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.
Article by Marcus Dilliard
Marcus Dilliard is a national Lighting Designer based right here in the Twin Cities and was Lighting Supervisor at the Guthrie under Garland Wright. Many lighting technicians currently around 40 worked and learnt from him, mostly at Theatre de la Jeune Lune.. To me and my peers, he was considered of the same generation as last week’s Mike Wangen, but their paths to and along the same career have been fascinating… and very different.
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.
Say what you want about the Guthrie, it was one of the primary incubators for the incredibly rich and diverse Twin Cities theater community. (Please note that when I use the word “theater” I include dance and opera.) Without the Guthrie as an artistic force to either leap from or push against, the list of theater companies displayed at the Ivey Awards would likely be much shorter.
(Tangentially, my role as an instructor in and Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, has made me aware of the importance of that department in the history of the Twin Cities’ performing arts scene. It would be lovely to have someone with a much deeper knowledge of that history write one of these articles.) we’re on it! - ed.
The Guthrie was, in 1984, under the artistic leadership of Liviu Ciulei, so it is not surprising that it was a very international organization. When I arrived in May, the production on the stage was Peter Sellars’ Hang On To Me. My first production as lighting supervisor was Liviu’s Three Sisters, followed by Lucian Pintilie’s production of Tartuffe. What I did not fully recognize at the time, but is ultimately most important about my early years at the Guthrie, was Liviu’s commitment to talent at the international, national, and local levels. This commitment continued under Stephen Kanee during his time as interim Artistic Director. Stephen was the person at the Guthrie who gave me the all-important second chance as a lighting designer. My first Guthrie main stage design, for Howard Dallin’s direction of A Christmas Carol in 1985, was clearly the worst design I have ever created. How I ever got that second chance will be one of the great mysteries of my career.
The second chance led to a third chance (Rhinoceros, directed by Kazimierz Braun) in 1986. One particular lighting cue (a pin spot on a ringing telephone) led to a long association with Garland Wright, the Guthrie’s incoming artistic director. In some ways, that was the most important cue that I have ever written, for it was under Garland’s mentorship that I became a true lighting designer. Garland was committed to company building and his company included any non-performers who showed an interest in learning from him… and a serious commitment to hard work. I learned as much from Garland, the director, about light as I have from anyone else on the planet.
The high point of the company building process was, of course, the 1990 production of The History Plays. To have been a part of presenting Richard II, Henry IV(both parts), and Henry V in rotating rep was like nothing else I have experienced. I still get goose bumps when I describe the standing ovation the company received when they entered the stage at the top of Henry V; this was on the first day that we presented all four shows in the span of 11 hours.
My point in all of this is that the institutions are important and the plays, operas, dances are important but most important are the people. Without a commitment to the highest level of artistic work that includes everyone, we are less of a community than we could be. As an in-house designer at the Guthrie, I could work with the likes of JoAnne Akalaitis, Jennifer Tipton, James Ingalls and Doug Stein. But this is also where I worked with equally great talents like Sally Wingert, Steve Yoakam, Isy Monk, Peter Rothstein, and, in what would be another career-altering moment, Dominique Serrand.
In 1993, as I was exiting the Guthrie staff, I had the opportunity to design the lighting for The Triumph of Love, directed by Dominique. This was a beautiful, thoughtful production that led to a long association with Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Jeune Lune was, in so many ways, the opposite of the Guthrie. The process was different, the personalities were different, the use of text was different, the very space itself was different. But the desire to create was the same. And this is what I have found to be true in almost every company in the Twin Cities – the desire to create something profound, something that has a voice and a point of view.
We all understand the importance of connections. As educators, we stress the need to “get your foot in the door” and make yourself known. But if the people on the other side of the door are not interested (or, more importantly, not interesting) what’s the point? Boston University connected me to the Guthrie, which connected me to Jeune Lune and the Minnesota Opera. Jeune Lune led to Minnesota Dance Theater; MN Opera led to Theatre Latte Da. And then there’s Pangea, Black Label Movement, History Theatre, Mixed Blood, Open Eye…you get the idea. What is ultimately most important about this community is that it is a true community.
