Sunday, May 19, 2013

She Loves Me--Actor, Mr. Maraczek

Adam Pingel as Georg and me as Mr. Maraczek in a scene from She Loves Me

She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock, was produced in the Snow Drama Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Fall Semester, 2008.

The play takes place in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930's at Maraczek's Parfumerie.  The manager, Georg Nowack is a shy man who is currently in a relationship with a woman he has never met, only corresponded with through letters.  Maraczek is encouraging Georg to find a woman and settle down. 
Amalia Balash is a young girl who is looking for a job, and when Georg tells her they are not hiring, she attempts and succeeds in selling an unsellable item with Maraczek and Georg watching.  Maraczek hires her on the spot.  Amalia is in a relationship with a man she has never met, only corresponded with through letters.
Amalia and Georg develop a hostile working relationship.
As time passes through Act I, Maraczek becomes increasingly hostile towards Georg.  No one seems to know the origin of the hostility, but it's obvious Georg can do no right.  There is a "you can't fire me, I quit!" moment and Georg finds himself without a job on the night he is supposed to meet his pen pal.
Maraczek turns everyone out of the parfumerie and meets with the private investigator he has hired to follow his wife.  She has had an affair with one of his employees, but it wasn't Georg as Maraczek had expected.  Instead it was Mr. Kodaly.  Maraczek receives a phone call from his wife who says she will not be home until late because she is visiting a sick relative or friend.  Maraczek knows this is false and decides to take his own life.  He is interrupted by Arpad, the delivery boy and wounds himself instead.
Georg goes to the rendezvous point with his "Dear Friend" and discovers that it is Amalia.  He goes over and sits by her and they fight, as always.  She insults him greatly and he leaves.  The act ends with Amalia waiting for her "Dear Friend" and crying when he doesn't show up.

The second act begins with Maraczek in a hospital bed and Arpad bringing him news.  Georg comes to visit him and Maraczek asks for his forgiveness.  He then promotes Georg and asks him to dismiss Mr. Kodaly.
Georg, upon hearing that Amalia has not come to work because she is ill, pays her a visit.  Heartbroken because she thought her "Dear Friend" had stood her up, she has taken ill.  She believes Georg is there to spy on her and she attempts to get ready for work.  Georg assures her he is there out of kindness and gives her some vanilla ice cream.  He also tells her he saw someone at the rendezvous that must have been her pen pal, but he was old, bald and fat.
Throughout the rest of the act, Georg and Amalia become friends at work and she invites him to come with her to Christmas dinner where she will meet her "Dear Friend" for the first time.  Georg finally reveals that he is "Dear Friend".  Amalia tells him she had hoped he was.  And all is well.

Why I chose to be in this production
I am primarily a designer and a technician, but I believe that anyone who is involved in design or technical theatre ought to find themselves on stage once in awhile.  It's good to remind yourself as a technician what it is like on the other side of the lights.

My Dad had passed away about a year earlier and I wanted to be in a play to honor him.  Dad had been an actor and a director all his life, and he was very good at it.  John Bidwell was the director of She Loves Me, and my Dad had been a primary mentor to him.  John was getting ready to retire from Brigham Young University-Idaho and I thought this was probably my last chance to be directed by someone who had been taught by my Dad.  I asked John if he would consider casting me in this play.  He did and I played the part of Maraczek.  It seems that I am to the point in my life where I am playing old men.  I'm okay with that.

I enjoyed being in this play.  I also enjoyed being a veteran actor with younger actors.  I was very careful to approach my part seriously and to be prepared and focused in rehearsals.  It was also nice to give a generation of students a paradigm shift.  Most of the students at that time didn't know that I have at least some acting chops.  Many of them thought I was only a technician. 

We had a terrific ensemble and I enjoyed every moment I spent in this play.  I was thankful to have had this opportunity.

I had a vintage double breasted, blue pinstripe suit that no longer fit me.  I'm pretty sure it shrunk over the years... I loaned it to Adam Pingel for his part as Georg.  It fit him better than it ever fit me, and when the show was over, I gave it to him. 


Maraczek dancing with Georg, reminiscing about his courtship with Mrs. Maraczek.  Trying to convince Georg to find a woman and marry her.  Maraczek sings "Days Gone By."

