(td)squared Blog

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

History and Design

Earlier this month, I attended a panel/discussion titled “Histrionics for Cultural Preservation” which included various topics, including an overview of Project Mist, which is what this entry is going to address.

The idea that appeals to me regarding Project Mist, is through showing history from all points of view; in portraying the past without “rose colored glasses”.  Showing the history of Niagara Falls will make it more of an experience than the Falls already represent.  This is done through the design and technical elements to be added.

From a design point of view, the idea of portraying this history through new lighting and projection elements, and creating a 360 degree theatre is fascinating, especially with the design and technical possibilities that present themselves.  Lighting and projection are able to crate both an illusion and a clearer view of reality.  Currently, the lights that color Niagara Falls are able to change the basic color, but not much else.  Designing a view of the Falls could not only depict a historical event that hundreds of people could experience, but also expand on how visitors view the water cascading over the Falls through a realistic viewpoint.

Changes to the falls displayed, then removed to show the reality; bring a sense of experience and immersion into a world different than the one we’re walking (as theatre and the arts try to do).  The idea of lighting not just as color spots to illuminate the Falls, but additional lighting to display the various aspects of the falls.  Think of the possibilities!  How much more can we see; how much more can our consciousness be awakened?  To help us see beyond the world we’ve constructed/construed for ourselves, and into a new experience that can bring about new ideas.

How much more majestic and fascinating will the falls become, when we can see the water in various lighting and situations, and how many more ways will we be able to view the falls.  Even staying with the obvious, and looking at the water itself.

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.

Iatse Young Worker’s Conference

During the height of the summer concert season in mid-July, the Business Agent of IATSE Local 121 (Niagara Falls) and personal mentor John Scardino Jr. asked me if I would be interested in attending an IATSE Young Worker’s Conference in Philadelphia.  This conference would be the first of it’s kind, and bring together young IATSE  (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) worker’s from across North America and even members of BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, the UK’s equivalent).  Needless to say I was stunned and honored to be considered for this experience.

I have been working professionally as a stagehand since I was 18 years old, and after two years I was asked to petition for membership.  Having grown up in a strong Labor household, I was overjoyed to join a union and get a union card.  So at the age of 20 I was voted in as a member of IATSE, and for the past four years have worn the IA Bug proudly.

On Thursday, September 6th, myself and two of my IA Brothers; Chris Brown and Patrick Moyer, left for the city of brotherly love.  After taking in a few sites, we convened in the meeting hall of the Holiday Inn to begin the conference, where everybody in the room introduced themselves and said what local and profession they were in.  I had always assumed that, for whatever reason, that IATSE was only made up of stagehands like myself, and a few theatrical technicians like stage carpenters, sound engineers, and electricians.  As my fellow brothers and sisters were announcing themselves, I was amazed to hear about Local 600, the international camera operators local, or to hear about the hairdressers local, or to even learn that members of BECTU were there as well.

We learned in our first seminar how about 20% of IATSE member were under the age of 35, and then we saw which states had the youngest and oldest groups if members.   There is a total of 112,890 IA members between the United States and Canada, and out of that 22,133 were within our age range.  We were then shown the breakdown of how many worked in which field, whether it was in motion pictures (20.39%), studio mechanics (25.32%), stagecraft (18.15%), mixed locals (18.30%), wardrobe (17.93%),treasures and ticket sellers (17.38%), and television broadcast (13.08%).  We also saw that of all of those, the motion pictures had the fastest growing membership of young workers.

The history of the IA was next, which was always a subject I had been curious about, being both a fan of history and the labor movement.  The IA was originally founded as the NATSE when 10 cities of stagecraft workers became affiliated with the Knights of Labor (a precursor to the AFL) and formed a national union in 1893.  Five years later, Canadian locals joined and the organization became the IATSE (thankfully avoiding a coincidentally similar name forty some-odd years later).

