About Chris Van Patten

Posts by Chris Van Patten:

Urinetown: Two Sided Panels

The panels created for Urinetown uses different techniques that uses material beyond just paint for their surface treatment. There are two looks that the panels tries to capture: one is the ugc corporation bathroom tiles and the other is the grotty cement walls of the street/amenity.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 7.04.39 AM
This image captures a moment in the show where officer Lockstock and Barrel meets Hope on the corner street. In the scene, you can see the texture that was created on the panels. The process used to create this texture starts off with adding a layer joint compound to areas on the panels that desires texture. The joint compound creates on its own a dimension and texture that can catch shadows. The joint compound was mixed with glue and sand so that it can stay on the panels better. The next step was using a sponging method to paint it. Max did a great job sponging the panels to add age and distress to them. The joint compound texture already on the panel help in trapping paint pigments in areas that had more depth.

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On the other side of the panels was used during the Urine Good Company scenes. It wants to look like bathroom tiles that had the logo UGC on it. The panels are MDF (Medium Density Fiber) boards that had groves cut into them to create a grid for the panels. The groves were cut using a V shape tooth so to give it a rounded look that you might see in the motar. After the panels are cut, they were painted white and black for the lettering. On top of that, glossy paint was added to the face of the tiles to give it a shine. It was consciously decided that the groves would not be glossed as they represent mortar which is typically matte.

The two painting techniques worked very well on stage. By working with the shop and the paint department, the paint treatment on the panels turned out to be a success.

Creation of the O’Bobby Painting

Everyone is aware of this graphic that became known in the presidential election. In the production of Urinetown, we want to imitate this style on our own hero of the show, Bobby Strong. The following are steps taken to achieve the final look.
Actor Jordan Hoffman posing in a heroic posture.
In Photoshop or Illustrator, make the image grayscale with 4 colors of grey.
In Photoshop or Illustrator, replace the four grays with colors. In this case a vibrant red, a dull blue, a black and white. The colors are chosen to imitate the original posture but also designed to be part of the visual language of the set.
photo (17)
The outlines of the image is simplified in the actual painting so that lines are definite and clear.

The Grad School and URTA experience

As my senior year winds down I find my future heating up. Since November, or really since the moment I began undergrad, I have been looking towards the future, specifically towards Grad School. I have traveled all over the country in the last year to look at different schools and options. In the fall I had my first grad school visit to Arizona State University (“ASU”). I was positive that it was the one. I was visiting for a program in Performance Design, or the art of the total picture combined with devised theater. On paper it was incredible, it was everything I needed, but in reality it was far from it. It became apparent that I was not right for them and they were not right for me.

So I moved on to what I was sure was the next right option. I wanted to be a director. I had just completed two devised performances, both of which I wrote, directed and designed. One in Poland at Teatr Arka, an integration theater for the mentally handicapped, and one as my senior capstone project called Murder of Simplicity. Both of which made me feel like a true artist. I was in control of an idea, a thought, and I was having an intellectual dialogue of energy with my audience.

I began chasing directing grad schools through the URTA process. I had to do an incredible amount of writing including, but not limited to, directorial philosophies, cover letters, artist statements and many more specific to schools. I had several interviews, and at each one it was reaffirmed that I have very interesting ideas, and a strong grasp of image, but that I am very young, and that taking me would be a risk.

I continued my hunt by applying as a Scenographer, the art of the total image, to the URTA design schools as well. Originally I was doing this just as a side to my directing schools to see what would happen, but it became swiftly apparent that to become a powerful designer of image I had to go to school for that, and could always go back to being a director. Then being able to utilize the tools an MFA in design would hand to me.

Following URTAs I had three major schools I was looking at, California Institute of the Arts (“Calarts”) – where I had also applied as a director, Ohio University (“OU”), and University of Missouri-Kansas City (“UMKC”). All three seemed to be a good fit with excellent mentors whom I could see myself learning under for the next three to four years of my life. At Calarts I was being looked at as a Costume Design student, at OU I was being looked at as a Scenographer, and UMKC I was being looked at as a Costume and Lighting Designer.