Maraczek also dancing with Ilona in "Days Gone By."

Maraczek attempting to sell the unsellable item

Maraczek and the cranky customer

Maraczek dressing down Georg

Maraczek and the Private Investigator

Maraczek on the phone with his wife.  Knowing she is lying to him.

Maraczek contemplates suicide

Arpad intervenes

Maraczek in the hospital with the Nurse and Arpad

Arpad trying to convince Maraczek to let him be a salesman to the song, "Try Me"

The end of the song "Try Me"

Maraczek begging forgiveness from Georg

A joyful reunion with Maraczek and company.

Production Details
Directed by John Bidwell
Scene and Lighting Design by Richard Clifford
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Mr. Maraczek - Gary Benson
Georg Nowack - Adam Pingel
Amalia Balish - Rose Kiernan
Ilona - Andilyn Jenkins
Arpad -  Matt Zachreson
Sipos - Jordan Judd
Kodaly - Seth Nehring
Angry Customer - Cassie Burton

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Spitfire Grill--Scene Design

The Spitfire Grill

The Spitfire Grill, the musical by James Valcq and Fred Alley, was produced in the Kirkham Arena Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Fall Semester, 2006.

Percy Talbott is a young woman, just released from prison looking for a fresh start.  During her incarceration she clipped a picture of Gilead, Wisconsin from a travel magazine and has determined she will move there.  When she arrives, she is met with suspicion from all she meets.  The sheriff, Joe Sutter, convinces the owner of The Spitfire Grill, Hannah Ferguson to give her a job.

Things don't go so well at first but finally the women settle into a tenuous truce.  Hannah has a bad fall in which she breaks her leg and Percy is left to take care of the grill and it's patrons by herself.  Hannah asks Percy to leave a wrapped loaf of bread by an old stump behind the diner.

Percy is useless in the kitchen and is joined by Shelby, the wife of Caleb, Hannah's nephew.  Together they make sense of the business and in the process become close friends.  Caleb is unhappy with this situation.

The three women, Hannah, Percy and Shelby become very close and Hannah tells them she has been trying unsuccessfully to sell the grill.  Percy comes up with an idea to raffle off the grill with an essay contest.  One hundred dollars to enter, best essay wins the grill.  Caleb, a real estate agent who has had the grill listed for ten years is upset by this plan and feels he is losing control of everything around him.  He decides to investigate Percy.

Percy confides in Shelby why she was in prison.  Her stepfather raped her and when she became pregnant, he beat her repeatedly until she miscarried the baby.  Then he raped her again and when he fell asleep she slit his throat with a straight razor.  It seems that almost everyone has forgiven Percy but she cannot forgive herself.

The advertisement for the raffle is a huge success and letters from all over the country come pouring in.  Everyone in town gets caught up in the excitement.  Everyone except Caleb.  New life comes to Gilead.

All through this, Percy keeps leaving the loaf of bread at the stump and we meet Eli, Hannah's son who deserted from the army during the Viet Nam War.  He is homeless and a vagrant.  Living on the bread left by his mother.  He leads Percy to the mountain top where she finally learns to forgive herself. 

Percy helps to reunite Hannah and Eli and everyone is reconciled.  Hannah gives the grill to Percy and Shelby as there advertisement was the best essay about the place.

Great script, wonderful production. 

The director, Roger Merrill wanted us as a design team to explore the idea that this was a town in limbo, a stagnant, static place.  He also wanted a unit set without scene changes.  The challenge for this was the fact that the play begins in prison, goes to the exterior of Gilead to the interior of the grill, then behind the grill to the woodpile.  There's a scene in several locations in the town and finally to the mountaintop.

As Roger was talking about what he wanted to say with the show, I kept having images of octagons moving through my mind.  I didn't understand at first why octagons, but I went with them.  I sketched up several thumbnail groundplans that involved octagonal decks and showed them to Roger.  I was unsatisfied with not knowing why octagons and began to intellectualize my choice.  I determined that this was a play about halted progression, and that octagons were the international shape of the stop sign.  The important thing about stop signs is that they are only temporary and progression can begin again, which is also a theme in this play.