A few years ago, one of the higher-ups at ETC (a stage lighting technology company based in Wisconsin) observed that the Twin Cities lighting community shares equipment and expertise freely and openly. My response was a puzzled “yes but doesn’t everyone?” Apparently not, I learned. We are unique in so many ways. This sort of community does not exist in most other “major metropolitan areas.” I am grateful to have found it and thankful to have been accepted into it. Even after 31 years here, I still feel a little bit like one of the new kids. Thanks for letting me join.
Article by Andrea M. Gross, Costume Designer
A prolific costume designer with a massive repertoire, Andrea M. Gross is also a company member with Nimbus Theater. She has worked for virtually all manner and size of theatre company and is an inspirational and well-known figure around town. A sharp and committed thinker, Andrea’s experience and knowledge are something we’re excited and proud to be able to share with you.
Check out more at her website: www.agrossdesigns.com
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”?
On a technical level, good work is high quality. The best available materials for the job, expertly crafted with complete finishing techniques. More abstractly, good work might be a choice that’s a complete thought, the result of edited and revised ideas. In either case, these things take skilled people, and at least a reasonable amount of time OR a reasonable amount of money (better still if it’s both).
Good can be about more than just how it turns out. It might be personally satisfying. I might surpass my own expectations, or the expectations of the person who hired me. A project is really good, for me, when we’re telling the story in a nuanced, cohesive way. I love it when a production concept “feels right,” as if it’s the only way to tell the story (even though it’s not). Good work should be collaborative: fair, trusted and trustworthy, an equitable and even exchange of ideas resulting in the best possible solution.
If we consider this an equation about how to achieve “good” product, I would argue that the support around the work is tantamount. Resources come in a number of forms: separate (appropriate) labor and materials budgets recognize the needs of a design process and a build process; a decent (organized, clean) stock to pull from allows a wider net of ideas to be cast while staying in budget; and a well-stocked workspace supports the skilled labor that’s needed to produce quality pieces.
We work fast in theater. A long rehearsal/build process might be six weeks: six weeks to create a customized (and flexible/adaptable) product is rare in other fields; we frequently do it in half that time.
Time spent on a project can come in several forms: the design/imagining phase might take a while, or might need to be hammered out immediately. The build phase might spread out over several months as other projects are worked on simultaneously, or may be compressed into days. We regularly get scheduled into a corner by not having enough time to develop and implement our ideas, and we must be nimble with our focus. When that realized idea (a costume, in my case) gets integrated in rehearsal, the needed time for reaction and response is woefully short.
Fast isn’t always a bad thing, though. There are projects that come together in very short order because a particular physical space is available and inspires great work, or a particular cultural flashpoint requires a response. Think of the late night conversations that tumble and crash into each other and yield brilliant ideas. Quick work inspired by necessity can be wildly creative and deeply rewarding.
Framing my work in terms of what time is given to various aspects of the process can be a really rich way to experience my work as a designer or as a technician, and a good way to quantitatively assess when or how a project becomes difficult. Where did I need more time? When did I spend too much time on something at the exclusion of something else?
This one’s a little trickier (because, really, money always complicates things). Compensation and budget seem to be the greatest challenges facing most companies or producing agencies. They are certainly the greatest challenge facing the artists who work with them.
One of the designer’s jobs is to realize a story within the budget allowed for it. There can be no question that there are factors at odds here: the amount of money allocated; the scale of the project; and the expected outcome rarely line up perfectly. The smaller a budget is, and the more a designer is expected to do with it, the more likely the final product will be compromised.
