(td)squared Blog

Learn about what we’re doing, learning, and discovering as technical theatre students at the University at Buffalo.

Expanding Horizons: Improvising and Design

I do not consider myself a performer.  My longest experience as a performer was a choreographed swing dance lasting no longer than four minutes in my senior year of high school.  When I signed up for the Marlon Barrios residency workshop I was under the impression that I would be learning to use a new type of software, Max 6, capable of creating an interaction between performers and technology.  Instead I spent well over ten hours rolling around the floor of B188.

The goal for the Barrios performance was to create a mash-up of  technology and human motion and interaction.  This mash-up would hopefully lead to a greater overall narrative composed of several abstract individual narratives.  As we began to delve into this mash-up Marlon developed several scores, or general outlines for the action of the performance.  These scores became the focus of rehearsals during which we moved to the influence of sound, music, impulse, and the actions of others.  One score specified that whenever someone said “Change!” we performers could choose to obey the order and begin a drastically different physical action.  A call for change could be made by anyone and at any time someone felt that a change needed to take place in the room.  Other scores included playing or changing music, copying motions from online videos, and reading text from a website.  All of the scores could be used as inspiration for each of our next movements.  We rehearsed for two full days, yet even with the scores in place an entire hour of improvising seemed formidable.

The final performance consisted of about a dozen dancers, myself included, improvising in a space with chairs, projected video portraits, music, streaming videos, text sampling, and variable lighting.  Performers and the audience alike had control over these sources of influence, and the audience was allowed to physically interact with the dancers.  Several audience members became active participants, mingling and improvising with the dancers.  Range was important; all actions were rated on a scale of one to ten as a reference to intensity.  We chose our intensity, but we varied that intensity to create contrast within our own performance while at the same time creating contrast within the performance as a whole.  Although the performance was a mash-up, we hoped to allow each participant to have their moment in the limelight- a moment to move in a distinct way or to react to a score.  During these moments the rest of us backed off, still improvising but not drawing the main focus.  These highlighted moments were accomplished without direction and at random times, just as planned.  Our connection, established through comfort and rehearsals, was close enough that this was possible; to improvise and still follow the scores without a director or choreographer.  Even down to the last moment of the performance this connection was felt hanging in the air.  When I called the end, I slipped my hand over the projector and I knew that the time was proper to conclude the performance.  Even the audience could feel this connection, as I slipped my hand over the projector an audience member turned off the lights, as if on cue.

Many of the principles used in this performance can be directly applied to theatrical design.  Each field of design has to contribute something to the show, just as the various scores affected the dance.  Each department has a purpose, a part of the design concept that it must embody in order to take the pressure off of the other aspects of the performance.  A costume must say something about an actor so that actor is free to explore, in depth, the other aspects of their character.  Similar to our use of range, the design of a scenic environment should be literal enough that the actors can work in the space and the audience gets a clear understanding of the environment, but not so literal as to take away from the action.  Marlon stressed that if we ever lost inspiration or felt out of place, we should bring our intensity back to zero and just be still until we regained ourselves.  In design this translates to using the text.  When hitting a block, returning to the text can be just the right thing to get past the block, to move forward and notice something new and crucial.

I learned several things applicable to the design process during this workshop.  I learned to let go with a design, to not worry about the judgment that could be passed.  If I wanted to move a certain way I did, and worried about whether the decision was right or wrong only after I started the motion.  If the motion felt wrong I scrapped or modified it to something more fitting.  Thinking in this manner, I can openly create a design based off of my first impressions and then worry about tweaking later.  Another thing that I learned came out of a problem I encountered on the second day of the workshop.  I was having more trouble on the finding of inspiration for movement.  One of the dancers mentioned to the group that when he uses a prop he treats the prop as more important than himself, so as not to get caught up in the operation of the prop and lose his focus.  I translated that theory into my motion, feeling as though every impulsive action that came over me was the most important thing in the world.  If nothing was more important than that motion I had no choice but to act on it.  This lifted my self-limitation and opened me to new ideas and actions.  This type of creativity, taking an impulse and riding it to completion, is a principle I will embody in my design work to prevent myself from over-thinking.  It will also give me a baseline, an initial impression to which I can return when I hit a block.

Had I known prior to it what the Marlon Barrios workshop would actually entail I never would have signed up.  Although I did not learn the new software, I took the following away from the workshop: while a design concept is structured the design inspiration is not, nor does inspiration come from long hours of contemplation.  Design inspiration comes to the designer as impulses from the experience of reading the text.  This is a valuable perspective that I will use to approach my future design work.  I also learned that I can perform.  At this point I need a comfortable setting and to be surrounded by fellow performers who have earned my trust.  Not that I now consider myself a performer, but I would be interested in exploring this new-found practice.  Looking back on the performance I am very glad I participated for the full workshop, as I gained insight, extended my comfort zone, and truly enjoyed myself in the process.