The Organization included projectionist in 1908, started the Yellow Card system in 1912 which says that any union venue is guaranteed to have a list of skilled workers for all positions on a call.  The IA’s headquarters were established in New York City in 1913, where they still reside today almost 100 years later.  As the years went on more and more stagecraft and skilled entertainment workers were added, including film workers.  We are highly skilled, and we are some of the most highly paid union members in North America, according to our first presentation, and are today affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

After that we were released for the evening to go out and explore the city some more, before convening again in the morning.  We were then educated on how to deal with conflict in our locals, whether it was between management and the local, or between the rank and file and the leadership of the local.  I’m happy to say that we don’t have too many issues like that within our local.

Following that we were then given results of a personality test we had taken when we had registered for the conference, and to be honest these tests (the Myers/ Briggs Test) were astoundingly accurate.  This allowed us to assess our leadership possibilities, and how to handle people better.  This was truly fascinating because I’ve worked as a steward on several occasions and definitely saw ways to improve my leadership abilities.

We convened for the third and final day of the conference after a night of social interaction hosted by IA Local 8 (Philadelphia) to learn why unions still mattered, especially in this day and age.  It was incredible but not all that surprising to learn that when unions and the labor force is strong within the United States, so is the economy.  We are better off when we have, as a people of laborers, have a voice and a say at the bargaining table.  When unions have been undermined and weakened, the American public suffers, and I truly wish that more people understood this.  The labor movement is what has pushed working conditions to be as good as they are now, and have driven up wages so that people aren’t completely stricken with poverty, but we have so much more to do to truly fulfill the goal of organized labor.

After the conference ended I said my goodbyes to my new friends and brothers and sisters.  I met people that worked across the Falls from us who worked the Nick Walenda walk on the Canadian side, an event which we were a part of on the American side.  We thanked all of our brothers and sisters for Local 8 for having us and being truly gracious hosts.  I hope this conference continues to grow, and I hope to be a part of it again because as we headed home, back to Western New York, I knew I was a little wiser and that I was prouder than ever to call myself a member of IATSE.

Design Concepts on a Road to Glory

As a designer, it is important to formulate a design concept to share with your director to make sure you are both on the same page as to what the play means. The concept is a way to demonstrate your understanding of the script, and can serve as the beginning to your design process. Currently, I am the lighting designer for an original script entitled “Road to Glory”, based off of the novel “The Power and the Glory” written by Graham Greene. I’d like to share with you all my design concept, to get a feel for what one should look like:


This play [Road to Glory] is about the outward struggles of religion and state, and the inner struggles of man vs faith. The play uses time of day to show the struggles endured by the main character, the Priest and the mood of the play as a whole. The lighting needs a lot of shadows to emphasize these struggles, as well as spotlights to show the contrast, where the Priest has complete clarity in his faith and prayers to God.


In addition, here are some research images that I hadgathered to demonstrate my initial ideas found in my concept:

KCACTF Nationals at Washington DC by Kim Dai

It was a great honor to be chosen to represent region II in Set Design at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Nationals in Washington D.C.. I was chosen for my set design for Hedda Gabler, at the same time Tannis Kappell the lighting designer for the show had also been chose to go to Nationals. We headed to the Buffalo Niagara Airport Tuesday morning anxious of the few days ahead that is to come.

At our arrival at the Kennedy Center, we were instructed to set up our design presentation amongst other designers that were chose. There are 8 regions and therefore 8 set designers, lighting designers, sound designer and costume designers setting up.
For the scene designers, our respondent was Tony Cisek. After brief presentations from the student designers, Tony asked us questions about the design as well as gave us feed back.

The following three days was master classes with Skip (C.W. Mercier). Both the scene designers and the costume designers attended the session and it was set up so since Skip is both a scenic designer and costume designer. We did 3 small projects with him and also a lot of talking which was super helpful.
The first assignment was to draw our selves naked in the mirror as a homework assignment before we got to the festival. We pinned our drawings up on the wall and he pointed out to us scale and proportion issues with our drawing. He said the biggest present he could give us is to have us draw ourselves naked once a week (he does so).