However, limited resources don’t have to be a debilitating problem: with enough time and attention, they can lead to unexpected answers through generative collaborative conversations and creative thinking. Limited budget may force us to explore beyond our first two (or six) ideas, and lead us to resourceful and delightful solutions. It’s my conclusion that with enough time and support resources, this kind of work can be extremely satisfying.
Here’s an example: if we believe we can only afford a $25 thrift store suit, then the time & effort spent driving to every thrift store in town to find the one that will fit (in a color we can live with, and hopefully it’s still there when you’re done checking all the other shops) has to be considered. If instead I spend 10% of that time buying a $250 suit at a discount store, with options for color, fit, size, and styling (& returns) available, then my personal resources are more available for the rest of the design. The thrift store suit is cheap, and good (or good enough), but it’s not fast. The discount store suit is better, and fast, but more expensive.
I find the expression “Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick Two” to be a useful way to frame my decisions about projects. Regularly as designers, we consider the value of a project by trying to broaden the experience to be more than a monetary exchange of fee for work –will it bring us into contact with artists we admire; will it offer us the chance to have our work seen by a new constituency; will we get some personal satisfaction out of the project; is it a script or an idea we’ve always wanted to tackle. Usually, on some level, we’re doing this to justify or rationalize the surrounding circumstances. Deciding which two of these three a project lets me delve into is an interesting angle to add to the decision making process. Sometimes I find it interesting to apply it to myself as a designer: Is the producer thinking of me as good? As fast? As cheap? How do I want to be perceived? But most interestingly, the adage proves to be a useful tool in making choices with a director, as it allows us to frame our priorities in a new light and consider the things we want to spend our limited resources on differently.
Article by Seth Scott, Monkey Wrench Productions
The founder of Monkey Wrench Productions, Seth Scott is a working professional technician with tremendous experience with all manner of lighting systems in just about every type of venue out there.
Shop for equipment, get a quote, or view a demo at www.monkeywrenchproduction.com!
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.
First lets talk about the technologies. Gone are the days of 3/5/10 MM LEDS and what I lovingly refer to as the “tic tac” fixtures - LEDs that more resemble something you would find as an indicator light on a current model than anything you would want to light a stage with (10MM LED tic-tac Fixture). Gone too are the days of individual colored LEDs and the dreaded tri-color shadows they cast. Today most LEDs are a multi-color chip under a single lens. These multi-colors come in many flavors from the basic RGB to RGBW or RGBA to RGBAW to the now ever popular RGBAW+UV or HEX LED’s as many manufactures refer to them. This is not all that this lovely diode has to offer in recent years. COB (Chip On Board) technology has come on strong and has some great features that lighting designers, grips, and audience members alike will all appreciate. The largest plus being that you can use barndoors with the fixtures and get a cut with them. They also appear to be a single source thus removing the complaint of “I don’t like to see all of those dots.”
Manufacturing costs and overall fixture cost have come down in large part to demand and other industries taking on the green initiative and saving the planet one 60W light bulb at a time. I’m not going to do the cost comparison between LEDs and par cans / S4 pars (that’s a numbers game that will always be won by the LED), but I do want to talk briefly about the quality of light since this is something that always comes up in retro fits. I’m a big fan of seeing is believing, so please get a demo of any light you are planning on replacing in your current inventory and spend time with it or find 2-4 and do a shootout. You will quickly see every manufacture has things they do well and things they don’t. Don’t rely on online videos or a friend’s option that had them on one gig. Any retailer should be more than happy to provide you with a demo unit.
LEDs, like any other product, come down to a few definable variables - I’ll be using color, dimming, optics, cooling, and build.