Design Sem 2012-2013

As a new comer to the design world for theatre, I feel that I’ve learned as much as I could have throughout this semester of design seminar. When I arrived to the first class of the semester all I could think was, ‘What have I got myself into?’. It wasn’t until a few nights ago when I realized that not only have I learned how to paint a hell of a lot better, but I’ve also learned how to reupholster furniture, how to make plenty of props, how to alter images in photo shop, along with a number of other things. I found much of the process for working on Urinetown to be negative in the beginning, but by the end I realized how much I truly enjoyed working with the designers and other members of the Urinetown team. ‘No pain, no gain’ is what I should have gone into the process with, but it wasn’t. As a person who does most of pushing himself, I have trouble having others push me further. Without Dyan and Max I don’t think I would have had as positive of an experience. I can’t believe how much work really goes into these shows.

I guess my main message is thank you to everyone I had a chance to work with, and congratulations on a successful semester!

Collaborate & Listen

For the two Drama Theatre musicals next year I have been given the Make-Up Design position for both. Fortunately, this is a position that gives me the great advantage of working alongside the Costume Designer for each show. Since Rocky Horror Show is already scheduling production meetings, I’d like to discuss my efforts for collaborating and what that means as a designer.

First off, being a designer for a musical means being creative, and working well with other people’s ideas. Putting on a production, musical or not, is a collaborative effort. But, working as a Make-Up Designer, I have to work side by side with Costumes. If I choose make up that doesn’t suit the costume, then I have to start all over.

When working on a show it is crucial to be passionate about your work. Love your work. If you are submitting ideas that you don’t feel strongly about, you may be affecting another designer’s work and process. I must also remember to speak up if I want something in a design. The point of collaborating is being able to openly discuss opinions and ideas, while respecting those around you.

For Rocky Horror Show, Sarah and I have discussed in detail what we would like to convey in the show. We have agreed on time periods, inspiration images, and research; making sure that we are a team on this show. We have both discussed finding inspirations in David Bowie and Elton John, and discussed the importance of what the time period means to the text.

Our first design concept meeting is tomorrow, so many designs I have imagined may change by then; but making those first steps in creation is crucial to the design process.

All of the designers for Rocky Horror Show may have a long way to go from here, but judging by Sarah and mine’s commitment to helping one another; this show will have a strong collaborative effort done by all designers, assistants, technicians, and faculty.


Thanks guys!



Spotlight on Joshua Hoffine: Horror Photographer

One of the most inspiring artists in my life is photographer, Joshua Hoffine. Hoffine’s work consists of horror photography and artistic representations of the grotesque & macabre. My fascination and appreciation for B horror films stem from my childhood obsession with fairy tales and science fiction. Most of my art work reflects this long-time love of mine, and Joshua Hoffine has inspired a lot of my work. His use of special effects make up has set a bar for me to reach as a professional designer one day.

I’ve included a video interview with him done at Festival of Fear, a video of him explaining his design process, and a link to his website as well. Please give him a look, but for those easily spooked, you may want to pass on some of his more…brutal shots. Regardless, I hope you all can appreciate his works as much as I have over the years.


Thanks guys!


Projection in Theatre

For the UB production of Urinetown: The Musical, I was placed in charge of working on projection for the Mr. Cladwell number. There were many things I learned about video as well as projection and live video effects. For the video sequence, I used a standard Sony DV camera with the video processing section of Qlab.  With Qlab we were able to take the video image and create two seperate “windows” of video on one screen. We also had to look at the type of projector and all of the attributes of the projector as well.  We eventually settled on a 10k lumen theatrical projector.

Preparing for the summer production season

Here we are, at the end of the semester, and once again I am staring at a summer that will be jammed packed with work as an IATSE Local 121 stagehand.  In a lot of ways I am dreading the start of the season because it means my free time will dwindle down to the few hours I get to sleep between work, but at the same time I am excited for another summer of live event concerts, Artpark’s summer musical, and a nice inflation of my bank account.

Thankfully, I think that the strike for “Urinetown” did a lot to get me into the headspace for the season.  It was a long, grueling day where myself and other student spent covered in saw dust, arms sore from unscrewing thousands of screw from the set.

I woke up this morning the sorest I’ve been in many months, but at the same time I know it is only prelude to what will be the next four months for me.  And I can’t wait.  I hope everybody has a great, restful, relaxing summer…because I definitely won’t be.  But that’s ok, because even when this job beats you down, I still can’t help but love it.

And the money doesn’t hurt either.

Digital Model Building

Early on in the semester I was in the shop talking with Scott, who started talking to me about a 3D Digital Modeling program he’d used to design several structures.  This program is called Google Sketch Up, and it’s a very simple to use click-and-drag building program that is also completely free.  I downloaded the program and then spent a few hours playing around with it.