The second assignment was also a pre-assignment where we had to read the script for Bacchae. We went over the script and did some scene sketching. He also shared with us his 12 step process for designing that I will list here.

Skip’s 12 Step Design Process:
1. Understand the Story (Before talking to the director). At the first meeting with the director, do not bring any visual image.
2. List what the play can’t do with out.
3. Answer the Who, What, Where of the story.
4. Identify 10 key moments in the play.
5. Find out what of the play you identify with.
6. Create an emotional response to the story.
7. Perspective sketching for the 10 scenes of the play.
8. Research to understand the time and place of the play.
9. Identify the themes of the story.
10. More research.
11. Create a visual response without worrying about the theatre space.
12. Learn about the space it’s happening in and understand your resources.

Skip said that he is never worried about being stuck in the design process because he follows his 12 steps. That must be nice! I think I might try this process out sometime. However, many of the design steps he takes can be identified with design lessons taught by Lynne.

The third assignment was to design a set for a script that Skip provided for us; Cap O’ Rushes, an English folktale. He wanted us to design the set with the mindset that our director was Tim Burton. Everyone had great ideas and did such a good job within the limited amount of time. For this assignment, the costume designers had to design costumes for all the characters. I was very jealous of each and every one of their quick sketching skills.  A costume designer, Michelle Ney, also participated in this exercise. Her sketches were so awesome and she did it in such a matter of 3 hours!

In addition for the workshops, I got to meet many awesome student designers. It was a great experience and allowed me to see what I need to work on as a theatre artist.

USITT National Conference by Matt Oliner

This past week I was in Long Beach, California attending the USITT National conference. This conference is for any one in the world of theater design and technology, and entertainment.

While at this conference I attended a lot of different sessions along with the trade show floor. Some of the sessions I attended where on the Prague Quadrennial, color, Disney, specific designers, and digital portfolios.  While theses are just some of the sessions I attended there where many more ranging for cruises, to architectural design and everything in between.

While in the session about Disney I was able to learn that Disney uses the same technologies, and process of design as I do. I found this very interesting because I always thought that they did stuff differently, but this is not true. The only main difference between the ways I do things and the way Disney does thing is that Disney has a lot more zeros on the checks they write. What I did also find out is that in creating Disney’s new attraction World of Color in California the lighting designer used a program called ESP Vision, which I have started to learn. So because of this I fell like I am on the right track to perfecting my craft and maybe working for Disney some day.

USITT National Conference by Joe Nasby

Over the past week, I was in Long Beach, California, attending the annual United States Institute for Theatre Technology’s conference. My initial intent for going was to learn more about combining electrical components, such as Electroluminescent Wire (or EL-Wire), with costume design to create self-illuminating garments. While I did glean some pertinent information, such as different fabrics that will be useful and different control options, the information learned overall were things I had already taught myself through research and hands-on experimentation.

One session that I was looking forward to was Cyber Costumes, and was seemingly focused on how to integrate lighting systems into clothing. While that was the case, I did not learn anything new, and actually am questioning some of the information that was given. The session focused on different lighting tools, such as EL-Wire and EL-Tape (similar to EL-Wire, but was wider and only illuminated on one side), and showed various costumes that implemented those tools. In addition to the different lighting accessories available, the session also talked about various methods of control, specifically an Arduino designed for costume implementation called a Lily Pad Arduino. The Lily Pad is a microprocessor that allows the user to program various effects into the tiny processing chip, and operate the attachment, such as EL-Wire, accordingly. In essence, a user can program the Lily Pad to cycle through several different EL-Wires and light them up in a user-determined pattern (similar to a chase effect). One interesting thing I had taken away from the session, besides the Lily Pad (prior to the session, I had done research into using PIC microcontrollers to implement various effects using EL-Wire. While possibly, the Lily Pad seems a more beneficial route, as it is specifically designed for costumes), is that the Lily Pad can be controlled wirelessly using a device called an X-Bee. While not much information was given, it has become obvious that I will need to do research into Arduinos and the X-Bee to further my research project.

