Design (Working In The Theatre #284)

(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 26th year,
coming to you from the new 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 is devoted to the Design Seminar,
those wonderful people that create the magic that brings live theatre to you. We will learn something about how and why
these designers 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, Chairman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing. And so, quickly, let me introduce our moderators
for the seminar. Professor and critic Tish Dace, and Professor
of Theatre at UCLA and a working scenic and lighting designer, Neil Peter Jampolis. Tish, would you start right away, please? Yes, thank you. To my right is lighting designer Michael Chybowski. Michael has designed several shows for Laurie
Anderson, most recently MOBY DICK AND OTHER STORIES. In September 1999, he received the Hughes
(PH) Design Award for CYMBELINE at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, and for Margaret
Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winner, WIT. Next to Michael is the legendary Ann Roth,
costume designer for at least a hundred plays, on Broadway, in regional theatres, and Off-Broadway. She has been nominated for several Tonys,
for CRUCIFER OF BLOOD, THE ROYAL FAMILY and THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES. In her spare time, she has designed seventy
films, and she won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Neil? On my left, first is David Hays, one of the
very few candidates for the title of “Great American Designer.” After a brief thirty-five years as the Founding
Artistic Director of the National Theatre of the Deaf, he is now a best-selling writer. And before he left our design fraternity,
he produced fifty wonderful set or lighting designs on Broadway, some thirty ballets for
George Ballanchine and others at the New York City Ballet, and operas. Along with Robert Edmond Jones, he’s the designer
most closely associated with the plays of Eugene O’Neill. To his left is Abe Jacob, a pioneer in the
field of Broadway sound design, and one of those rare talents whose best work works best
when it goes unremarked. A master of his craft, he’s made such sound-heavy
musicals as JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA sound just right, while making operas for
the New York City Opera sound natural and unamplified. He’s also the best sound designer I’ve ever
worked with. And to his left is Greg Meeh. If it’s a bomb, tear gas, infernos, blinding
flashes and smoke you’re looking for, a short trip to the Brooklyn studios of Yokum (PH)
and Meeh will get you that and much more. Better yet, visit one of the many theatres
using his very special effects. And whether it’s PHANTOM or MISS SAIGON, JEKYLL
AND HYDE or RAGTIME, Cirque du Soleil or AN INSPECTOR CALLS, the best in special effects
come from these very talented guys. Tish, why don’t you begin? I’d like to begin with a really basic question. What is the purpose, or what are the purposes,
of each of your design fields? I know some of you do more than one. Ann, could you begin? What are you trying to particularly accomplish
in costume design? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Great opening question,
Tish! Well, what do I want to accomplish? It’s my life. It’s my life! I was thinking the other day, I’m not working
at the moment, and the fact that I’m not working – I don’t have any personal phone calls. The only phone calls I ever get or the only
thing that involves me has to do with my work. Everything I do is work-related. I guess I set it up that way. Well, when you design a costume, what is the
purpose of the costume design? What are you focusing on accomplishing with
the design? Oh, oh, oh! Well, that’s different. I never do “a” costume. I never see one person on a stage at one time. I mean, that does happen, of course, but that’s
a rarity. It’s a group of people moving in and out with
one another. I do the clothes for the support of the actor,
for the character, that the literature describes. That’s what I try to do without making it
– you know, I’m not a “big deal” designer. I don’t want everybody to say, “What a great
red dress!” (DAVID SNORTS) or whatever. That’s not my thing. But it just works for the actor? I hope it does. I mean, and that happens in the fitting room,
and then it gets on stage, and then, dah-dah-dah-dah. The lighting and the director and whatnot,
it’s this collaborative thing. I’m sure you know that. But that’s how I start, as clothes for the
character, whether it’s seventeenth century or now, where the underwear comes from and
what happens to it when it’s taken off. And that’s my thing. Is that what you mean? Is that the question? Yes, yes, that’s terrific. Michael, presumably lighting design has something
more to accomplish than simple illumination. I think the best way that I can think of to
phrase it is you’re trying to make things be seen as honestly as possible and in such
a way that it supports the story that you’re trying to tell. You can literally color the light or change
the shape of the space with light to make it unrecognizable. Like, a set design can be put up and a lighting
design can change it radically, and that’s not the goal. The goal is to sort of present what’s there
in as direct a way as possible, to support the story that’s being told. David, what about scene design, if you could
take that? Or if you have something further to add about
lighting, please do. It’s the same thing. The point is, you’ve got actors, and where
are they? Which doesn’t necessarily mean the literal
place, they’re not necessarily in front of the kitchen or the bathroom. But it could be a space in the mind, but you
locate your actors in some space, realistic or not. Exactly, right. Sets, lighting, essentially does that. That’s a simple answer. Abe, what about sound design? Well, there are two basic requirements or
functions of sound design. First, as analogous to lighting, it’s simple
illumination. It’s making sure that every seat in the theatre
that you’re in hears what is being produced, either by the actor or the singer or the musician. So that’s the common, basic requirement of
sound design, to allow everyone in the theatre to hear what’s being produced. Then on top of that, for a number of productions,
it’s also doing special effects and creating moods or creating atmosphere or creating an
off-stage effect that does what the playwright or the composer has asked you to do. But those are the two basic functions of sound,
to make everybody aware of what’s being done by the performer and to create the effect. Greg, Abe mentioned special effects, presumably
sound special effects. What about the other special effects? Let me go to the basic question first. We’re all serving the piece, the literature
or the concept, because sometimes the literature and the concept are quite different. But we’re creating that magic, the overall
picture, feeling, emotion. As Ms. Roth said, she doesn’t like it when,
she doesn’t go for “What a beautiful red dress!” I’m in a part of the theatre where very often
something can be spectacular and it is eye-catching. But my favorite effects are the things that
are essential to the show, come out of the show, that motivate and are less spectacular
than the big flameball or the big lightning blast. But a director, usually, they probably know
more about costumes than they know about special effects. And when you’re hired, when they ask you to
join, do you find that they want you to take them somewhere where they never dreamt of
going? Do they want to have some excitement, some
volcano, something – I don’t mean literally. But I mean, some – Well, literally! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, of course, of course! But I mean, do they want you to lift them? I’m sure it’s the same for you. Some directors, they know exactly what they
want, and I think they limit themselves by knowing exactly what they want. Well, that’s where I’m interested. My preferred way of working is when, as I’m
sure yours, when you’re part of the initial creative team that forms a concept. Nick Hytner, Bob Crowley and Natasha Katz
