About Chris Van Patten

Posts by Chris Van Patten:

Thursday March 10th, 2011-Beg, Borrow, Steal and Why My First Two Years at UB Might Not Have Been Pointless

On Thursday, there were two sessions that peaked my interest. The first was one tailored more towards those who serve as the entire design and technical staff for high school productions. I, however, work as the entire design and technical staff for a community theatre company over the summer, and thought, “Maybe this will apply”

The session essentially consisted of various instructors who have served as the entire design and technical staff at one point in their life. Their tricks and pointers were fantastic. They discussed how you need to beg, borrow and steal your ideas. One showed images of a proscenium arch she constructed out of paper. She also discussed the uses of paper, and how she has built entire sets out of paper. They discussed how by adding a piece of plywood, two step ladders can easily turn into a platform, as well how, allegedly, adding all paint colors together will give you a type of beige. I disagree with that, based on my own experience, but I digress.

The second session I attended was all about those who want an arts management degree, but don’t have a program at their school. UB does offer an MFA program for Arts Management, but no Bachelor’s program. I went, toying with the idea of my final goal getting a Masters in Arts Management. I went planning on asking various coursework they recommended. Allegedly, I was already doing fine.

My first 2 years at UB consisted of me pretending I wanted to be a lawyer. So, I took classes pertaining to that. Then I switched to theatre for a multitude of reasons that I do not have the time or energy to get into right now. When I told them about my previous stint as a legal studies major, they said that was perfect. One even mentioned that, with a law and theatre background, id be well on my way to practicing Entertainment Law. Now I just need to figure out if its what I want to do.

Wednesday March 9th, 2011-Why the fire marshall should be your friend

The first session I attended at the USITT Conference was titled, “The Proscenium Zone.” I thought it would be a broad overview of safety issues and regulations concerning the Proscenium Zone. I was half right. While the session focused heavily on safety issues pertaining to the Proscenium Zone, the session seemed to mainly focus on the fire curtain, and why the firemarshall needs to be your best friend.

First off, was anyone aware of the apparent regulation, prescribed by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration-the federal task force aimed at making the work place safer), that states that the fire curtain must be closed every night? Because well over half of the people in my session were not aware. Apparently it is there to prevent people from falling off the stage in the dark. I have checked the OSHA website, osha.gov, and im going to be honest, I can’t find it anywhere. 

When the fire marshall got mentioned, however, I was all ears. Having previously had an incident in High School where the fire marshall shut down the theatre for a short period of time for an infraction I can’t recall, I’m always attentive when it comes to fire marshalls. The panel, luckily consisted of a few theatre owners, who shared their experiences with the fire marshall. One mentioned, that they became so close to the fire marshall, that when their theatre was largely violating safety codes, the fire marshall ignored the infraction, and told the to fix it after the show.

On Renderings

On renderings:
Throughout the conference I have been able to see various professional and student work. What really struck me was the great degree to which the renderings varied – and what made some better than others.
It is no question that craftsmanship plays a big role in the success of a rendering, however there are other things that help in making it better than the rest.
1. Have some sort of background or texture that reflects the environment the characters find themselves in. This can be as formal or abstract as desired – but the style should try to reflect the style or medium chosen for the renderings.
2. Color in the rendering – utlizise fabric swatches so the shop can clearly tell what fabrics are to be used where (or what paint).
3. If possible look at the headshots of the actors for the renderings – so you can sketch their faces on the characters.
4. It is useful to have small sketches of how the costumes are made and how they are layered on the person if the costume is complicated. For paint renderings it could also be helpful to have a step-by-step rendering if you are the scenic artist as well. If not you could try to make detailed renderings of intricate locations on the set – etc
5. Experiment with media. Not all shows call for the same media.
6. Put your name on it – character name, show title etc. Labels are important 🙂
7. A border is also helpful.

Goodbye Kansas City

Well USITT has finally come to an end. I spent the morning packing and going to view many of the young designer’s who had work on display. The Stage Expo Floor was closed because the conference was closing. :(. Then myself and a few other students from UB decided to attend a session about projections. The session covered basic ideas of projection and how they can be used with live dancers. the first part of the session seemed to be a review in VI terminology. Cathy would have been proud. Well at least she could be proud of the UB students because we knew exactly what was going on. It was strange because the session didn’t really cover the technology to be used to create the projections, but it mostly covered the look and result that is achieved through the projections.

Sadly the session was not everything that we had believed it would be. It was geared to students and professionals who had never done projections before. UB, while we may not be the leaders in the use of projections, have created and used them successfully before.

Following the session my fellow USITT goers and myself went to the airport and flew home. This entire trip has been an eye opening experience and helped me to see just how large and important every part of our industry is. I am hoping to return to USITT next year and learn even more about our highly technical world.

So Long, Farewell!

Last day, so sad, too bad.

I’m sorry the following two blogs are up so late, I did not have internet access last night, I apologize.

Today (addendum: April 3rd) was our last day in Kansas City (rather last few hours after waking up).

I only did one thing today, I took one last trip to the Young Designer’s Forum. I went through the beautiful exhibits one more time. This time I really took my time looking through every single exhibit as slowly and as carefully as possible, being that there were a fourth of the people in the tiny room than there were last time.

The work was truly beautiful; from the mask work, to the scene artists, to the costume designers, to the scene designers. There is truly a huge amount of young competition out there for me, and I have a lot to live up to.

After this we began our long journey home, and here I am now. Sitting happily in my bed blogging.

So peace ya’ll update this tomorrow.

3rd Day Partay.

I’m sorry the following two blogs are up so late, I did not have internet access last night, I apologize.

Today (addendum: April 2nd) was a slightly slower day than the rest, although there wasn’t any less information to absorb.

I started my day with a fantastic seminar by the Jennifer Tipton. She is one of the most famous lighting designers of all time, and has no formal training. She began her life as a dancer and through that fell in love with light. She has lit many shows on Broadway, and probably more than she can remember over all the rest of the country.

As I have never taken a lighting class, her session was basically a crash course in lighting for me. She taught us all about the dynamics of light and how speeding up or slowing down a transition can have any entirely different mood feel. She also taught me a whole lot about the angles of light, and how they’re incredibly important. For instance front light, with no back light can really flatten a person out, and down light alone will put someone in shadows, and make the floor more important, but if you add a shin splitter (named because of the fact that dancer’s split their shins on it because of location) you can light both the person and the keep them isolated in a circle on the floor.

This also helped me grasp what lighting can do to a costume (my field). A different lighting effect or color can truly change a whole outfit, which is why the lighting and costume designer need to work so closely together.

After this I went to the Young Designer’s Forum where I saw work of many grad (and a few very, very talented undergrads) from all over the country. This really helped me decide on my top four grad schools (You can never start looking too early right?): University of Missouri at Kansas City, North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Texas at Austin, and The Conservatory at Webster.

Peace kids.

Gaslights to LED: The development of Disney’s spectacle

One of the workshops I attended today was entitled “Gaslights to LED.” Given by Chuck Davis and Marc “Flounder” Hurst of Disney’s Creative entertainment division, this workshop explored how a progression in theatrical technology has fueled the development and the growth of the spectacle.
Briefly at the beginning, they reviewed the early progression of theater lighting. Having done some preliminary research I’ve attached a brief history of lighting before electricity in PDF form.
The class was intriguing, but concentrated on the development of Disney, rather than the industry itself. That being said, Disney is responsible for many technologies that are used in the entertainment industry today. My favorite example which could be considered a very crude lighting instrument is the digitalization of their fireworks show. A man named Mickey Aaronson created and used the first ever electric-firing firework show in 1956. Prior to this, setting each fireball off with torches was the norm, and this achievement help to make fireworks more predictable, more complex, and most of all, safer. Later, Disney went even further in firework technology by creating the pneumatic launch system. In an effort to create fewer emissions and debris from firework shows, fireworks are now thrust into the air with, you guessed it, air! All shows in Disney parks use this system to great success.
I could go on about the different technical achievements that Disney has pioneered. In the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s castle contains 250,000 LED lights as part of their evening show. What I took away was this; Disney is on the forefront of theater technologies, and they are helping to make the spectacles larger, better, and magical.

Lastly, I’m attaching a time-line of lighting fixtures of the past.

