal and for some reason, really affected me and really inspired me to kind of pursue
the profession I eventually have been fortunate enough to be a part of. So it’s something I’ve wanted for a long
time. And eventually, the more I work in the profession, the more I realize that I didn’t
know enough, that I was operating completely on instinct. And that’s why — Not a bad thing. Yeah, no. I mean, I think what my training
did, I thought that I needed to get some formal training. And I think what the core of training
at Yale was learning how to work, learning a process, applying a structure to the creative
process and figuring out how to really approach a play in a more kind of disciplined way.
Not in a scientific or engineering kind of point of view, but really sort of doing work
that’s coherent, that’s cohesive, that’s somehow unified and related completely to
the text and the production. And so, I was fortunate enough to study, go to graduate
school, really because I recognized my own shortcomings. And that’s pretty much my
training. I’d like to speak to the style issue in
lighting, a little bit, because at the very beginning of my career, there was a very specific
problem, if you like, that were being posed by a group of creative people, now sort of
we know as the avant-garde, whatever that means. But it meant something quite specific,
in terms of lighting. And lekos had been invented. A lot of exploration had been done through
the fifties. In modern dance, Tom Skelton (PH) and Nick Surnavitch (PH) were exploring
very richly colored environments, because the new equipment could take strong color.
And on Broadway, also, there was a vocabulary that included a lot of color. And a lot of the people that I began working
with, all of them separately, they each thought they’d invented it on their own, Meredith
Monk, Robert Wilson, Joe Chaikin, all these people wanted white light. It was a whole
thought that light should be plain, not glamorous. Clear. White as in, “Is there gel in that
light? Please take it out.” White, white, clear. Good thinking, yeah. Yeah, sure. Very clear, simple. But of course, they wanted
something that was plain, not dramatic. But then the rigidity of that, of the idea of
saying, “Well, then, why not just have a fluorescent light? Why have lekos at all?
Why have stage lights?” Except if you go to light a play and you have only a fluorescent
light on, that becomes extremely dramatic and powerful. That’s not plain and unglamorous
any more. Because we don’t expect it on a stage, it becomes a stronger statement than
one thought about when one said, “Well, let’s just have a plain fluorescent light.” And this is an example, I think, of a sort
of a break with the past definition of “style” that was articulated at that time. I think
they explored it in their fullness, and we’ve let it go, as not an interesting problem any
more. We’ve solved it many different ways, and we’ve taken what we’ve learned back
in to serve the center, which very often happens in the avant-garde explorations. It waxes
and wanes, and at the moment, that’s been understood and used. But it’s an example
of [style]. Can I add a couple of thoughts about style,
related to that? As Ming would say, it comes from presenting a problem and then trying
to solve it. I often argued in that era with those who would say, “Well, we’re going
to do it with just white light.” There’s nothing wrong with that at all, if that’s
what the play demands, if this play should be done in white light, or if this play should
be done with all light from the rear. But it’s the play itself, I think, clearly,
you’d say, that should tell you whether it should be one style or another. Right, right. And there’s the whole idea of having style,
just a comment about that in general, which is I’d like to think that I don’t have
“a style,” that I will pick or use the style that’s necessary for that production,
and not that I will always have this kind of light or that kind of light. And I know
Eugene will have some strong — We don’t agree. We don’t agree about this. But I think,
in the case of an art, I’ve done some shows with absolutely no color whatsoever. The red light is very good, though. (LAUGHTER)
See the good thing about Jules, you know, is that you say, “Yeah, lighting is bunk
these days, it’s all too technological.” But you know, the great thing about Jules
is you say, “We have this idea. Could we have this really, like, red light? You know,
like a little flash. You know, boom!” Right? (JULES LAUGHS) Then the next comes these huge
instruments that cost thirty thousand dollars, it’s as big as a wall, you know what I mean?
(LAUGHTER) When it flashes, you know, it’s like the biggest flash you’ve ever seen.