(PH) on TWELFTH NIGHT. You know, they wanted rain, they wanted water. But it wasn’t “Give me a rainstorm here now.” It’s “How can we make this moment?” Or what kind of rain and what kind of water,
yeah. Yeah, right. Let me be a little more specific about what
I said. Yes, what a designer, what all of us supply
is who the actors are, where are they. But then you can achieve, and every one of
us in his way does it, I believe, something specific. And a small example, I did a show, and the
director – at this scene, the husband comes home in the middle of the day to find his
– am I allowed to say this at CUNY? (LAUGHTER) – to find his wife in bed with
a gentleman. (LAUGHTER) As long as he’s a gentleman! I’m being as . . . Yeah, yeah, yeah! (LAUGHTER) Anyway, what the director wanted at this moment
was that the front door of the apartment was in the middle of the stage, the bed was on
that side, the toilet was on that side. The husband or wife – I don’t remember,
but it seemed important at the time – has gone to the john. So when the husband comes in, one of them
is on one side and one of them is on the other. They can’t get together. The husband’s in the middle. The scene, the action, the spine of the scene,
as he would say, is he looks one way, he looks the other, they can not get together to face
him as a group. Yeah? So not only is it where you are, what the
apartment’s like, but you’ve set up what is called the architecture of the action. You’ve put something there which very specifically
moves the play in an exact direction at that moment. Yeah, and actually, I think design as a whole,
it’s kind of the cumulative effect of a whole series of moments like that, make the entire
story appear inevitable. And I think that’s what the most successful
design is about, is when a whole series of those are strung together and the whole evening
sort of just makes sense that way. Where do you think the impetus for that comes
from? Does it come directly from the play, or filtered
through the director? What would you say, for all of you, is your
ideal relationship with a director? How much do you want from him or her? About fifteen years ago, I was invited to
have that very discussion at Juilliard with students, young, very impressionable kids. And I, at that time, said that my main thing
was to support the director, to help him realize his dreams or his vision. And I’m still getting guff from that. Do you understand why I am? Absolutely. Isn’t that funny? I didn’t. For years, I didn’t understand why that would
be a point of argument. Do you? Yes, you must. Not necessarily. People were saying it should be the playwright? They were saying things like, “Are you crazy?” No, no, no, no, no. They were saying that I must get what I want
first. Well, I understand it. Because it’s the question of whether we are
artists or artists of occasion. I don’t see it. No, I think we’re hired to serve something
else. Well, but you’re not individual artists. You just mentioned the collaboration, and
the theatre is a collaborative art. I mean, it sounds like and is a cliche, but
it’s absolutely true. One can’t work, or shouldn’t work, without
the other, I think. I think you’d agree to that, wouldn’t you? Well, I don’t think any of us can do anything
without the other. Right. No, but – No, we know that. We have changes, I think, that have occurred,
especially on Broadway over the last twenty years, in that we’ve gone through cycles. And from the seventies through the eighties,
it seemed to be the director was the one in charge. It was the director’s medium, because we had
the star director/choreographers, especially for musicals, who had their vision and created
the entire show based on what they thought the concept of that particular piece should
be. And then, since that time, we have now gone
back to what I call the “management” direction or production of theatre – Umm-hmm, yeah. — where it’s basically controlled by the
producer and the manager. So it’s their idea, and everyone works to
what either their budget or their idea of that production should be. But in any event, the design team really is
an extension of the authors and the composers, as well as the director, and it all needs
to work together. And the best shows that I’ve been involved
with are where, especially, sound was brought in as early as the time when the lighting
and scenery people were brought in. Because working together with everyone, you
eliminate what I think is the biggest problem in working in the theatre, and that’s the
surprise. That’s the one thing you really can’t – When does that happen, when everybody is brought
in together? Who comes first, and then falls into place? Well, I find that it’s usually scenery, because
that’s what develops and drives the entire production. And costumes, because that’s also part of
it. But lighting and sound, I think, are as important
as those two, and if you’re trying to do an event or a production that is a real collaborative
effort, where everyone works together and you have a seamless display of all of the
talents involved. What sort of surprises have you encountered,
when that didn’t happen? Simple things, such as the sound designer
not being hired until after the show is in rehearsal, or ready to start into the theatre. And you find that the particular theatre that
you’re in, the scenery has totally taken over the proscenium arch, so there’s no place for
simply putting loudspeakers. So you have to compromise and put them someplace
else, which leads to either a bad sound design or compromising the scenic designer’s intention. Things of that sort. If that’s all known in advance, you can eliminate
all of that, or as working with Neil, we’ve hidden things in the scenery, so it becomes
invisible and works. That kind of surprise that you have at the
last minute, it’s impossible to deal with. Yes. Very often, it’s a real estate question. The first person to get there claims real
estate and is very reluctant to give it up. But if, as you say, everyone is there from
the beginning – once a piece of scenery is built, it’s very expensive to go rework
it and make space for something else. If you’re there at the beginning, it’s the
same price, so why not be there from the beginning? I’d like to touch something that, Abe, your
question about sound special effects, which relates to the collaboration. Effects work best when they are a sequence
and an overlay of elements. If I just put a flame or explosion on stage,
without the support from the sound department, without the lighting level coming down, so
that it can make a statement, it doesn’t work. And the eye and the mind of the audience is
not pulled in and does not believe. But when you start overlaying elements, you
start creating a whole piece. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ann’s work is seen by the audience, immediately. But lighting, other than special effects,
is not seen by the audience. The effect that you get is something that
happens, but the audience does not know that. Well, what happens is every one of us is clever
enough to manipulate this or we wouldn’t be sitting here. And I worked with a lighting designer once
– no one here! – who was trying to make a name for himself. And he did, and he hasn’t worked much since. And he did what he had to do to please everyone,
to illuminate the actors. And then he spent the rest of time and budget
doing special effects which called attention to his skill, but had nothing to do with giving
the stage a quality, helping the scenery to create the milieu which it was intended to
do and so forth. We’ve worked with directors who are troubled
that someone might think it was the actor’s skill rather than theirs! Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was a chap I worked with – well-known
at the time, he’s not alive any more, poor fellow – who had a great deal of incidental
music. And he would have the actors touch each other,
[DEMONSTRATES] ping! Just at the moment when there was a musical
there. Now, this clearly couldn’t be the actors’
invention, it must have been the director’s! So the show was full of things which could