Theater Lighting Before Electricity

A Time-line

• Lighting cues seem to have been written into Greek plays – the festivals played from sunup to sunset, and many of the lines refer to times of day.
• 1545:
Sabastiano Serlio — colored light liquids in bottles (red wine, saffron (yellow), ammonium chloride in a copper vessel (blue).
Brightly-polished barber basin and a round bottle as a lens
o 3 qualities of light: distribution, intensity, color defined
• 1550:
Leone de Somi – full illumination for happy scenes, but tragedy much darker (candles, crude oil lamps, torches, and cressets (hanging lamps).
Stagehands walked around and snipped wicks, the audience was lit
Candles were of tallow and fat
• 1638:
Nicola Sabbatini – writes book on theatre – suggests system of dimmers lowering metal cylinders over the candles
Giacomo da Vignola – ideal lighting angle is along the diagonal of a cube
(1930’s – Stanley McCandless writes it in book)
• 1783:
Candles ruled the day till the invention in 1783 in France of the kerosene lamp with adjustable wick
o Followed closely with a glass chimney – could make individual float lights
Used for 100 years
• 1791:
Illuminating gas produced in quantity – William Murdock – each building could produce its own
However, gas required constant attention and wasn’t easy to control
• 1803:
Limelight
Invented by Henry Drummond – heating a piece of lime with a flame of oxygen and hydrogen (for a followspot or to indicate sunlight). A green-ish tint.
o Was used as the first spotlight in Paris Opera houses
• 1845:
Drury Lane Theatre is the first to use gas in England)
• 1809:
Electric Arc — discovered by Sir Humphry Davy (or here) — took 90 years to be fully accepted.
• 1816:
First fully gas lighted theatre — Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia
Greater control of and more brightness (colorsilk cloth or woven cotton).
Increased heat and many fires caused, and had gas smell and green-ish tint.
• 1878-1898:
Henry Irving (and click here) (England) initiated lighting rehearsals, transparent lacquers of colored class to limelight with electricity to incandescents, footlights of different colors and broken into sections, and wanted to dim the house lights
• 1841:
First incandescent lamp patent – Edison – not practical
• 1846:
The first electric carbon arcs used as spotlights at the Paris opera – inefficient — not a serious threat to limelight
• 1879:
The Jablachkoff candle – the first useful light bulb – “electric candle” – used at Paris Hippodrome – a carbon arc (invented 40-50 years earlier, but limelight was too ingrained, even well into the 1920’s.
The first practical electric spotlight
• 1881:
Savoy Theatre in England – the first completely electric theatre

New Removeable Face of LED Technology

The VLX Wash luminaire intelligent fixture, created by Vari*lite, has made significant strides from last year’s unveiling at the USITT expo.
LED’s now have taken lighting instruments by storm. Almost every company involved in theatrical and architectural lighting has a corner in this expanding market. However, Vari*lite has been ahead of the curve with their VLX wash, which offers a full RGBW LED color mix system. It offers a CRI adjustment and a continuously adjustable color temperature white range approximately between 3000 and 9000 degrees Kelvin.
The new addition to this product is the addition of the Removable Zoom module. When attached, the zoom module allows the beam spread of this instrument to be remotely adjusted anywhere from 23 degrees to 58 degrees. If removed, it offers a fixed spread of 22 degrees, and provides mounting surfaces for aftermarket products such as top hats.
LED’s potential is being realized in this market and others. Imagine a bulb that can be easily be replaced, has over 10,000 hours of life, and is 3 times more efficient than a traditional tungsten bulb. It is these characteristics that truly demonstrate the next generation of lighting instruments.
Today I’ve also photographed many fixtures and control devices on the expo floor. However, I used a film camera, so it will be a bit before I get them developed and posted.

Keeping in Touch

Today was one of the most important days I had at USITT. The day started off with some time on the Stage Expo floor, and then I went to have a one-on-one meeting with Aaron Rowe, who works for Walt Disney. He was able to give me a lot of advice on my resume, prompt book, and how to get my foot in the door in the world of management.

In the session today about collaboration from afar there was a great discussion about the use of online databases such as Dropbox and Blogging to keep the entire design team informed. Dropbox was very well received by the panel because it has a sense of security (where as only the people invited to the group can see the documents posted by the group), can hold almost any type of file, has the ability for others to add and edit each others work, and can archive the process of the work. The panel expressed that they would love for a production manager to take the initiative to start the website or folder on the online database, however known of them had worked with a production manager who had started this for the design team. I think that these forms of sharing information is the way of the future to keep everyone on the design team on the same page to make the production a cohesive whole.

DeSiGn..

From the stage lighting session by Jennifer Tipton this morning, she showed us the power of lighting coming from different angle, intensity, timing as well as color contrast. I have learned that the power we have as a theater designer. We have all the control over the rhythm, dynamic, color and value to create theatrical scene that catches people’s attention. As we understand these elements more we can be better at building up breath taking moment. In addition, she also talk about passion, our passion about theatre will definitely push us forward to a higher stage to improve ourselves.

In the afternoon, I went to the USITT national student exhibit in Prague dry run for the design exercise. I was in a team with 2 other student one from Virginia and the other from North Carolina. It is very interesting that all three of us are kind of focus on set design, I am willing to try lighting design for this since this is also what I want to do and the girl form Virginia also have an interest in costume we made a good team. We assigned a short story, which title was “Sloth”, after we read it we have a discussion that focus on what it is about and we started finding inspiration images. Although we all have a command ground to start with, but I cannot start drawing the backdrop, sketching the rendering without knowing the about, how it feels and than come up with the solution. I find out that, through these processes I have a better understanding and translation of it.