Thumbnail groundplans

Thumbnail groundplan

Since this was a unit set, we knew we were going to change locations with lighting for many of the scenes.  The Kirkham Arena Theatre was a found space theatre without a fly loft.  I decided to add a cyclorama to the back of the set to facilitate lighting shifts.  It also helped to create a kind of limbo in which to tell the story of the play.  We didn't want the cyc to be lit all of the time, so I placed a poorman's scrim three feet in front of it.  The poorman's scrim was created with brown tricot stretched tightly on a frame.  I had already used tricot in this fashion before in my career and knew it would work.

There was a serendipitous effect when Richard Clifford, the lighting designer focused a source four with a cloud gobo on the scrim and it ghosted through to the cyc which gave us a double image of the clouds.  I used that effect a few years later on my lighting design of Oedipus.  It was stunning.

Percy and Shelby in front of the dark scrim

Clouds ghosting on the scrim and cyc. Effy, Shelby, Joe and Caleb

Nighttime on the cyc, Percy and Eli

As I designed the set, I chose to use two octagons to symbolize the interior of the grill.  Since the majority of the play took place in the two rooms of the diner, I added much more detail on those two platforms.  The upper platform was the kitchen and had a refrigerator, a counter, a stove and a backsplash.  The lower platform was the dining area and had a wainscot and a couple of tables and some chairs.

Downstage left I designed a lower, smaller octagonal platform to be the entrance to the grill and downstage right I designed another octagonal platform that functioned as the back porch.  Outside of the porch I dressed the set with a stump and an axe and a pile of wood.

Upstage right I designed a half octagon platform that was much higher and was at the level of the top of the backsplash.  This platform functioned as both the prison and the mountaintop.  It gave the sense of coming full circle.

Hannah on the upper octagonal platform, the kitchen

Caleb on the lower octagonal platform, the dining room

Percy, Joe, Shelby and Hannah on the dining room deck reading the raffle entries

Percy and Joe on the small exterior platform DSL

Shelby and Percy on the back porch

Percy and Hannah with the loaf of bread on the stump behind the grill

Three non-descript locations somewhere in Gilead

The half octagon as the prison, with Percy

The half octagon as the mountaintop, with Eli and Percy

Octagons, with Percy and Joe

I enjoyed working on this show very much.  I felt that the scene, lighting and costume designs all came together to fulfill the director's vision of The Spitfire Grill.  This is a great script and it is almost impossible to exit the theatre without having an emotional experience with the material.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to work on it.

Production Details
Directed by Roger Merrill
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Richard Clifford
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Mikado--Lighting Design

Jon Linford as The Mikado
The Mikado, by Sir William Schwenk Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan was produced in the Snow Drama Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho Spring Semester 2012.

Act I
The town of Titipu has not had an execution in a very long time.  The Mikado has decreed that unless there is an execution within a month the town will be demoted to the rank of village.  The Mikado has also decreed that flirting is a capital offense of which the tailor, Ko-Ko has been convicted.  The city fathers elevated Ko-Ko to the rank of Lord High Executioner thinking that since he is convicted of the capital crime, he would have to cut his own head off before he cut anyone else's head off.

Lord High Executioner was the highest rank in the town and all the other officials refused to work for the tailor except for Pooh-Bah, who then assumed all of their titles.

Ko-Ko is engaged to be married to Yum-Yum, who is in love with Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel who happens to be the son of the Mikado.  Nanki-Poo is in hiding in Titipu because his father has betrothed him to Katisha, an older woman who is not terribly attractive.  She has a very distinctive elbow, however.

Ko-Ko discovers that Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are in love and that Nanki-Poo will commit suicide if he can't be with her.  They hatch a plan whereby Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo will be secretly wed and one month later Ko-Ko will cut off Nanki-Poo's head, and marry Yum-Yum thereby giving everyone what they want and saving the town from the rank of village.

Katisha enters and threatens to expose Nanki-Poo's secret, but the crowd shouts them down and she leaves, vowing to return.