only be credited to the director. Sure. And we all can do these things. And it gets to be what you call survival time. If people bail out, the show’s going down
the tubes, they might as well have their part of the show look well, then that’s just miserable. I thought it was called “ego.” Yeah. (TISH LAUGHS) Where do you learn lighting? Excuse me? Where does one learn lighting? Well, I’m special effects here, and I think
we have some lighting designers who will answer that question. Michael, where did you? You sort of learn it by doing. I mean, it sounds silly to say. But you just go into a theatre and turn the
lights off and get your hands on things and work with them. And you just keep doing that for years and
years and years and years, until you start to understand a little bit about how a light
or a kind of light makes a space behave. And then you kind of start adding all that
together, in order to be able to control kind of an environment. Remember that awful taste in your mouth, in
summer stock? (MICHAEL LAUGHS) When the sun’s comin’ up
and you still got seventy units to focus? (LAUGHTER) It’s sad. It’s sad. That’s when we all smoked. No, actually, I will say that one of the best
kind of learning environments that I’ve ever been in is being on tour with dance companies. I mean, I spent six or seven years touring
all over the world with Mark Morris’ company and American Ballroom Theatre and a couple
of other companies. And when you have to walk into a room that
you’ve never seen before, with a group of people you’ve never seen before, and actually
make something happen very quickly – Why do you think that’s so? It’s just you have to make decisions very
quickly and you have to understand what’s important about what it is you’re doing and
chuck everything else that’s not important. If the going gets really tough, then if there’s
one thing you have to convey, then that’s the thing you go for. And if you have a little bit more time, then
you can, you know, make it a little bit more. More choices become more confusing? Right. If you discover the essence of the – What it is you’re doing. – of the piece and of the design. Yeah. Umm-hmm. So I think it’s a good training ground. And every other lighting designer that has
been in that same situation is also a big champion of it, that I’ve found, because it’s
not only kind of a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun, too. Touring? Yeah. With trucks? No, usually walking off the plane into somebody
else’s building and trying to make their equipment do it. Their stuff? Yeah. Oooh, Lord! And in other countries? Yeah. In other languages. (LAUGHS) Yeah. I mean, the best example I can give is, I
was on tour in Taiwan once, and we missed our connection and we checked into the hotel,
and there was a big earthquake. And we went to the theatre, and I walked in,
and it was very dark. And I looked around, and people were hanging
those lights on the wrong pipes, and things were a big mess. And you just kind of look around, and you
think, “I could be in New York. It doesn’t matter where I am.” Right! (LAUGHS) That’s funny. And you just try to, like, start sorting it
out, and just kind of getting rid of the things that are not going to work. And just, you know, keeping it simple, and
you kind of go ahead. Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm. Sound design has always been basically something
that you can just pick up and do. Fortunately, in the last ten to twelve years,
many of the universities have established fine sound design, sound operating departments,
along with their other design schools. And it’s very important to start out there,
but that’s not the end. You really have to, as we all, I think, agree,
go out and actually do it. And start in regional theatres, start in community
theatres, start just being involved in the sound of that production and move on. And then, I also always tell people, “How
did you get started and what would I do?” is “Find a designer, a sound designer wherever,
and bother them. Call them all the time. And eventually something will happen.” Because they come down and give me a hand
doing this particular thing, and I think there are maybe ten or twelve people that are working
now that have done that to me over the years – Mmm-hmm. I do that. — and they’re very glad to have that opportunity
to bring them along. About the road, I think it’s unfortunate that
touring companies today, professional touring companies, we no longer really have what used
to be called “bus-and-truck tours,” where you would go in at eight o’clock in the morning
and do a show at eight o’clock that evening, with simple scenery, simple lighting, and
very minimal sound equipment. It was a great spot to learn, because the
expectations weren’t as high as they were for doing a Broadway show, in that eight-hour
period. Today, bus-and-trucks basically don’t exist,
because they’re trying to recreate, as much as possible, the effects and the scenery and
the lighting of the Broadway or the national tour, so it’s not a learning experience any
more. The audiences are demanding, for the prices
they have to pay for tickets, what they would see in first-class national tours. But it’s still a good place to learn. But if you went to, let’s say, Southern Tunisia,
as I have done. Umm-hmm. I’m sorry! (LAUGHTER) Yes! And the electricity was less and you have
this truck with your stuff on it, do you carry generators and [stuff]? That’s, again, one of the things that you
should know about, so you don’t have surprises, as I mentioned earlier. If you’ve properly advanced and you’ve done
the collaboration with all of the people that are telling you to go to Southern Tunisia
(LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), you would know, I would hope, that yes, it’s going to be iffy
if there’s electricity available, and we have to bring along transformers or generators
or things of that sort, in order to do this particular show. Do you guys do that? Yeah? We try to, if we get the opportunity. Yeah. The advance work is very important. But sometimes, no matter what they tell you,
it’s like you walk in and walk out. (SHRUGS) Right. Well, apart from the experience which one
has gotten and no longer exists, in every aspect of theatre now, where do you find your
training? Where is the best way to find it? Are you teaching it? In the universities, are there courses in
this? Or are there special schools for it? Where do you start? Well, in my university, yes, there are courses. Although I often frighten my students by telling
them that designers are born and not trained. That I hope that my function as a teacher
is to identify those students who have the real potential for going further. Not just the artistic talent, but the temperamental
talent and the fortitude, if you will, to stay with what it takes to become a designer. And to strengthen those traits and to develop
those skills that need more training. But to give people that divine spark, that
makes you want to be a theatre designer, I don’t know how to do it from nothing. But if you have that, and that’s what you
want, there are many fine schools with good people teaching, who will at least give you
the rudiments of the trade. And the discipline, sure. And the discipline. And also, enough, I would hope, anecdotal
information to sustain your interest and to make you want to go and collect a bunch of
war stories on your own. David, I see you smiling. I do, sometimes. (LAUGHTER) Even after all these years in the
theatre, I sometimes smile. You know, as an old guy, and with a new career,
but looking back, you can complain about this or that and you see things that have changed. The level of light, talking about Tunisia,
the level of light that is required on stage now is what? About one point seventy-five times as much
as it was when we started, Neil? At least, at least. Almost twice as much light – More. – or else people say they can’t see the
actors. What’s the sound level, over the last thirty
years? Well, it’s absolutely increased, simply because
everybody is used to their home music systems or Walkman earphones. And so, no longer do we have the imagination