My first visit was to UMKC. I had a four-day visit there, three days with the lighting department, and one with the costume department. It was scheduled to snow, but being from Buffalo I thought nothing of it. The school closed for two whole days. It snowed two feet and the entire city shut down. I had forgotten that other cities weren’t as prepared for snow as Buffalo, but luckily I still was able to have my visit and get to see the facilities, meet the students, and talk to the professors.

By the fourth day I was completely enamored with what the school had to offer. Between the sheer artistry present in every rendering the students make, to the volume of work they create, to the international network the school has created for itself, and even the city (who know I would love Kansas City?- not me that’s for sure.), everything just felt right.

Leaving the school I had made my decision. If they were to give me an offer, I would accept. Within the week I had received an offer, and without visiting any other schools, with the guidance of my professors, peers, and colleagues, I accepted. I just knew it would be perfect, it felt right, and much like dating- when you meet the right person you don’t need to go on a first date with the other three potentials.

I sent out my “Thank you, but I must end our conversation” emails to OU and Calarts, and moved on, back to finishing my senior year. For the first time in months I felt able to relax about my skills, ideas, abilities, and of course my future.



Epilogue: I received an acceptance letter from Calarts shortly after sending my email declaration of non-intent to them. It was like looking at a life that could have been. What it made me aware of was that I had made the right choice, as I felt only a momentary twinge of regret in not visiting before moving on and remembering how incredible it felt to be a future UMKC student.




Addendum – My Directorial Philosophy


A major life goal of mine is to create theater in the way that Pilobolus creates modern dance. Their company works circularly, starting with a wide basin of material from which they devise a performance as a group, spiraling to a central focus of the work. This is what appears on stage. Their company begins working with a huge amount of information, but presents only a small amount of it to the audience, creating a concise and clear idea, or message. Pilobolus’s hierarchy is based entirely upon experience.  The younger performers’ opinions and ideas are given significant weight, but the eyes and ears of the more experienced performers shape the impulses of the ensemble.

This approach would, I believe, also create the most powerful theater, a theater that is always fresh, yet polished. This is what it means to bring together generations of artists. There is a loving harshness in all critiques, to help each other grow rapidly. I hope to work in several such companies and eventually found and develop one.
In Murder of Simplicity (http://maxarchimedes.com/Design_Portfolio/Pages/Murder_of_Simplicity.html), a work that I conceived, directed, and designed in collaboration with an ensemble of performers, we employed this type of circular, spiraling creative process. Such work is difficult to separate into individual design elements because they affected each other heavily, guiding each other’s development. This world, in which performers, directors, and designers are the same people, readily giving and taking from each other, made us all aware of the intimacy of our work, resulting in total pictures and the most intense observer experience.


My approach to Murder of Simplicity differs greatly from the more conventional notion of distinct separation of each facet of design that I encountered as a student designer. For example, in my junior year of undergraduate study at the University at Buffalo (“UB”) I designed costumes for a production of Hedda Gabler (http://maxarchimedes.com/Design_Portfolio/Pages/Hedda_Gabler.html). This production seemed somewhat disjointed, as if the elements of the design had never come together, which was largely the response from the KCACTF respondent. When each part of the design was presented separately at regionals, the designs were very well received. Each designer created a finished whole, but we never found the same center point. Had we walked the circle together, I think we could have covered more ground and discovered new material, gestures, and shapes cohesively instead of separately.
I have found that when my work has been most effective in communicating feelings and ideas to the observer, it has always started with images. As a director, I begin building a show like I begin working on a design: I look for inspiration from other artist’s pictures. Whether it be young artists whom I know personally, or experienced artists whom I have found through magazines or the internet, other artists exert a strong influence on me. Throughout my process I use images for many different purposes. They will, of course, inspire my designs, but they may also suggest shapes for actors, lines for movement, and even feelings for entire scenes. I will often ask my performers to draw with me or make collages to share a concrete sense of what we’re feeling, beyond words. The use of image as communication inspires me as a person and an artist, yet image is only part of my creative approach.
Music exerts an equally powerful influence on my process. Music incites my entire body to inspiration, in a way that I would not be able to capture otherwise. It fills me with ideas, and I use it throughout the entire rehearsal process and in performance to help create mood and stimulate thought for the performers. This gives my work a cinematic presence in the way the action moves from one moment to the next. A finished production could feel like a concept album we have created from other people’s musical expressions. I frequently sample and mash up music to create tracks for rehearsal and production in order to amplify the emotional arc of a theatrical experiment.
In my work, the observer experience, while created and intensified by picture, sound, and music, is always grounded in the intensity of the performer. The energy of the people on stage is the most important part of theater: its pulse, its rhythm, its core. For this reason, every time I direct, I aim to unlock the active core of the actor’s body. I focus on relaxation, movement, and impulse, aiming to expand the performer’s personal movement patterns. In rehearsal, I do not use the word “character.” I prefer my performers to take the person they are becoming to heart and not think of them as a distanced notion of a “character” on a page, but as a living, breathing entity integrated into their own beings. If the core is active and the actors have put themselves into the performance, then they will always be the most interesting element of the picture.