The first real intensive design work I did with the program was in designing my set for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, where I started by building a model of the drama theatre, and then went on to design my set inside of the model.  This gave me a chance to get an idea of what my physical bristol board model would look like.





Doing this made building my model so much easier.  I wasn’t simply adding pieces here and there and seeing what worked, cutting out each piece and gluing it.  I had already figured out what I wanted to do.

This also helped me later in the semester after I had my hand surgery.  Because I was unable to use my right hand completely, I did a rough design of a possible set for “The America Play”, this time not just building the playing space but also using another benefit of the program.  There are thousands of prebuilt elements that can be simply downloaded and added into the model.


and while this set would ultimately go through several more revisions, being able to find elements that worked and did not was also very helpful.

‘Urinetown’: Paint Call

As the semester draws to a close, I look back at some of the major aspects of the ‘Urinetown’ process. The paint call was definitely one aspect that taught me quite a bit. I have done some painting in the past, but never to such a scale as was done that day. I ended up helping with painting the arches for the sewage/secret hideout scene, as well as painted some soft-covered flats. It was interesting to see how you have to make a certain combination of water and paint to work with the muslin. And it turns out what knowledge I had from small scale painting works in large scale work – such as creating a base and then doing another layer. Plus, I had a lot of fun! I’d be interested in trying out some more painting of scenery in the future, that’s for sure.*

Different Types of Glue and Their Uses in Model Building

There exist many types of glue and adhesives.  In the world of model building, there are many different ways to fasten or attach things.  For each of these processes, different types of glue can be useful.

Elmer’s White Glue – Elmer’s glue is your basic school glue. It generally dries clear.  It is somewhat thin, and therefore does not lend itself to the building of dimensional objects.  Elmer’s Glue is best for gluing pieces of paper to other pieces of paper.  One way to do this is by watering the glue down slightly.  This thins it to more of the consistency of paint, allowing you to paint it on with a paintbrush, therefore getting it only exactly where it needs to be.  Elmer’s glue does not take paint well, so any surface will need gesso-ing before painting.

Tacky Glue / Sobo – Tacky Glue is much thicker than Elmer’s Glue.  Therefore it lends itself easily to gluing together dimensional pieces, such as cut-and-fold furniture.  One major downside to Tacky Glue is its slow drying time.  You will end up spending a lot of your time holding pieces together, waiting for them to dry.

Spray Adhesive – Spray adhesive comes in an aerosol can.  It is best used for evenly attaching paper patterns to Bristol board or foamcore.  The upside to spray adhesive is that is applies quickly and evenly.  IF you use little enough, you can attach a pattern, cut the piece out, and then remove the pattern.  The downside to spray adhesive has the same origin as its upside.  Since it comes out of an aerosol can, it covers a large area at once, often a much larger area than you need.  This requires putting down paper or something else to protect your work surface, since another downside is that anywhere you put spray adhesive will remain sticky indefinitely.

Scotch Quick-Dry Adhesive – Quick Dry adhesive is like Tacky Glue without its one major downside; the drying time.  It dries twice as fast as Tacky Glue, meaning you waste less time sitting holding two pieces of Bristol board together.  It is a good all-purpose glue for model building.

Krazy Glue – Krazy Glue dries crazy fast.  It works well for quickly repairing pieces that have broken.  It comes in very small tubes, in liquid or gel form.  The Gel is often easier to work with, as it doesn’t drip all over the place.

Unconventional Costuming

Typically, when one thinks of designing costumes, you think of the fabric being used, color combinations, and textures desired.  However, sometimes, unconventional means are required in order to best bring the design rendering into reality. 


This semester, I was Costume Designer for the production of “Urinetown the Musical” at SUNY University at Buffalo.  With regards to the above, I am specifically referring to the female “Twah-lette” costumes that were created.  After discussions with the director and other designers, my thought process led me to want these dancers to appear show girl-like, but also to create the image of being toilet brushes, and included the image of toilet brushes on the bodice as well. 


Once the concept and rendering were complete, there came the complication regarding the dancers’ choreography; specifically, they were to be dancing and moving on the floor.  The initial problem I saw with this, were that fabric (even fabric supported with boning and other stiffening agents) would not keep the desired shape.  Through discussions with the costume shop, it was determined that the best course of action would be to use foam with fabric adhered, in order to create the desired shape, which would hold up under the choreographed decisions that were made.


The gathered foam created the perfect layers, which not only allowed the dancers to move as required, but fully transformed my rendering image into reality.  Throughout this process, I have learned that unconventional materials are sometimes the best materials for the job at hand.  It has also inspired me to create a cross-referenced table of unconventional materials and their properties, so that in the future, I’ll have a list of materials that can perform different tasks, and inspire greater costumes.