which tells you what a voice sounds like, it’s what you’ve heard stored on CDs. And so, it’s gotta sound like that recording
in your living room. And actors, many actors are not expected to
[speak]. To produce. To produce. You can thank film and television for that. Yeah, there’s also a bizarre level – In the old days, they say, “Well, I can’t
see the actors. I can’t hear him, ’cause I can’t see him.” But now, they wouldn’t see him at all! I mean, they just see blackness or something. Yeah. Okay, we complained about that. I don’t know if it’s worth complaining about. We say there are no apprentices any more. You may be looking at the youngest apprentice
– youngest or oldest? (LAUGHTER) I did the working drawings for
THE MOUSETRAP, as an apprentice! I don’t know if that word is still in the
English language. And every kid – I know! I’m talking about the Theatre of the Deaf. The one night stand, wonderful experience,
but everyone wants to work for money right away! Which is not so terrible, but no one has this
idea that you could train. Well, but a lot of people – And yet, there’s wonderful things happening
around town, Broadway, beautiful stuff. I tell kids, if you go to some guy or some
designer and say, “I’ll work for you for six weeks for nothing. If you like me, pay me after that.” And I think that works. Except the union can get after you! I’m not against the union. I tried that with people. Well, I don’t mean drafting, and I don’t mean
painting or drawing for me. I mean – Getting coffee is not such a bad thing to
do. Hang around a bit. Absolutely, absolutely. And there’s a lot to do at my place, a lot. Just get a feel of what it is. How many apprentices do you have? I have a lot. So what is “a lot”? Well, it depends what I’m doing. Last year, I had two – three! – last year. And they worked very hard. Their hours are long, they work very hard. Where do they come from to you? How did they come to you? Oh, I get phone calls every day. They find their way. I had a phone call this morning from someone
– Yeah, a lot of people will do this. — who wanted to come and intern or apprentice
on a production. Mmm-hmm Did we all work as apprentices? No, I got paid right off. Did you? Was that for painting scenery? Mmm-hmm. That’s how you started in the theatre, right? You were painting scenery? How did you parlay that into a career as a
costume designer? Well, the designer had a heart attack. And they were hard up for somebody to do the
dirty work. And you were there. And there I was, and thrilled. And I just thought it was wonderful. I would like to go back to discussing this
thing about maintaining your inner burning desire to be a designer and servicing the
collaborative essence, because (TO NEIL) I saw your face go funny when I was talking
about that. And what I meant was that I do think it’s
a great feeling to always be – I work with Mike Nichols a lot, and I would have to say
we never see eye-to-eye! And yet, we’ve worked together for thirty-three
years. And if I can make him be less safe, because
I tend to be more “more,” and he tends to be “tasteful.” (GRIMACES; LAUGHTER) And now, it’s a joke
between us, but that’s the best thing, to have that true understanding of what’s his
shortcomings, what’s my shortcomings. But meeting in the middle isn’t the right
answer! The middle is the lousy answer. And would you prefer the director to be out
ahead of you, or behind you, in that respect? Safer or more? Well, I like to work with eight directors,
some out and some back. But I think out. Yeah. Yeah. “Tasteful” is not a word I’m crazy about. (LAUGHTER) How do you handle it when a director or producer
starts interfering? Interfering? (LAUGHTER) Well, about things they really don’t know
much about, or you’re sure if they would just listen or let you do what you want to that
the show would be better. I mean, do you have examples of dealing with
that, presumably tactfully, or at least successfully? They’re still alive, so I think — (LAUGHTER) You didn’t murder them! There are certain composers that I’ve worked
with that certainly believe that the loudest thing on stage should be the flute and oboe. So you get to that point where they come to
you at the sound console and tell your engineer to “Bring up the band, bring up the band,
because that’s the only way it’s going to be exciting for the audience.” And if the lyricist comes over and says he
has to hear the words, then you have that discussion going on. And then the director wants to make sure that
they’re hearing all of the lines. And the producer says, “And don’t make it
that loud, it’s bothering people.” (LAUGHTER) So I think the sound designer,
anyway, has to be the diplomat – Oh, wow! — that handles all those different inputs
to you, and at the same time, you know, maintain the balance. And then do what I feel, or any sound designer
feels, is the right thing to do for the piece that you’re working on. And tell them all that you did what they asked
you. (LAUGHS) Because sound is the most subjective, I think,
of the design elements in the theatre, you can get away with that a little bit more than
“I want a red dress,” and you say, “Well, that is red, but it’s blue.” You can’t really make that distinction. But sound, you can, because everybody hears
differently. And that’s the basic difference in all of
the work that we do. But it is a matter of finding out who, again,
is in charge. And if it’s the producer or the manager or
the director or the composer. Who is in charge? Depends on the who. It depends on who the individual is. How can it depend on the show? Sometimes the director? How? I mean, if the director doesn’t do it, who’s
going to? I mean, the producer doesn’t. Sometimes, he does. Sometimes, the director is living in fear
of the producer. We’ve been through that. The director? The director is hired by the producers, the
same as all of us, and so he answers to him for what he wants. But are you hired by the producer or the director? Yes. And at the final – you may be recommended
or requested by an individual director or a composer. But you are hired by the producer and the
manager, that’s the [bottom line]. I don’t know. Do you audition? Is there such a thing? How do they decide that you or you, Ann? What, get a job? Mmm-hmm. That you’re going to be the costume designer. Well, I think at this point, people know your
work – Yes. — and so, you’re done by your past. How do they know that your ideas are the same
as theirs, that you see the production as a whole as they see it? It’s a gamble. Oooh! (LAUGHS) That’s heavy! I’ve had several experiences where the big
moment was, “You can’t get the job unless you meet and talk to So-and-So.” In some cases, it’s a director that I’ve never
met. In some cases, it’s a producer. And in one case, it was the widow of the playwright. Oooh, yes! Who controlled the rights. And in none of those cases did I actually
discuss the work at hand. (ANN NODS) I had them to my apartment. I served them tea or drinks, according to
their wont. We talked about everything in the world I
could think to talk about of interest to them, apart from the play at hand. In all these three cases, I got the job. And it was because, once you enter into this,
it’s a kind of a marriage. You’re going to go through the next X number
of weeks or months with people, and you want them to be people who you do not detest on
sight and who you have confidence will deliver the goods. But without showing a portfolio or auditioning
or saying, “Well, we have to do it this way.” That in fact is very dangerous, because you
may feed into some preconception that they have, and that will set off an alarm bell. It’s much better to ease into those things
after you’re on board. That is dead right. Sorry for answering for everybody! (LAUGHTER) No, that’s the answer. No, I think it is like a little tap-dance
audition that you do for them. And that, I think is rotten. I think it’s really difficult. But basically, no matter how very grave or
serious it is, basically it is if you share the same sense of humor and love for the piece,
if you get that. You’re not destructive. Well, I think that might be one of the good
things that come out of meeting somebody who has the power in whatever production you’re