Act II
As Yum-Yum is preparing for her wedding day, Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah tell of a caveat in the law that says if a man is executed his wife must be buried alive with him.  Yum-Yum is unwilling to marry under this condition and Nanki-Pooh demands to be executed on the spot.  Ko-Ko can't perform the execution because he doesn't know how, and so he resigns himself to his fate and sends Nanki-Pooh and Yum-Yum off to be married by Pooh-Bah who is also the Archbishop of Titipu and who also forges a false report of execution.

Suddenly, Katisha and the Mikado arrive with an entourage and great fanfare.  Ko-Ko describes the execution in great detail to the delight of the Mikado and Katisha.  When they examine the death certificate they learn that the "victim" was the heir apparent to the throne of Japan.  The penalty for compassing the death of the heir apparent is death by lingering methods such as boiling oil.  When the conspirators, Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing say they didn't know he was the heir apparent, the Mikado is sympathetic to them but says there is no provision in the law for not knowing.  Their execution is scheduled for after lunch.

Ko-Ko finds Katisha, throws himself on her mercy, swears his undying love to her and asks that she intercede with the Mikado for him and his co-conspirators.  The Mikado grants them mercy, Ko-Ko and Katisha are to be wed which means that Nanki-Pooh and Yum-Yum can finally come out of hiding.  The Mikado is not pleased, nor is Katisha until Ko-Ko says that when the Mikado orders someone to be put to death they are as good as dead so you might as well just say they are dead, to which the Mikado says is satisfactory.

And they lived happily ever after.

The director and set designer, Richard Clifford gave the concept for our production of The Mikado of Ukiyo-e, or traditional Japanese woodblock prints.  We studied the medium and one of it's greatest artists, Utagawa Hiroshige.  Follow these links to see examples of Hiroshige's work:
Link     Link     Link     Link

Kolby Clarke was a lighting student who was working on a portfolio to get ready for graduate school.  He had already assisted me and another designer on a couple of designs and had proven himself ready to take on more responsibility.  In fact after his work on The Mikado, we decided he was ready to solo, and assigned him to design the lights for Bielzy and Gottfried on our mainstage season.

I asked Kolby to be a co-designer on The Mikado.  The caveat being that I was still the designer of record and would have final say on anything we did.  We communicated well from the very beginning and were both striving to achieve the same goal from the same set of criterion so I didn't have to exercise my "veto" power a single time in this process.

Design and Execution
There were several conditions that I insisted on in the lighting design for The Mikado.  First, I wanted to use footlights because they would have been a primary light source for plays and operas written during the time of Gilbert and Sullivan and I wanted to express nostalgia in that way.  Second, I wished to use red, green, blue and amber downlights and mix to "white" in the air rather than in an instrument.  I had utilized this system of downlights on the lighting design of Phedre and had been very satisfied with the results.  I wished to use it again for The Mikado.  Third, I wanted to utilize strong sidelight. And fourth I wished to utilize the cyclorama in a meaningful way. 

Since this was a comic opera, there were several different types of songs.  There was recitative, which in an opera is like dialogue set to music.  In other words the recitative is the part where the story moves along.  Then there were the big production numbers.  Production numbers typically are a stoppage of time for an opportunity to explore one main idea with great music, fully orchestrated.  Typically these are the songs that everyone knows.  They sometimes are referred to as "show stoppers." 

The production numbers in The Mikado came in the form of solos, duets, trios, quartets, chorus numbers, and chorus numbers with solos, duets, trios, etc... fronting them.

As the lighting design evolved, we decided that we wished to light each type of musical number in a unique way.

We decided to light recitative in normal theatrical light, mainly frontlight and downlight.  We also used some sidelight for these types of cues.  During the recitative we also decided to show the time of day and passage of time.  We did this with color and angle of lighting on the actors, and color shifts on the cyclorama.  We also lit the recitatives in full stage light.  Sometimes bright, sometimes dim depending on the scene.  As far as color in the lighting, we chose to blend the color in the lighting to "white" light.  While it wasn't truly white light, it was less colorful than the light we used in some of the show-stopping numbers.