For me, the audience is a performer who hasn’t been overtly asked to perform. By breaking the imaginary fourth wall, I give them permission to make choices within the performance. They may be touched by performers or talk to performers.  I sometimes take away comforting conventions such as bows, to create a more immediate and active observer.  In the tradition of Epic theater, I see it as my job not to mesmerize them with entertainment, but to force them out of their comfort zones. This may create unease in the audience, which I sometimes seek. I aim to create emotion in everyone that participates in or with my work. I aspire to create conversations through dissonance.
I spent the summer of 2012 working as a director and scenographer of new work at Teatr Arka in Wroclaw, Poland – already achieving one of my life goals of working in Eastern European theater. I am currently in negotiation to return to Teatr Arka in summer 2013 with another project. Part of their approach is to follow their instincts and ideas from beginning to end before making a decision on whether or not the impulse was worthwhile. They treat themselves the way a painter does.  They plan for a while, but when rehearsal or the artisan process takes over, they abandon plans in favor of new impulses. Working with this company has helped me grow exponentially. This company has developed my ability to have full trust in my instincts while remaining open to the strong constructive critique of my collaborators.

In the production that I created for Teatr Arka, Silence (http://maxarchimedes.com/Design_Portfolio/Pages/Silence.html), we removed a curtain call, and the audience would applaud at the end, hoping to call the performers back on stage.  Finally the audience would concede, realizing that their applause could not force the actors back into the “real world.” The story would stand alone, untouched by the performer’s reality. The art of ending a show cleanly, yet without conflicting with the spirit of the performance, is something that I aim to craft and shape seamlessly. I do not believe that conventional bows are required; instead, I look to close the book on the characters and their stories, and allow these narratives to end as if they were real.  During the time they are on stage, they are real and true, so why break that illusion in the name of convention?

I am interested in working with the strongest designers, directors, actors, and collaborators that I can find; people who wish to devote their lives to art. Ensembles and collaboratives comprised of such committed artists may produce huge failures as well as huge successes.  This suits me, as I am uninterested in being safe, average, or mediocre. I believe that if a work of art pleases everyone, with rare exception, it has not taken enough chances; it has not fought hard enough for a goal or vision. I seek to make theater that is complicated, controversial, and frequently ambiguous.  Not everyone will appreciate all of my work all of the time, but I hope they will always have something to say about it.


Prepared to Disagree

After accepting the position of Musical Composer for Road to Glory, I began researching ranchero guitar styles, typical chord progressions, and popular musical themes within the style. I came up with many samples that I and the director agreed upon. What I forgot about theatre is that it is constantly malleable and when something works for the show one week, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for the show the next week. After getting my heart set on the music I composed, much of it was changed or cut during tech. While I knew I was going to learn a lot about guitar music, composition, and theory, I hadn’t expected learning so much being open to change and having back up plans.

Design and Research

After accepting my role as Costume Designer for The Threepenny Opera , I could not have imagined the amount of work that would have to be done before even meeting the director. Because of communication problems over the summer, I was not able to contact the director and get a starting ground as to where the director was envisioning. Because of this, my summer led to researching for three different time periods.