doing, is to have that discussion. Not about the exact technical work that you
do, but what your feeling is towards the piece and how you would get along and relate to
all of them involved. And that certainly makes it a better collaboration,
no matter what you do physically or technically. I’ve had to go and see people twice, I think,
in my career, to get the job. And it was merely a matter of talking to them,
saying hello, and how we related to one another rather than the work we did. Yes. How long ago was that? My first Broadway show was in 1970, which
was JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Which was that? JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. I wasn’t the original designer. I happened to be in town. They were having problems technically, and
I came in and took it over. But the first show from scratch was shortly
thereafter, PIPPIN with Bob Fosse. All of you have credits so that they can say,
“Well, look, they did Such-and-Such.” Well, what about the young person who is starting,
perhaps had one or two things Off- or Off-Off-Broadway. How do they get the job? Off-Broadway for sound is as important and
sometimes more technically involved than a Broadway show. Right. It’s theatre. Right. But not having been seen, they haven’t the
credits or they haven’t got the list of credits. Then you start by talking to a designer and
coming in and working with them on something. Again, as we’ve talked about, you know, working
as an intern or an apprentice. Working along, it’s very important. But don’t you honestly think – I mean, I
did loads of Off-Broadway shows and I’m still working with those people. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Build those [relationships]. And they get married, and their ex-wives and
their husbands. Still, that’s the basis of who I work with. It’s the relationships that you build. I was going to say that if there is some distrust
or worry with a director – I mean, I only deal with the directors. I would let him feel that I wouldn’t let him
be dismayed on stage. If he lets me show it to him and then he hates
it, I’ll change it. I’ve done that a million times. You’re not locked in. We can have anything we want in this world. Anything! Somebody’s gotta pay for it! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But we can. And I think that we should, I mean, I like
to let them feel that they can have it all. There’s no reason to not. Do you feel that way? If you’re not working together and enjoying
the process – Yeah! — why are you doing it? I mean, I’m sure we have all been on shows
where we did not enjoy the process. Ooh, yes. But there’s something about economics here,
that’s been said. Oh, no, we’re not talking about [economics]. We don’t know about that. Oh! (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s the difference between it being
the director in charge, where the money and the economics are not as vital as it is when
you’re the producer who is in charge and money becomes the bottom line for all that you do. Well, still, you’re smart. In fact, if he says, the costumes, “I want
the long dress that goes up the stairs – ” Exactly. And Ann knows that the long dress is going
to trip the actor going up the stairs, but he insists upon it and it’s wrong, then there
has to be another dress put in place. And therefore, it is the economics. And therefore, I would think it is your responsibility
to say, if he doesn’t know, “Now look, I’ll show you how this dress will trip you.” Well, sure. And you can make her a version out of an old
piece of muslin, and go there at the end of the rehearsal day and rehearse with it. And you say, “See, it works,” or “See, it
doesn’t work.” Or maybe it’s a foot too long. You know, you work with them. That’s what I do. You don’t just go away and make a dress and
say, “Here you are. See you in New Haven.” (LAUGHTER) It’s part of the process to be
there and to worry about it. And if the director says, “Get that thing
off the stage right now, she’s gonna fall,” say, “Okay, but we tried.” I think that’s one of the big responsibilities
of a designer, is to involve the director – Absolutely. – in something they may not [know]. To share your knowledge with them, convey
your knowledge to them. You know, “You said this, this is what it
means. Come here, let’s talk about this. Let’s work with this. Let’s play with this. Let’s have fun with it.” And then you, together, come up with what’s
going to be the right thing. I agree that if you fail to work with your
director, there is a big failure there. Absolutely. It’s an unhappy situation. And you should be sensitive, as the production
team assembles. When you have to go to the producer because
of a conflict, that’s misery. But odd things happen. Let’s say you’re hired as the designer for
a repertory company. And you’re given the budget for the entire
season. And the producer says to you, “Dave, we’ve
got six plays to put on, here’s the amount of money you can spend.” But you’ve got six different directors. Yes! (LAUGHS) Now, you’re working well with each director. You may not exactly be his choice. Maybe he isn’t thrilled. But because of the repertory situation, it’s
good to have one set designer, even better to have one lighting designer. But a director wants something that’s out
of the budget. You’ve got to go to the producer – but this
is understood beforehand. But if the producer doesn’t back you up, and
you’re the villain, because you won’t let this director spend money, then it’s too bad. So why can’t you say, “Come on, you and I,
director, are gonna go see the producer. Let’s ask him to come down here and discuss
this with us.” Yeah. No, you say that. “Because we’re all in this mudbath together.” You say that, but does the producer back you
up? Absolutely. Does he say to the director, “Look, I gave
this guy a budget, and I can’t give you what you want.” Well, you know, all these producers have financial
managers. Let them go to work. Let them come in and help you. But it might involve more taste than the financial
manager has. (LAUGHTER) I mean, they can’t just give you the money
for a six-season production (SIC) and walk away! Get back here and go to work! But they do! When I used to work for New York City Opera,
you’d go home after a long rehearsal. And the financial director would call you
about something he didn’t like about the lighting. The stage director would call you about something
he didn’t like about the costumes, which you weren’t even doing. And the overall director would call you about
the fact that the wheels were squeaking on something. I mean, everybody did everything. (LAUGHS) Yes! But it was kind of fun. Yes, absolutely! Because you all wanted the same thing. You’re all talking past tense. This is not so today? Is it not the same way? I don’t think the human race has improved
an awful lot since then. (LAUGHTER) Two legs, two ears, two eyes. Yeah. And you know, I worked for Ballanchine all
of those years, and he was, of course, the boss. Absolutely! And he had a fabulous eye. But the initial impulse came from Lincoln
Kirstein (PH), who in a sense was the producer. He’s the one who would call you and say, “I
want you to do this and that, come on down. I’ve got an idea.” He’d pull out these wonderful old books and
say, “Why don’t we do it like a Wedgewood plate,” or something. Yes. And then you’d say, “Gee, does George know
about this?” And he’d say, “Ah, George, we always agree.” So you’d do some sketches or a model and George,
Mr. B. would come in, and he always liked it. Well, unless he hated it. (LAUGHTER) But I mean, it wasn’t because of
the odd way that it started through Lincoln’s vision and Lincoln’s taste, which was extraordinary. Right, I know. Yeah. I think what you are saying here, though,
they’re all creative, and yet, you’re all dealing with somebody that is creative but
not in the same sense. We’re talking about dealing with the reality
of the person that is in charge of the show. Well, everybody, to get along – That’s the idea. — is manipulative and thinks they’re the
greatest manipulator in the world, but all we forget is that people aren’t as stupid