Has a cable going into it this big. It was spectacular, I thought. It was great. It was very beautiful! (LAUGHTER) Well, talking again about mood — What is this nonsense about? I don’t understand
this panel. I mean, I’m getting confused. You know, I’m just a funny guy from Rhode
Island, you know what I mean? And I’ve worked for the same theatre for thirty-five years.
Probably a flaw, you know, a character flaw. (LAUGHTER) And I think I did that because,
you know, I mean, I thought we had a style. You know what I mean? Well, Eugene, I stopped talking about style,
because I don’t understand it. I’m confused. See, I guess I’m the only
one. All this nonsense about what it looks like. Who cares what it looks like? I mean,
I hate that. You know, it makes me crazy. If you don’t care, what do you care about? I could care about what it looks like, it’s
the process that’s interesting! It’s the process that’s interesting. A resident company
is interesting. Seeing the same actors, you know, year after year, do different [things],
this is interesting to me. I mean, you know, you have to wander into New York, or they
don’t take you serious. They don’t buy tickets to the process! So you’d have a problem with imagistic theatre,
like Robert Wilson? I don’t know him. You don’t know him? (LAUGHS) I was working for Peter Brook in France, and
a group of us, after having some pot or something, went over and saw DEATH MAN’S GLANCE (PH),
you know what I mean? And it was the funniest, the greatest thing I ever saw. The French
sat there, very quietly, looking at it, you know? That’s the one with the nannies that
dance down, had the big turtle with the apple? (TISH LAUGHS) It was just great. It was fabulous.
It was fabulous. But may I interject? (LAUGHTER) When you say,
“It’s the process,” but is the process about something that you end up with that
an audience then sees? Yeah, they’re not going to buy tickets to
a process. They buy tickets to what you finished with. Yeah. The process is what you do before the
audience walks in. Now, if you have a valuable process or an
interesting, enlivened, encouraged and powerful process, you might come up with a better product
than somebody else. That’s where process is important. But that’s not what the audiences
are ultimately buying tickets to. Also, I think that we’re faced with restrictions
in what we do. We’re faced with limitations. And I think that particularly lighting designers,
in terms of time, space, budget, I mean, we have to face those realities because of the
way theatre works in this country. We don’t have a lot of time for a piece to evolve,
which unfortunate. He was in the theatre every day! He never
left! Except, well, RAGTIME. But even RAGTIME, even
a production of that scale and scope, I mean, you have to make decisions early on. And my
point is that I think that what lighting designers do is we have to come up with, like, a visual
vocabulary for a piece, that’s based on the vision of the overall production. What
the play is, how the director sees the play, what the set design is. That there’s a specific
visual vocabulary which can be shaped and changed and it can evolve somewhat. It can be romanticized and sweetened, it can
be sharpened and hardened. Right. And it goes way beyond just front light
and back light that provides basic illumination. But that’s kind of how you develop a, quote
unquote, style for a piece. Since you both represent two big shows that
are here, how does it come about? What is the process? You’re there to not only create
a mood but also to have us look at the costumes and the sets. Which comes to you first, as
the lighting designer? First, they have to get hired. Yeah! (LAUGHS) You have to get hired. And when are you asked to light these costumes
or to light this set? What’s the process there? Well, I think that the first step is always
connecting with the material, is becoming familiar with the piece and understanding
the piece and understanding how the light will function, on a certain level, in this
production. And then from there, you go through the process of developing your vocabulary,
your ideas, and carving out the space in a way and creating, locating lighting within
the frame of the production. And then, things like costume palette and scenery palette and
everything informs all of your choices, informs the kinds of color filters you’ll use, the
kinds of colors you use, the overall palette. But I think that, you know, our work, as Jules
said, is really aesthetically based as well. I mean, the first thing we do, just like every
other artist involved with the production, is really communicate with the rest of the