Thinking my research was only for me, little did I know that I would need my research images to communicate to the shop, not just my renderings. Maybe that was silly of me, but I honestly didn’t think twice about it. After starting costume fittings, it was easier to show research images along with my renderings to better help communicate my ideas to the shop.

One set of my renderings now includes research images on the same page as the rendering along with notes. This method worked great because when I was not in the shop I was able to leave my ideas with the shop manager and my assistant to pull things for me to look at.


Research is the key to design and communication!

Budget Revisions and Design Revisions

For the recently finished Project MIST weekend, I was tasked with handling the budget. I’ve been working on that budget honestly since June, and its still not even finished. On my computer, there are various versions of it, each labeled “Final,” which is actually hysterical (or I have a twisted sense of humor, not ruling that one out). What all these budget revisions of taught me, is that you can love an idea, but don’t marry it (which, surprise surprise, can carry over into design).

When dealing with budgets, just like designing some aspect of a show, there are certain parameters that must be adhered to. For budgets, it is your available funds and what those specific funds can go towards. When designing a show, those parameters are the text. You can’t do Waiting for Godot without some form of a tree; they talk about the tree several times.

With that said, you can create a budget or design that you absolutely love and that fits the given parameters. The fun begins when a visiting artist, price of an item on Amazon, or director decides to change something and it affects your budget or design. You need to know your budget like the text of a play; know it inside and out. When a director or someone else surprises you with a change, you need to be flexible and accomodate said change and make sure that it fits the given parameters. Love the budget or design that you create, but don’t marry it. Odds are, its going to change, and divorce is always messy.

Designing Teas, One Cup at a Time

Most recently, I was tasked with creating signature teas for an art exhibit. Having a decent amount of knowledge in loose leaf tea and tea history, I thought it would be easy. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately (the verdict is still out on that one), it was much harder than I initially anticipated.

I had wanted to blend teas that were embodiments of the exhibit itself, a series of pieces focused and inspired by Niagara Falls. As the exhibit was entitled, “Whispers & Rages,” it was evident to me that at least two teas would be needed, one that exemplified “Rages” and one that exemplified “Whispers.”

When thinking of Rage in regards to Niagara Falls, I think of extreme and utter power. Locations such as Luna Island or the Brink of the Horsehoe Falls on the Canadian side come to mind. I wanted to blend a tea that was both powerful in taste and smell, with an underlying sense of rage. Using my prior knowledge, I knew that Pu’erh tea would be my base. Pu’erh is a very unpleasant smelling tea leaf, and has a very earthy and robust taste, mainly due to the fact that it is a fermented tea. For me, Pu’erh is power in a cup. I knew that Pu’erh blended well with dark chocolate and had made and tried a trial batch. The tea had the power, but lacked the rage. Inspired by the current trend of spicy chocolates, I hazard a guess and added a tiny amount of crushed red pepper flakes to the batch and brewed it. The resulting tea was a perfect blend of power and anger, creating a smooth tasting cup with fiery undertones.

“Whispers,” as a tea was much more difficult to create. I knew Whispers had to accompolish two things:

1. It needed to be decaffinated.

2. It needed to be indicitive of a peaceful Niagara Falls (or as peaceful as it can be).

With past experience in tea, I knew I had several options to pick from, but none of them really stood out to me as being the correct solution. They were too tame on their own. I thought of locations such as Terrapin Point, an open area that is calming, but has underlying power. Peppermint, I had decided, needed to be included in this whispers blend. Peppermint, in my opinion, would provide that underlying sense of power, offering a slightly cooling effect to the final cup.

With peppermint in hand, I narrowed down my decaffinated tea options to Rooibos, a naturally decaffinated tea with the same amount of anti-oxidants as Green Tea. I began blending the rooibos and peppermint with various floral and fruit notes, finally achieving a rather delicious finished product with notes of lavender and raspberry.

The teas ultimately were a huge success, and were quite exciting to blend. What I realized in the process, is that the design concepts, elements, principles, etc, that we learn in our classes, don’t just apply to visual or performing arts. I followed the same process I would blending these teas as I would designing lights for a show (there might actually be some analogue gestures somewhere in my notes on the teas). Moral of the story: take what you learn and play with it a bit.