as we think they are. So you just have to be careful as you go along. Does anyone feel that producers now are less
creative than before? Producers. Does anyone remember a golden age that I seem
to have missed? When the producers were really creative people
and you could rely on their taste? At least in the area that I deal with, production
today is more about spectacle and large and big, rather than about content. And the producers, you know, twenty years
ago, were able to give you certainly a show that brought people in and won awards and
was very successful, without going to the extent of spectacle. So the difference today is that you have to
be about spectacle rather than about content. With some exceptions, of course. But bigger is what’s happening today. Whether that’s better or not, or whether it’s
justified by what ticket prices are – the audience needs to come in to see something
that they can’t see elsewhere. And live theatre is something you can’t see
elsewhere. It has to be in a room, with a collaborative
group of people in the audience, who are something you don’t have in your living room, and so
that’s why theatre is different. But as far as the spectacle is concerned,
that’s where it’s gone today, and we hope it might get back to a more middle ground
later on. I know. Sometimes I think people are sort of thirsting
for just the opposite. I mean, I think I was lucky to be able to
work on something like WIT. Yeah. But the reason people come to see that, I
think, is because there’s actually something going on that touches people. And there’s nothing spectacular visually about
the whole thing. It’s just there in front of you and you watch
a woman go through an experience. And that’s, I think – But it is somebody live and it’s there and
it’s different. Right. As I said, there are exceptions, other than
to what the spectacle is, of Broadway. Right. But it’s kind of weird to think that when
there is something that’s like that, people, you know, sit up a little bit. Because everybody knows the trend that’s happening,
exactly as you’re describing, but I think they’re kind of looking for something that’s
a little bit more than that. Would the revivals of some of the plays that
are on Broadway today, as good as they are, be the same if they were done without the
spectacle of moving scenery and moving lights and heavy sound effects, you know? Like what? Well, there are a number of revivals that
have been on Broadway, where the scenery is much more than it was when the show was originally
done. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Much more. Much more. RAINMAKER, for example, has never been produced
with rain before, to my knowledge, other than this production. It was always, “Here comes the rain! Here comes the rain!” Curtain! Oh! Makes sense to me. Right. Well, maybe the point you brought up earlier
was about the audience expectation from their exposure to film and television, and attention
span. I think it’s a real issue and I think it has
some bad effects on the content of what we see on Broadway. Mmm-hmm. We used to do a lot of three act plays. Yeah. With more actors. With more actors, indeed. Remember those seven guys who came up from
the cellar in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE? Yes, absolutely! (LAUGHTER) Who can afford them? And now they have wet suits! (LAUGHTER) But there were more of everything in other
shows. I mean, you’re talking about the revivals
that are being done today, there were larger casts, larger pieces of the orchestra, larger
everything in the original shows, many times, than in the show that’s being done today. And it could survive that, and you can’t afford
it today. Isabelle, could I come back to say something
that was initially part of this? I think the young people, aspiring people,
who are watching this, there is no such thing as “nothing,” when we’re talking about sets
and lighting and costumes. No costume, what? A naked person makes the strongest costume
statement you can possibly make. Black velours are not nothing. It’s a terribly strong statement. Lighting, it’s a little more subtle, but the
same thing. A little more involved, but the same thing
applies. Well, or just bare lighting is not no lighting,
it’s a strong statement. Everything we do is that. Everything must be considered in that way. OUR TOWN, scenery-less, is a very big scenic
job, in terms of touching up the back walls, putting just the brooms in the right places,
the this in the right places. Ray Solvey (PH) did it originally, in 1937? I don’t know. I did one. I did two. Complicated job of doing no scenery, and the
illusion, in a sense of no light, but then how it changes into their being some light,
but never too much. There’s no such thing as “nothing.” We deal with everything, we treat everything. And yet, a designer is not going to win a
Tony Award for appreciating that something that looks like nothing but isn’t is the best
thing for the show. (LAUGHTER) Exactly! Well, you just have to get over the idea that
our Tony Award judges are the best judges of what we do. Or that you’re doing it for that reason. Absolutely! Our job is do this, their job – Or that you’re doing it for the Tony, absolutely. Yeah. But in sound, sometimes the absence of sound
is actually part of the design. When we opened the original company of A CHORUS
LINE at the Shubert Theatre, here in New York, that show was done without body microphones
on the performers. And part of the set were the five microphones
across the front of the stage, the long tube “shotgun” microphones that the director, Michael
Bennett, staged the people to every once in a while, so you could go and hear them, and
they were lit that way. But during the show, there was the part called
“Paul’s Monologue,” which was the one boy on stage, going through his past life, talking
to the director out in the back. It’s a very quiet moment in the show. It follows “Music in the Mirror,” the big
Cassie dance number. It became a little difficult to hear him,
because of both the style of delivery, as well as the quietness of the moment. And we went through a number of discussions,
“Are we going to put a microphone on him for this?” And I realized that the problem was, it was
the middle of summer here in New York, and the air conditioning in the Shubert Theatre
was a little noisy, to say the least. So the design was that during the applause
for “Music in the Mirror,” the engineer went and shut off the fans in the air conditioning. So you didn’t hear them go off, because there
was the applause. As it got quieter in the theatre, you heard
him. It also got a little warmer, so the audience
became a little bit more uncomfortable, which was the feeling that you were trying to get
from the delivery of the lines. At the end of the monologue, the applause,
they went into the tap combination, the fans and the air conditioning came back on. So that was sound design. That was the absence of sound being part of
the design for A CHORUS LINE. Wow! Bravo! Who was the director? Michael Bennett. Yes, I know Michael. But who discovered that and who gave the direction
for it? Well, that’s what I did. I mean, I went and I said, “Michael, if we
turn off the air conditioning, it’ll be quieter in here and you might be able to hear him
well enough,” and he said, “Try it.” And that’s what we did. How did you start that? How did you begin working with Michael on
that, for example, and to get that effect? Well, it was just part of the show. We were in the room, we weren’t using microphones,
and it was noisy. And as I was walking around the theatre during
rehearsals, I just heard the fact that there was a lot of noise coming from the air conditioning
vents. It was just a simple thought of turning it
off that did that work. It was one of the nice moments that you come
by in doing something. And that’s one of the collaborative things
that you’re talking about. But as you mentioned, the absence of costumes,
the absence of lights and scenery, CHORUS LINE was a good example of a black box lit
by one light. Oh, sure. But that’s the design work. That leads me into a question I’d love to
have some responses on. You say that the shows now are about spectacle