creative team and read the play and really understand the production. And then we can
go on and do our work. Well, and as an outsider to the lighting process,
what I’ve observed both Jules and Don do, so much of their process is in the theatre,
once all of us are done with our creative part of it. You know, we’ve designed the
costumes, we’ve designed the scenery. Now we’re just fixing things and fine-tuning
it and whatever. But the lighting designer, no matter how many plots they’ve drawn,
no matter how many plans, no matter how many instruments they’ve ordered and how many
gels they’ve chosen ahead of time, a lot of it doesn’t really happen until they get
into the theatre. Right. And they’re sitting there with the director
at their side. I always have an image that scenery and costume
designers get a chance to be by themselves, draw something and (MIMES THROWING IT AWAY)
say, “I don’t like that.” Okay? Lighting designers do that in public, and that’s
the important thing. Lighting designers do that “I don’t like that” business in
front of everybody. Oh, yes. Yes. And you have to get past that real quick to
something that you do like. But you don’t have the luxury of sleeping on it, coming
back in the morning, necessarily, which one does in the privacy of one’s office. That makes for one of the difficulties in
the theatre for a lighting designer, [which] is that we have to have the opportunity to
fail. As you say, with a costume sketch, you can throw it away before you’ve shown it
to the director. Right. For the most part, we put something up there
on the stage and we look at it and we say we don’t like it, but everyone is seeing
it! Right. And really, they come up to you and say, “We
don’t like that,” (LAUGHTER) before we’ve had a chance to say we don’t like that. Well, usually the T.D. promises you time to
try that, but you never get it. No, no, you never get it. How expensive is that, when you say, “No”? Well, it’s expensive in [that] just every
minute in the theatre, at least in the professional theatre, the commercial theatre, is expensive.
Because there are a lot of people on salary every hour, and you have a deadline. You want
to get to a preview or a dress rehearsal or an opening night, and every hour is valuable,
because all departments want to use that time. It’s not the salaried people that are the
problem, it’s those hourly people. (LAUGHTER) Yes! But also, you know, we have to kind of figure
out space. I mean, we have to be able to, prior to the beginning of the process in the
theatre, if the lighting designer hasn’t really figured out where the positions are,
how the light will work within the rest of the scenic environment, there’s not a lot
of leeway there once you get into a theatre. I mean, you have to make a lot of decisions
up front. I mean, you can reject a certain amount of your ideas once you begin the process
of technical rehearsals, but a certain amount you’re committed to. Right. And that’s, I think, one of the most stressful
parts of the job. The process you’re describing of the costume
designer and the set designer doing their work, and then the lighting designer coming
in, is not quite what I see in some elements of RAGTIME. Because many of the pieces of
the set in RAGTIME actually have lights on them. Presumably, the two of you coordinated
that? Or did you go out and do your own lighting on the set, Eugene? You mean, the practical lights? Yes. The lights on the boats at the beginning,
where you see the lights and the sails when the sailboat goes upstage. And throughout
the show there’s a lot of that, more than in most shows. Well, first of all, Eugene is a lighting designer,
by the way. Not like some. Not by your terms. Yes! Yeah, sure you are. (LAUGHS) Does that mean he put his own lights
on the set? He did. We got sketches from Eugene and it
would say “a light here.” And then, in that case, I was serving Eugene just to provide
the right size lightbulb, or how to get it there, how to get the wire there. Well, I
might suggest a place. But you suggested almost all of them. No, I want to go back for a second
to Eugene and let Eugene talk a little more about his bluffing about this process, because
the result is a wonderful design. Yes, you go through a process, but the set for RAGTIME
has moments of brilliance. And the audience doesn’t see the process, the audience sees
the result of the process. I guess. (LAUGHTER) if the lights are bright
enough. There you go! You want to show the model? No, no, no, no. Oh, yes! Oh, come on! Come on, come on, come on. You just got praised for your brilliance.
This is your cue. Can we see the model? This is your cue. Do you have a model with you? Yes, I have a model. I’ll bet Jules will be happy to help you
bring it over here. I’ve got it. Let me carry the whole thing for you. Well, I had it. You’re too good. Whoop, I can’t walk. Here you go. Now, this is the best part of it. Whoops! That’s perilously close to the edge.
Okay. I’m nervous, Ming. Because Ming doesn’t
generally like my things. Makes me really uneasy. (LAUGHTER) We’ll get Ming’s critique later! Says who? It’s in print. (LAUGHTER) It’s okay. I thought you didn’t read it! (LAUGHTER) It’s for my book. No, it’s okay. What
are we doing this for? Guys! Tell us what it is! Tell us what it is. Yes. No, no, no. See, actually the thing that’s
interesting, you see in the Times? See, it’s not about — What is this set? This is some silly thing, you know. (LAUGHTER)
No, in the Times the other day, you see in last Saturday’s Times, someone wrote in,
they said, “Why don’t they just rebuild Penn Station?” Because there was an article
in the Times saying Amtrak, now they’re putting in the fast speed train, they’re
going to really fix up Penn Station a little bit because it’s looking a little bad. You
know, all of this construction going on. And they’re going to get rid of the handrails
of the original station, you know? And I thought to myself, “Oh, great!” You know, they
never seem to get it. You know? I mean, now they’re going to get rid of the one little
moment that’s left of the old Penn Station, as you go down to the tracks, you know? And
under that floor is certainly the original floor. So anyway, I don’t know. RAGTIME
was the same pull. I mean, RAGTIME, the producer said, I don’t know, you know — Which set is this? This is for RAGTIME. It’s a little piece
of Penn Station. You know, this tries to be a little piece. It fails, but it tries to
be. (LAUGHTER) Right. But it tries to be a little piece, you know.
Yeah. Oh, there’s a piece missing from this. Here you go. See, the
only things that interest me, but see, it doesn’t have anything to do with this nonsense,
I’ll demonstrate, you know? And again, it’s not my idea. There are probably no original
ideas, you know. Years ago, I don’t know when, a long time ago, a director I still
work for, one of those experimental guys with the white light (LAUGHTER), Andre Gregory,
we’re doing a new play. Right. He takes about five or six years to get his
plays on, you know. (LAUGHTER) You know, it takes a lot. We’re working on one now. So
he had said, you know, “Go to the Berliner Ensemble.” This is when the wall was up,
you know? And so, I thought, “Great.” So I went, you know, and it was pretty interesting.
I’m just a boy from Wisconsin, you know what I mean? You put your little passport
in the slot, you know, and they took it away and all that, at that time. That was scary? Very scary, you never thought you’d get
it back. Yeah, don’t give the passport! And Ming, you had to spend so much money in
East Germany. This is how the world has changed. Anyway, so one of the shows they did, were
on the repertoire, I mean, I’m a regional theatre guy. New York, I feel uneasy just
being here. You’re looking at me on it! (LAUGHS) They were doing ST. JOAN OF THE STOCKYARDS
there, you may know that play. Yes. At the end of the play, there’s a wonderful
image. You know, they push you up on the platform, and there’s like capitalists, you know,
like J. P. Morgan and all, holding her up, you know? And the platform is about, oh, I
don’t know, seven feet high. Has a little, higher than this, valance. About this size,
though. And then, at the very moment at the end of the play, the little valance falls
away and all the proletariat is beneath, holding it up. It’s a wonderful little kind of simple
[thing]. You’re telling us you stole that from the
Berliner Ensemble? (LAUGHS) No, I thought, when we got to this, you know,
there was this kind of moment, you know, where we had to have J. P. Morgan stroll on, and
there was all this struggling about the East Side, you know. So you know, we just had this
little bridge come down and just crush people, you know? (LAUGHTER) It was fun. It was just
sort of a wonderful image. The rest of it, who cares how it was done? See, it’s not
so much what it looks like with me. That’s why, you know, you want to break it out of
me, this was actually two different studies done for two different stairways for sightlines
problems or some lighting problem. One is New York, and one was Chicago or Los Angeles,
I forget. But the thing is, like, in that show you didn’t like — SHOW BOAT. SHOW BOAT, yeah. But I do like this! The theme park, the theme park. Yeah. So you did read it? I read it! I wrote a letter of apology! Someone called me up. But that’s okay. I
like the theme park approach to it. But in that, you see, the way I think at least, there’s
one thing in this show, too, I like. Little things, you know. Again, we had a little transition
problem, and Harold was insisting I would have to solve it, of course. And so, we had
to get the little kitchen on. And so we had the company come on, and they pulled up just
a big muslin drop with cotton fields painted on, you know? And then that hid the little
scene change behind, and then blacks came on, they pulled it down and tossed it into
a cart, and then they pulled the set down. And all of the critics loved it, you know?
It all meant so much, you know? (LAUGHTER) You know, but it has nothing [to do with it].
It was wonderful, you know? See, for me, I get confused by this. I didn’t want to come
on a panel like this. See, I had actually heard, were you the one who said someone walked
off the panel? No! What was the story? No, we were talking about what would happen
if somebody had to leave before we were done. Oh, whatever. We thought maybe we’d just create a scene
and somebody would walk off in a huff. Oh, whatever. See I’m not good at this. I’m very glad to hear it. Methinks you protest
too much! But I’m confused! Yes. I think you protest too much. And I’m
delighted that you’re here. Me, too. Eugene, why does the clock have no hands in
Penn Station? More to the point is why is the clock incorrectly
done? Because we realized, you see, much more to the point, because the clock, you understand.
You know, one, two, you know, Roman numerals, right? On a clock face, when you get to four,
four lines, okay? It’s not like IV. On a clock face, they use four lines. Did you know
this? Look around at the clocks. All clocks have four dashes. Four dashes for four. Instead of the numeral IV, you know? Right, right. Because the way it falls on the dial, you
get confused, you know? I didn’t know that. I guess, we had all the research, you know?
You get it up in the air, you start getting the letters, you know what I mean? (LAUGHTER)
The clock had no face, I don’t know. We don’t want to have it. You know, who wants
to look at [it]? Who noticed that? I want to know who noticed
that. I think that’s really interesting! (LAUGHS) I do, too! (LAUGHTER) A wonderful man, a wonderful lawyer from Connecticut,
saw the picture of the set [which] was in the New Yorker. And there was a picture of
the set, not a very good photo, (LAUGHTER) okay? But a very good photographer, and a
very nice man. So the clock was nicely seen, you know, so the letters came. And he was the one who knew that traditionally? So we changed it. We sent someone up and they
changed it. (LAUGHTER) Got some stagehand to climb up. Mr. Lee, because the Wing is interested in
creating new people for the theatre and all its aspects, I’m so pleased at what you’re
doing. Would you elaborate a little bit on your clambake, which is not a clambake? Has
anyone come out of it? How many? Well, I feel I have said it all. But I’d
like to say, you know, all of us like things and dislike things. The one thing that one
learns to do is not to talk to a reporter (LAUGHS) when you have an opinion to express.
And now it’s in print, and then it embarrassed the hell out of me. Anyway, so I quickly wrote
a letter of apology to Eugene, but at that time, you didn’t read it. You wrote me back,
saying, “What the hell are you talking about?” But anyway, I also must say that it makes
me very nervous with all this design talk. Me, too! Very nervous. We’re doers, not talkers. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Not only that, when you reduce to design talk,
it’s all about “how to.” And what we are really interested in as design is “what”
and “why.” And I think that is at the gist of what theatre is all about. How to,
you have to have it, you have to have the skill. Then you do it. But what is difficult
is the what and the why. Is it worth doing? What is it all about? We’re all about context.