Recitative--Pooh-Bah introducing himself to Nanki-Pooh

Recitative--Ko-Ko negotiating with Yum-Yum and Nanki-Pooh

Recitative--same scene, closer
Recitative--Pooh-Bah, Nanki-Pooh and Ko-Ko conspiring
Recitative--Yum-Yum, Nanki-Pooh and Ko-Ko.  The bad news
Recitative--The happy couple on the honeymoon

Recitative--Early evening

Recitative--Death for compassing the death of the heir apparent

Recitative--Ko-Ko and Katisha.  The solution

Production Numbers
Kolby and I decided the main numbers needed to be lit more theatrically.  We did this with almost no frontlight, instead relying on our footlights, downlights and sidelights.  We also used the cyclorama in a much less literal way, using colors that expressed the song rather than trying to replicate daylight.

A few of the production numbers were chorus only.  Some of them were solos, duets, trios or quartets with chorus backing, and some of the numbers were solos, duets, trios or quartets with no chorus on stage.  Each of these types of production numbers were lit in a slightly different way.

Chorus Numbers
The main chorus only numbers in The Mikado is "If You Want to Know Who We Are" by the men's chorus and "Comes a Train of Little Ladies" by the women's chorus.

Still utilizing primarily footlights, sidelights and downlights, we cheated just a little frontlight into the mix, just for blending for these two numbers.  Typically these songs were lit brighter than the other types of production numbers but not as brightly as some of the recitatives.  The lighting angles were more dramatic and the colors more saturated.  The cyclorama was also lit more for the song rather than for time of day.

Chorus Number--If You Want To Know Who We Are

Chorus Number--If You Want To Know Who We Are

Chorus Number--Comes a Train of Little Ladies

Chorus Numbers with Singers Fronting
The next major type of production number were the chorus numbers with a soloist, a duet, a trio or a quartet fronting.  These numbers were lit almost identically to the chorus only numbers with the exception that we lit the "frontman (or woman)" with followspots.

Primarily footlights, downlights and sidelights in more saturated colors, as well as the cyclorama in a color that seemed to fit the music.

We have four followspots in the Snow Drama Theatre and we utilized all of them for The Mikado.  When we had solos and duets, we hit each singer with two spots each.  One from house left and one from house right.

Solo with Chorus--A Wand'ring Minstrel I

Solo with Chorus--A Wand'ring Minstrel I

Solo with Chorus--I've Got a Little List

Solo with Chorus--I've Got a Little List

Trio with Chorus--Three Little Maids From School Are We

Solo with Chorus--A More Humane Mikado

Solos, Duets, Trios and Quartets
For the solos, duets, trios and quartets with no chorus onstage we lit the stage far less and allowed the spotlights to direct the audiences' eyes.  What little light we did utilize on stage was footlight, sidelight and downlight.    During these songs we really wished the focus to be on the singers rather than the whole of the environment. 

Once again, with the followspots, we chose to light the solos and duets with two lights on each actor, one light coming from house left and the other coming from house right.  That helps round the characters, I feel.  On the trios and quartets, though we lit each actor with only one light.

Duet--Were You Not To Ko-Ko Plighted

Trio--I Am So Proud

Solo--The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze

Solo--The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze

Quartet--Madrigal:  Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day

Quartet--Madrigal:  Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day

Duet--There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast

This was a delightful production of The Mikado to work on.  From the great script and score and the execution of it by orchestra and singers, to the inspired casting and direction, the concept of Ukiyo-e and execution of that concept in a great set design to the beautiful and colorful costumes the landscape for a lighting designer was priceless. 

Working with a co-designer was very satisfying.  While it never seemed like there was less work for me to do in comparison with other shows I've designed on this scale, it was satisfying though to have another designer on the show giving ideas, giving input on ideas, and giving a different perspective on things.  I felt that we worked well together and that each of us made significant contributions to the final outcome.

Kolby was the right co-designer at the right time.  We had already worked together on several shows where he assisted me on the design and I felt he was ready to take a bigger role.  Because of his work on The Mikado I recommended him to the other faculty to take on a full lighting design of his own. 

Production Details
Directed by Richard Clifford
Musical Direction by David Olsen
Orchestral Direction by Robert Tueller
Scene Design by Richard Clifford
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Co-Lighting Design by Kolby Clarke
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Sound Design by
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall