Spotlight August 2015

<![CDATA[Spotlight August 2015: GOOD FAST CHEAP, An LED Education, and Sightlines with Marcus Dilliard!]]> Spotlight August 2015: GOOD FAST CHEAP, An LED Education, and Sightlines with Marcus Dilliard!
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August 2015
A Note from Wu Chen

Our out-of-town friend listened in, nodding sagely as I gracefully turned down the gig. My schedule, I said, was just too tight and it would be irresponsible for me to cram in another show. Please keep me in mind for the future; I would love to work with you someday.

Then our friend gaped, aghast, as I proceeded to suggest several alternatives they should call. "All excellent designers and technicians," I declared.

After I rang off, our friend demanded to know if I was being honest about wanting to work with them again. "Absolutely," I said. They do good work, pay well, and are good folk (the oft-repeated mantra of Good Project, Good Compensation, Good People: Pick 2).

“Then why,” our friend thundered, “did you just give the gig away?”

Apparently, this commonly accepted practice of recommending and gig-sharing that we have here is, uh, not the norm in other parts of the country.

It’s a good practice, and I stand by it very firmly. I could throw out the usual bevy of check-the-box phrases, but the simple reality is that it is gracious, polite and good business. Sure, I might not ever get called again by that company (I did, actually), but I’m going to get other calls when someone else suggests me in turn. Also, if the employer is someone who doesn’t care about treating people well, do you really want to work for them?

Admittedly, this is a tremendous oversimplification of the matter. The system works because largely we all participate in it, and we use peer pressure on those who don’t. If I were the only person doing it, I might eventually be able to make a difference, but only by persuading others to join me.

This month’s Spotlight is all about practice, evaluating, and taking chances, and working with those most important yet overlooked of resources: other people.

In Sightlines this month, Marcus Dilliard presents a different journey into lighting design from last month’s Mike Wangen, as well as some important thoughts on people, chances, and connections. Andrea M. Gross digs into that other triptych we all learn as a mantra: Good/Fast/Cheap: Pick 2. Her thoughts, from the point of view of a costume designer, are fascinating and deeply informative for anyone looking to better evaluate their process and choices. Lastly, Monkey Wrench Productions gives us some insight into that inevitable technology that’s dividing photographers and all designers: LEDs. (except Sound Designers)

Dig in, and let’s all take a moment to think about how we’ve done things in the past and why. It never hurts to check in with that other important, oft overlooked resource: you.


Wu Chen Khoo
Tech Tools co-founder and Operations Director

Sightlines: Lighting Guthrie & Beyond

A Personal History
by Marcus Dilliard


My introduction to Twin Cities theater was the Guthrie’s 1984 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Garland Wright, with lighting designed by Craig Miller. My apologies to the other designers but it was a very long day and as I had flown in from Boston that morning, had a full day of interviews and then attended the performance, my memory of the other artists is limited. I was interviewing for the position of Lighting Supervisor; such a position had not been part of my career path. I had graduated from Boston University’s School for the Arts with an MFA in lighting design in 1982 (OK, my thesis wasn’t finished until 1983…) and had been working as Boston Shakespeare Company’s Production Manager / Lighting Designer / default Technical Director for two years. And I was already burned out, so the offer from the Guthrie was, of course, something to take seriously.

I remember that the show was very smartly directed and the scenery was very white. More importantly, I remember thinking that I had only seen theater of this caliber at Yale Rep and occasionally on Broadway. It wasn’t a difficult decision to box up everything we owned that didn’t fit into our ‘72 Super Beetle, leave the boxes for the movers and drive to Minneapolis in May of 1984. The plan was to move on after two years. I have never once regretted the ongoing decision to stay.

Read the full article HERE!

Tech Tools Calendar of Events

We are diligently planning fall - be sure to check back soon. In the meantime, send us your suggestions and requests for workshops and panels.

Visit our Events Calendar for information!

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Soapbox: GOOD. FAST. CHEAP. Pick Two.


Article by Andrea M. Gross,
Costume Designer

I’m a freelance costume designer based in the Twin Cities. August 2015 marks my tenth anniversary here, and I’ve had opportunities to work in a wide (but by no means exhaustive) range of theater in that time.

My introduction to Minnesota was as costume shop manager at Theatre L’Homme Dieu, run at the time as a summer program of St Cloud State University. In the costume shop at SCSU hung a cross-stitched sampler with the words, “Good. Cheap. Fast. Pick Two” ….I’ve been living some version of it ever since.


We all want to do good work, right? What does that mean to you? What makes a project (or your finished product) “good”? How is that different from “good enough”?

Read the full article HERE!

Monkey Business: LED Education 101

Article by Seth Scott
Monkey Wrench Productions

Not since the invention of putting colored water in front of a light source (later colored gel) has something so single handedly changed the way we light our stage as the Light Emitting Diode. LED has become more than a fashionable buzz word in our industry, it has become a way of life. 10+ years ago we were lucky to find something that fit our needs let alone our budgets. Such a product seemed to be a figment of our imagination. Fast forward a few years and you can hardly swing a two-fer without hitting a LED fixture. It has reduced our power consumption, weight of transport, and brought the demand for gel to a steady crawl. I’m here to shed some light on the advancements of this technology and talk about how not all budget LEDs are bad.

Wu Chen Recommends...

I love mysteries, and I love series with recurring characters to really dig into. While the recently deceased Ruth Rendell was one of my favourite mystery authors, and with Colin Dexter (check out the spin-off TV series Lewis on Netflix for a real treat) and Sara Paretsky forms my trio of highly recommended contemporary authors for those new to the genre, the writer I find myself reading and rereading more than any other is Ellis Peters, which was actually a pen name for the author Edith Pargeter. I declare that fact with the self-important grandiosity of one who only just found out while researching this piece and had spent his whole life thinking they were different people.

By turns whimsical and deeply serious, the Brother Cadfael series is a fascinating take on a rich world. I’m not an expert in 1200s England and Wales, and I shan’t pretend to hold forth on the accuracy of the setting, but that doesn’t detract from the storytelling and I find myself easily drawn in. The people are sketched effectively and efficiently and the recurring characters are deeply compelling - even nasty old Brother Jerome. There is a dynamic, sensical (not sensible) and compelling world beyond the main characters, and life happens there in all it’s inexorable, terrible beauty.

Easily readable (you’ll fly through the pages without realizing it), but by no means fluffy and superficial, Ellis Peters’ language is intelligent and approachable. I’m rather reminded of Star Wars - don’t laugh - in that you’re thrown into this world with the presumption that you’re smart enough to grasp what’s happening and can use that brain of yours to make sense of it. All while having a rollicking good time - and there’s nothing wrong with that!

My favorite is The Devil’s Novice, but they’re all a darn good read.

Working with Steel in the Guthrie Theatre Scene Shop.  Photo Credit: Megan Engeseth Photography
Photos used in this publication are copyrighted to Farrington Starnes and used with permission. Photos used in this publication are copyrighted to Megan Engeseth Photography and used with permission.
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