and they get bigger and they get fuller, and then there’s more stuff like rain in a play
that never had rain before. And yet, if you go to the opera house – and
I will leave out the Metropolitan Opera, which marches to its own drum – you’re likely
to find an opera that would have had dozens of sets and tremendous spectacle fifty years
ago being done with a single chair in an immense open space, apparently undesigned. And so here is one art form being pared to
its essence, while another one is getting perhaps overstuffed. Anybody have any thoughts on that? It’s a very interesting question. Neil, my own only comment is that the opera
has content and doesn’t need spectacle. (LAUGHTER) And you got it in one, I think! (TISH LAUGHS) I mean, that’s the difference. Not that the spectacle on Broadway is bad. I mean, some of the work that’s being done,
it amazes me how well and how good and how great it looks. But I’m just going back to saying that that’s
not the only thing you need to make theatre vital. We discussed Encores!, the series that’s being
done in New York, in which you’re going right to the core of the show itself and how well
it works. It’s a concert form, it’s not a Broadway production. But in discussing and taking really what is
the heart of it, editing out all of the rest of it, it becomes a very strong piece. Well, certainly the current CHICAGO has probably
a quarter of a million dollars less scenery than the original did. The strength of a more minimalist approach. And it’s run three times as long. Well, you’ve got the two sides. You’ve got the great big spectacle which says,
“I’m getting my money’s worth,” and you’re getting other, which is the little nugget. Is it the emphasis on spectacle, that you
have been talking about, that has produced a situation where we have Tony Awards in scenery,
costume and lighting? And is it because sound design is less obtrusive
and it doesn’t involve spectacle that we have no Tony in sound? Well, I think there are a number of reasons
that there’s no recognition that way. But sound, for the most part, has been the
last child in the family, and hasn’t been thought of as a design element for a long
time. And I’m hopeful that that will change in the
future. I think the recognition of the design work
that the whole team does is important. And I know that there are a number of reasons
why it hasn’t happened, but I’m hopeful that in the future there might be a change. I think there’s more that has to be said on
that, but we have to stop for a minute, and everybody takes a deep breath and stretches
and does whatever they have to do, and comes right back down to their seats and continue
with this discussion, because I think it’s a most important and interesting one, on the
American Theatre Wing seminars. And so, we’ll come back to the designers. (APPLAUSE) Has it really been an hour already? This is CUNY-TV, the City University of New
York. (APPLAUSE) Welcome back to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” Before we return to our gifted panelists,
I would like to point out to you that the Wing is more than a sponsor of seminars, and
more than our famous Tony Awards. This is granted for excellence in the theatre. But 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 to achieve that goal, we have created
audience development programs for students, like our “Introduction to Broadway,” which
began seven years ago and has enabled almost 80,000 New York City high school students
to attend a Broadway show, and for many of them, for the very first time. And through our “Theatre in Schools” program,
theatre professionals like these on our seminar panels go directly into the 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 Canteens. Today’s version of the program brings talent
from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the cabaret world to entertain patients in hospitals,
senior day and nursing facilities, service organizations and child care, and hospice
facilities in the New York area, bringing the magic of theatre to those who can not
get to the theatre themselves. We are proud of the work we do and are delighted
with the wonderful working relationship we have with the theatrical community. We are indeed grateful to our members and
everyone who makes possible all that the American Theatre Wing does. And so, now, let’s get back to our seminar
on design, which is partly the most important part of the theatre, that the audience doesn’t
see, but which makes it all so magical for us. We have with us now, Tish Dace, and we will
continue with a discussion on the design seminar. So Tish, would you like to start that, right
away? Yes. Have any of you ever wished that you could
go back and change something about a design you’ve already completed? Well, not so much one individual design, but
when I first started bringing sound into Broadway theatres, I think I would have greatly preferred,
had I been able, to be a little bit more tasteful then. We tried to do too big too fast, and we didn’t
have the quality of equipment and the expertise that’s now available to us. So we, I think, tried to do a little bit too
much at the beginning. And I think it’s led on to the fact that sound
has had the opportunity to be criticized by audience members, by the critics in the press,
and also, by the fact that it’s gotten bigger than the shows itself, where I think some
of the design elements have lost sight of the fact that it really should sound like
it’s coming from the performer or the musician, and rather from the affected loudspeakers
and things that are placed in the theatre. Goes back to the beginning, maybe that designer
wasn’t there when the set designer laid out the set, so he’s forced to put speakers far
enough away that it loses the localization. But I think that’s the one thing that I probably
would have liked to change, was to have gone a little bit slower right at the very beginning. Yeah, I think for me, it’s becoming more and
more a question of actually getting to the point where you can polish the work, because
there comes a certain point in any production where you have to stop. You know, they turn the lights on, you’re
told that that’s it, and then you have to, you know, stand in the back and kind of just
watch what you’ve done. And I think at a certain point, you just wish
you were either faster or had just like that one little bit of extra time to finish those
extra two cues that weren’t quite as good as you had hoped that they would be. Have you ever gone back after an opening and
changed a design element? (MICHAEL SHAKES HIS HEAD) When we do different companies. I mean, things changed, obviously, from the
time we did EVITA in London, at the very beginning, until we did it in America. So, yes, you were able to see what you did
in the first place and then, hopefully, the improvements you’ve added were worthwhile. Going back after a show is already open or
running for a while in one location is usually not really pleasing to the producer. Except for something that is unfortunately
becoming more common is when you’re asked to come back to the show that’s been open
six months or nine months and reduce the running expenses. Ummm-ummm! Which is something I have a hard time with. I think, if you’re running the show, advertising
under the reviews you got in one situation, to cut back your production values, I think,
is not right, not correct. You know, I lost a job doing something like
that. I read the script, talked to the producer. I said, “You know, it’s a one set show, but
you’ve got this one little scene here which is just a one joke scene. If you can get that joke and work it into
the other set, you’re going to cut that little set out anyway when you tour this show, if
it’s successful. You’re going to tour a one-setter. You’re not going to have this two-setter,
just for that joke.” Well, he didn’t want to hear any more from
me, so I didn’t do the job and they did the show, and it was successful, and then they
toured it and didn’t do that little scene. Well, this sort of sounds like I-told-you-so-ism. (LAUGHTER) But sometimes, (TO ANN) remember? There was a six set show, and I put it into