Without context, what is theatre? Theatre is about life. It’s about human events. And so, in some way, if you talk about design,
theatre lighting, eventually you have to talk about theatre, and why is it there? Is it
worth doing? And therefore, is it worth designing for? I always feel that we are people who
do an act of transformation. All we have is words, and with directors and actors, they
transform words into real people, engage in real human events and an experience to be
shared with audience. And is it worth sharing? Is it dangerous? Does it offend people? If
the theatre doesn’t offend people, that’s a political statement, and I think it’s
pretty tepid theatre and probably it’s not worth doing. And so, there is so much to talk about. And
the how to, you can learn any time. You can learn it at age 68, and perhaps at age 78,
you may do something, the how to, and you will continue to learn. Both the what and
the why is something that needs to be nurtured, to make people aware of. And that means that
you, and I love mixing around with people who are younger than I am, and to know what’s
in their mind, what bothers them. To encourage them to have something to say. And this is
the country, and if we don’t do something about it, this country still allows you to
say anything. You go to China, and you’re in trouble. You say anything and you will
have Tiananmen Square, and 4,000 people later, and they still don’t care about human rights. So in some way, coming back to the clambake,
what I feel important is to gather people together and talk about the what and the why.
And then, is there the skill or something that gets in the way of [being] able to articulate
the what and the why? And that is what the clambake is all about. And I feel that, very
selfishly, I’ve found that if I’m strictly teaching at Yale and all I see are the Yale
students’ work, then I’m isolated. And this is a big country. And I just simply would
not allow myself to be isolated. So selfishly, I would like to see people from another school,
other schools. And I have to tell you, I steal a lot of ideas from them. (LAUGHTER) I think you’re saying for the what and the
why, are you getting back to the word, that that’s the important thing? Well, I guess. Well, words, music, and the
what. What is the action? What is the human events? And you know, in the old days, I had
not remembered I actually was the first Maharem Award receiver, and big deal. Big deal, big
deal! If I designed the way I did in ‘64, I should be shot, because, you know. (LAUGHTER)
But the thing is, in the old days, I keep talking about sculptural material, blah-blah-blah,
blah-blah-blah. And now, what I enjoy is when suddenly I’m stuck, and I’ll read the
play again. Do you know, the American Theatre Wing seminars
have focused on the performer and on the playwright and the director and the choreographer and
the producer and how you produce a show. And today’s seminar on the design has been one
of the most interesting and fascinating ones and thinking ones that we’ve had. And without
the people that are on the panel today, there really would be no theatre, despite what you’re
saying about how important the play is. It is only as important as you make it come to
life for the audience, because without it, it’s that flat lighting that you talked
about. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for coming to the Wing’s seminar
and sharing this knowledge with you. You know that the American Theatre Wing is
more than a sponsor of seminars and more than our famous Tony Awards, which is created for
excellence in the theatre. We are an organization whose year-round programs are dedicated to
serving the theatre and the community, with a goal of developing new audiences and new
people coming into the theatre. And to achieve that goal, we have created development programs
for students, like “Introduction to Broadway,” which began seven years ago and has enabled
more than 70,000 New York City high school students to attend a Broadway show, for many
of them, for the very first time. And through our newest program, “Theatre in Schools,”
the theatre professionals, like the people that you’ve seen on these panels, go directly
into classrooms to work with and talk to students about working in the theatre. In addition, we have our hospital program,
which dates back to World War Two and our legendary Stage Door Canteen. And today’s
version of the program uses talent from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the cabaret world, to entertain
patients in nursing homes, veteran’s hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers in the
New York area, to bring the magic of theatre to those who cannot get to the theatre itself.
We are proud of the work we do, and happy for a wonderful working relationship with
the theatrical community. We are grateful to everyone who makes what the Theatre Wing
does possible. And now, I’d like to thank you once more
on behalf of the American Theatre Wing. I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I’m Chairwoman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing. And these seminars are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. Thank you very, very much for being here.

Add a Comment

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