Color: The most common objection to LEDs that I run into is just this: color. “How do I know that that color on stage is R80 (or insert color of choice here)?” My reply is usually, “Why does it have to match the swatch if you aren’t using any lights with that color?” LEDs take us away from a cookie cutter way of designing and let us use our eyes to create whatever color or shade you want. We all have our go to colors that we use time and time again. If you have to match colors, I recommend setting aside an hour or so and set up a par with your gel of choice and your LED fixture, then mix until you match it. Record the values and now you know that this matched your R80 or whatever colors you use the most. Colors do vary from manufacture to manufacture and can be an issue, but in large part LED binning (the process of matching exact colors in LEDs) has become an exact science and is no longer a concern from any reputable manufacture.
Dimming: Dimming curves in LEDs are the 2nd hot button issue of contention and it’s true that they can strobe with the best of them and they do struggle with low intensity levels, but I ask you how often are you really using lights on stage at 15 % or less? If the fixture does not have a dimming curve that matches your tungsten lekos, then take this as an opportunity to learn how to make a split cue or use split timing and programming to make them match. Once you do it you will find that no one can tell the difference. As for the difference in programming time, just think each electric could be a single circuit vs 10-20.
Optics: Let’s face it, we have all tried to put a piece of diffusion on a LED fixture and have seen the output go from cyc light to flashlight. The problem is diffusion was designed for a large single source with punch and lots of visible light spectrum to see it through, so simply diffusing/spreading a tungsten source works great. LED relay on smaller power sources that have very narrow spectrums and many small point sources of finely chosen spectrum with very little unneeded light (this is the binning process). So you end up with a muddy mess when using diffusion. The solution comes to us from the auto industry. Many manufactures have taken to using holographic filters as a secondary lens option. These filters were originally developed for taillights. If your LED fixture has a 30 Degree beam spread, simply add one of these and it will be 10 degrees wider in all directions or my favorite for washing walls is a 1x60, meaning your 30 degree par becomes a 31x90 degree beam spread! Because the filters are holographic, the transmission rate of 92% is much higher than diffusion so you don’t lose nearly the light output you do with diffusion (Filters). This brings me to another misconception about LEDs. You need to think about your fixture as a system of smaller lights all working together to create one big one. If it has a 30 degree beam spread, each one of those lenses is 30 degrees making a 30 degree beam. Because it’s not a single source like a par can, every lens has the appropriate beam angle. This is the largest contributing factor to why barndoors don’t work with LEDs other than COBs I mentioned. Zooming LEDs have been around for a few years now with varying degrees of success. It may add to the cost of a fixture, but makes it useable as a wash or a spot since many of them can zoom from 10-60 degrees. The zoom is achieved by varying the distance of a secondary lens from the lens that is mounted on the LED itself. Think of it as a motorized Fresnel lens (Zooming LED).
Cooling: Other than water, heat is the LED’s archenemy. Fans are a necessary evil. Even many budget level fixtures offer a fan channel to control fan speed. Some fixtures offer convection cooling or cooling without fans, but as we keep increasing wattage to get more punch, these are quickly becoming abandoned. Yes, in an empty theater with no one talking and only 2 people breathing, you can hear 20 fans running. By the time you add in audience noise, HVAC, and anything else that you are running, the chances are “fan noise” becomes a moot point in the save my 65Q crusade.
Build: Unlike conventional fixtures which are usually stamped and formed steel, LED fixtures can be made from anything from aluminum to plastic. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes from flat pars, that more resemble a pancake than a lighting fixture, all the way to fixtures that look very similar to a source four par. In most cases the size of the heatsink and number of LEDs dictates size, but the form is up to the manufacture. When selecting one for your application, keep in mind that not everyone needs a stout can. If you never change your Rep plot, why spring for a top of the line overly protected unit when something less heavy duty will do the job.
This is just touching on the surface on what LEDs have to offer. Cyc light replacements have long been in the cross hairs of LEDs and Elipsoidials are next on the list. I’ll save these are for another time, though.
There is no perfect replacement, but if you are willing to compromise on a few small details that only a select few people might notice, you can enjoy infinite colors, lower power bills, less maintenance, cooler actors, and more versatility in your rig.
Resources & Links of Interest