Wireless Effect Trigger

Beginning in August of 2011 I started exploring the idea of a wireless sound effect trigger. After researching various platforms to build off of, I eventually settled on the Arduino. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform for developing projects. They offer a variety of circuit boards with a micro-processor built in which can then be programmed using a free programing environment that users can download. I chose the Arduino not only because it of the vast amount of knowledge available online, but also because of the cost and the versatility of the platform. Most of the preassembled circuit boards cost no more than $30. The user can connect a wide variety of inputs and outputs to the Arduino to achieve the desired outcome. Programming an Arduino is relatively easy due to the vast amount of sample code and tutorials available through the knowledge base created by users.

I was eventually able to make a functional trigger system for about $70. The system I developed uses an Arduino Nano as the basis for transmitter. I chose this board since it is the smallest Arduino available with a built in USB connector for programming. The Nano is approximately 1.75” by 0.75”, so it is a small and compact unit. Connected to the Nano are a small push button switch and an inexpensive RF transmitter. The transmitter runs at 315 MHz and is matched to the receiver used on the base station. The Arduino is currently powered by a 9V battery, but can be powered by anything capable of outputting 7-12V. The receiver base station is built off of an Arduino Uno. I chose the Uno for this since it has plenty of inputs and outputs available without being overly large and it can be powered using an A.C. adapter. Connected to the Uno are the receiver unit, running at the same 315 MHz as the transmitter, and a MIDI cable for outputting control signals.

The system uses MIDI signals to trigger effects on any device with a MIDI input. When the push button connected to the transmitter is pressed, it then sends a number to the receiver based upon the number of times it has been pressed. The receiver interprets this signal and then outputs a MIDI Control value based on the number received. I tested the system using the sound system in the Drama Theater here at the University at Buffalo. I routed the MIDI signal to a Mini-Mac running Q-Lab with multiple effects set to respond to specific MIDI signals. When tested, the system worked flawlessly at ranges of up to 60 to 80 feet.

I feel like this system could be very useful. Being so versatile, it could be mounted inside of a prop in order to allow an actor to trigger an effect, or mounted somewhere in the set. It does not have to be limited to triggering audio however. It could be used to trigger anything capable of responding to MIDI signals.  I plan to continue developing this system over time to include more input options as well as improved capabilities.

Prage Quadrennial Part 6 – Bridging the Gap

Along my journey I have seen many different forms of theatre, as well as many different forms of visual art. Yet the differences between the two begin to fade when you encounter performance art, and avant guarde theatre, let alone spontaneous public work. So is there really any difference? When you get down to the roots of it, not really.



Art is creative expression. Theatre is a performed narrative. These are the nut-shell definitions.  But these definitions intertwine, and create a grey area. The line between visual art and theatre is painfully thin. In many ways theatre is a form of art. It is creative expression. On the flip side, art also maintains theatricality in production and presentation.


Society is comfortable with classifying things in order to better understand them. Often times visual art is classified as that which is in a gallery, or museum, and theatre is classified as that which is on a stage. However it is not that simple.

Looking back  at the Prague exhibition floor, I remember all the national exhibits, and how they were displaying “theatre”. In reality what they were displaying were photographs, model sculptures, textiles, and various other artifacts. All of these pictures and items were taken out of the context of their story to be presented at the national exhibits, and in this way they became visual art.

Theatre as a whole is a narrative in motion, yet the pieces and parts that make up this narrative are works of art.

This concept is reinforced by the fact that scenic models and costume renderings were on display at the Prague National Modern Art Museum, as works of art.

The concept of the stage also has many pit falls. What is a stage? Is it a frame through which we see a picture? A platform? A venue with an audience? In this regard museums are stages for visual art.

You can take a work of art, and develop it into a narrative, a montage, or a dialogue – in this sense it develops a theatricality about it, which can be classified as theatre.