one set, with the director. And it was wonderful, because you see the
stage directions. The stage directions instruct you what to
do what you have done. Whereas the initial stage directions said,
“Well, it’s six scenes.” (LAUGHTER) The playwright designed the show, right? (LAUGHS) As a producer, I’ve had a chance to re-do
shows that were successful, that we had done once before. And in every case, they weren’t as good. We thought they’d be better, because we had
experience, we saw our mistakes. They were never as good. Really? And when I was – I’ve got to call myself
a “little boy.” When I was a kid and coming into New York,
I met a man named Paul Chellicheff (PH), Pavel. Of course. He said – How do you feel about sound, the thing that’s
happening today, and the synchronization in the theatre? Where does sound come into that, and our sound
engineers? Well, you know, I’ll tell you something, Isabelle. When I go to the theatre, I fall instantly
asleep, so I’m really no judge. (LAUGHTER) The angel of sleep – after all
those productions, all those hours and days in the dark theatre, I can’t stay awake at
theatre. My wife takes me, we sit there, and I fall
asleep. She tells me what it was about. (LAUGHTER) And so I’m no judge of that. But I want to say that Paul Chellicheff said
to me, “You know, kid,” he said – or “youngster” or whatever he called me – “the dream and
the reality are no different. Don’t try to catch a dream again.” And so, that’s why I don’t like revivals. David, as a producer, how did you deal with
your own designers? Let’s hear from you, from the opposite perspective. Sure. Well, you never know who’s gonna be terribly
valuable to a continuing, long – I produced a theatre company that ran for thirty-five
years. And we’ve been to not five, not six, but seven
continents! Get that! The most valuable person on my team was the
costume designer. I’m talking about Fred Voelpel. Not simply because he was a fine, fine designer
and understood the needs of repertoire and budgets, problems and so forth. He certainly did, and he could make everyone
cry. But because Fred would read the play and give
everybody else a real drubbing on what the devil it was about. You’d sit there with Fred, it sometimes seemed
like root canal work. (NODS) Oh, I know! I know. Or he’d say, “Come on! What is it? Who is it? Well, what do you expect of this character?” And the director would suddenly realize he
had no idea what was going on. That’s a curse. “Why is he different from him? Why do you want him this way?” And it could have been the lighting designer,
it could have been the set designer, but it happened to be Fred who read the play in this
way, and challenged us all on what every character meant. Well, I tell you something. Very recently I had a dialogue with a director
who was going to do a new play, and the producer was present. The money person was present. The line producer was present. It was a little bit of an audience, and it
was me to meet the director. And I said, “Well, I’m not going to meet him
unless I’ve read the script, because it’s not a personality test.” So I read the script and I got there, and
they started asking me questions. Well, I don’t like to make decisions that
quickly. I have to think about it. So I asked the director a question, like “How
much money does this guy make a week?” And he very, very – and I went right for
it, because he was going for my jugular (LAUGHTER), and I was a little testy about it. And he very much resented it. He didn’t want to be pinned down, and I didn’t
want to be pinned down. And that is the first time that happened. The costume designer always has that. It’s millions of questions that come into
your mind. “Where did those shoes come from? Does his mother do his laundry?” Blah-blah-blah. It goes on forever. (TISH LAUGHS) And it is often resented. Remember when we started, Ann, years ago? We’re about the same generation. And before all these lawsuits, and you could
sock people? (ANN LAUGHS) Remember when you could just
punch ’em in the nose, and it was all right, you know? (LAUGHTER) A very simple question. Where are costumes made now? There used to be Eaves (PH) and Brooks Brothers. Are there organizations like that now? Certainly. Absolutely. Where? Here? In the east? Oh, here in the east. In Rome. In London. In California. In New York. Yes. There are the Eaves and the Brooks? Absolutely. Well, Eaves and Brooks have combined. That’s one company. Great rental houses are not in this city. There is not a great rental house. How much rental is being done in shows? Well, you would do it if it were here. It isn’t here. Can I jump in here? There’s something I’ve been dying to ask Michael. At the end of WIT, there’s this incredible
lighting effect that you achieve. There’s a blazing, ethereal light on the Vivian
Bearing character, who’s dying of cancer. It’s an unusual lighting effect on someone
who’s dying, particularly because you create this luminescence around her naked body. How did you come up with that design effect? It basically came about from the first meeting
that I had with the director. I went over to his house and he had the little
model. You know, the initial model sitting there. And he was showing me what the set designer
had come up with, and said, “You know, this last moment of the show, can she be really
bright?” And I said, “Okay.” And then, so we continued talking for a few
more minutes, and then we got through a few scenes and then he said, “Can she be really,
really bright?” and I said, “Okay.” (TISH LAUGHS) And then right as the meeting
was ending and we were shaking hands and leaving, he said, “I want her to be really bright.” And so, I think, after the third repetition
– (LAUGHTER) Yes, I gathered! You’re not that slow a learner! But it just sort of led me to think that I
had to do something extraordinary, like not just pull whatever was in, you know, the inventory
and stick it up into the air, but really think about how to really push it a little bit. It’s a transcendent effect, appropriate for
somebody who has specialized in “Death Be Not Proud.” Yeah, it’s great. Mike, how oblique can a director be in giving
you a wish? They can be very passive about it, and then
you have to really sit there and think, “Now what exactly did they just ask me to do?” And so, you have to sit there and sort of
translate their intent. And if they’re not very forceful personalities,
then you have to sort of supply that for them, I think. That’s almost the case with every one of our
disciplines, isn’t it? That you really have to hear through the words
to what it is they really want, or what it is you think they want. And sometimes, especially in the case of lighting,
they don’t necessarily know. Because I think lighting is sometimes more
difficult to talk about, because you can’t grab it or look at it or show somebody a magazine
picture of it. So a lot of the time, what you’re doing is
you’re showing them what you think they want to see, and then that’s the basis to start
a conversation about “That’s not quite right,” or “We need to modify it this way,” or “That’s
exactly the opposite, I’d rather do this.” And it’s more of just a way of having a conversation,
too. I get this all the time. It’s what I call the “I know exactly what
I want, and when you show it to me, I will tell you!” (LAUGHTER) “And by the way, how much does
that cost?” (LAUGHTER) On that note, I’m going to have to bring this
to a close. And thank you so much for all of your caring
and knowledge that you have shared with us, as to what makes, for me and for almost everybody
else that goes to the theatre, the true magic in the theatre, making it all come alive by
what you have created, the design team of the Broadway or Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway
theatre, the live theatre. You make it all come alive for us. And thank you so much for being on this panel
of the American Theatre Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” which is coming
to you from the Graduate Center of the new University of New York. Thank you so much for being here. (APPLAUSE) We survived!

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