The narrative does not have to be in motion, it can be in how the audience reacts to it. This is best exemplified in John Cage’s 4’33”, where a musician enters the stage and performs the piece for precisely 4minutes and 33 seconds. While no actual notes are played it is the sounds of the audience that creates the piece. Similarly the reactions to visual art maintain this same sense of theatricality. The narrative and movement are not as obvious as they are in theatre, however a dialogue exists either way.


There is no form of art that breaks the lines of classification as abruptly as public art. True, art is in the name yet it is neither on a stage nor in a frame. The term public art classifies all works of art found outside an established museum, gallery, or theatre. You find it on the streets, in schools, hospitals, parks, abandoned buildings, etc.

Often times public art is commissioned by the government, however today we see a lot of public art that is installed spontaneously by the artist or artists involved. Some may call this graffiti, street theatre, performance art, renegade artists, protests, even advertisements are a form of public art.

Public art responds to a public, either to inform, disturb, critique, or simply to get one to THINK.

No matter how you look at it public art is produced by the public, for the public. It is a direct relation to the population that lives there, usually incorporating site specificity to enhance how rooted this work is to the locale and people that live there.

What I mentioned earlier about John Cage’s 4’33”, is essential to understanding how public art thrives or dies in a society. The way public art responds to an environment impacts the people living there – and the response of that public to the artwork is as important as the artwork itself.

My public theatre piece that was part of Six Acts blends all lines of classification. It was a spectacle, a moving artwork responding to the Fransican Garden. Similarly the public art I saw in both Berlin and Konstanz served to enrich the lives of the people that live there, while giving them a hint of the history the city was founded upon.

Public art, good or bad, shapes a society. It defines locations, such as the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty,  and in smaller venues such as the Astronomical  Clock of Prague, churches have been using public art for years to maintain an identity with saints and angels, the Berlin Wall, and in Konstanz we have our fountains.

Visual art and theatre also come from society, they are created and performed for a society. To enrich lives and open eyes.


While society tries to differentiate visual art and theatre by their context, public art finds its context in society thus creating the synthesis of all art forms – creative communication – straight to the public, whether they want to be impacted by it or not.

Prague Quadrennial Part 5 – Visual Art in Central Europe

Aside from the conference I also visited various museums, galleries, and locations of public art, not only in Prague, but also in Berlin and Konstanz, Germany.

In comparing the visual and public art on display in these select cities of Europe, to those in the United States, there is one large difference I found incredibly exciting. The acknowledgement of process in architectural and theatrical designs.

At the Prague National Museum of Modern Art I discovered that there were plaster models of architecture on display – along with the sketches of the buildings. I found the recognition of architecture as modern art incredibly interesting. The museums I have visited in the States may recognize architecture as an art form, but not to this caliber. The Museum in Prague not only recognized architecture as an art, but the models and sketches that lead to the final product as an art.

On top of architecture there were also costume renderings and numerous model boxes depicting scenic designs. This display of theatrical designs as artwork enthralled me. I found that the term “modern art” encompassed much more than paintings and sculpture in Prague.

I also went into the Alphonse Mucha Museum in Prague as well as the Museum of Decorative Arts. Mucha is one of my all time favorite artists. His line work and depiction of the human form has inspired me for many of my own pieces of art work.  The Museum of Decorative Arts did not allow photography, however the large array of clothing, clocks, glasswork, books, and furniture on display made me understand the concept of art as an all encompassing term for fine art.

While I was in Berlin, I unfortunately unable to go in the Guggenheim, as it was in a period of change-over in exhibits. However I was able to view a lot of different forms of public art, from graffiti, public murals, and sculptures. The graffiti served to enliven the area, and bringing a form of culture and visual interest to the area. Had the neighborhoods I walked been void of graffiti they would have been baren, another strip of tad buildings with small stores trying to survive under them. Many store fronts even had spray painted murals to attract passerby into their businesses.  The public art served as a reflection of the people that lived in the city, an outlet for creative expression.

In Konstanz I found the same thing, that public art served as an extension of culture for the people that lived in Konstanz. Many sculptures illustrating the colorful and quirky life of a shore line city. The galleries in Konstanz reflected the similar quirky life of a small town.


The visual art present in Central Europe not only extends to the elements of theatrical and architectural design,  but also reflects the people that live in those areas.