 One of the experts on the panel had previously worked for Barnum and Bailey Circus using EL-Wire and EL-Tape to create self-illuminating garments. For those of you who are unaware, EL-Wire is a copper wire covered in powdered phosphorous. When an electrical charge is carried through the wire, the phosphorous emits a glow. The color is determined by the color of the outer neon sheath surrounding the wire. Another questioner asked if it was possible to change the color of the light emitted by the EL-Wire using paint. One of the panel members had said no, but I almost wonder if it is in fact possible. I will concede, using standard flat paint you can buy at any hardware store would not work (light would not be able to emit through the paint), but what about the cheap arts and crafts stained glass paint you can buy at any Arts and Crafts store? That, theoretically, would be able to emit light through it and alter the color of the light. However, until I actually sit down and experiment with it, I cannot say for certain.

The session also introduced me to conductive fabrics. While the notion of conductive fabric seems counterintuitive and unsafe from a physics based stand-point (insulated fabric made from rubber fibers makes more sense in terms of safety), its use is actually quite interesting. Conductive fabrics’ initial purpose is to spread a charge throughout the fabric, preventing a charge from entering the body at one concentrated point. It’s predominately used in creation of electrically safe gloves and other electrically safety clothing pieces. But what interested me is its application as a sort of switch that can be sewn into costumes. Imagine two lead wires connected to two separate pieces of conductive fabrics. Apart, the circuit is not complete. But when brought together, say by pressing the two pieces together, the circuit is complete and the accessory lights up. This ultimately would allow user controlled garments to exist on stage without the need to press or manipulate a hard plastic switch attached to a battery pack. In essence, the soft switch (soft because it is made from two pieces of fabric), can be created into the costume, allowing for more interesting designs.

In essence, the conference had given me some new information to consider when creating self-illuminating garments, such as different types of processors and the notion of soft switches, but much of the information covered I had already learned through self-exploration and research. If the conference has taught me anything, it is that I need to stop gathering research for some aspects, and start putting my knowledge to use.

What does it mean to be a Student Production Manager by Allison Kesselring

At the University at Buffalo, the students request design/production assignments. Seeing as I have a background in stage management I decided that it would be a great experience to serve as a production stage manager this semester. But then came the thought, what does that actually entail? Our department already has an equity production stage manager hired by the department who mentors the student stage managers.

After speaking with the production stage manager and the student stage managers I began to make a list of questions that the student stage managers had and responsibilities that the production stage manager had. After creating that list I sat down with the production stage manager and made a syllabus. This meeting resulting in the decision that my main job would be to help the student stage managers on track, especially with their paperwork.

After the meeting I sat down and created a “Stage Manager Master Task Sheet.” I then had a meeting with the stage managers individually and gave them a copy of the task list that I created. They went through the task list, asked questions and I reformatted the task list. Listed below is what the final task list became.

I was told by the stage managers that this was a very helpful list and helped keep them stress-free and ahead of the game. I am showing this with you, fellow stage managers that might be reading this, hopefully this list will help you in your productions or you might even add to your own list.





Make copies of the script and distribute

Read the script….again…again…again

Create Prompt Book


Rehearsal script


Cueing script


Dividers (label)

Contact Sheets


Create Rehearsal and Performance Report Templates

Create Rehearsal and Performance Report E-mail Lists

Have a Meeting with the Director

First Day Business

Rehearsal Edict

Code of Conduct

Late Policy


Rehearsal Schedule

Scene Breakdown

First Day Business Packets

Contact Sheets

Cast List

Director’s Note

Scene Breakdown

Production Schedule

Rehearsal Schedule

Data Sheet


ASM Responsibilities/Checklists

Rehearsal Schedules w/ Director Deadlines (off-book, etc.)

Master Production Calendar (with tech deadlines)

Scene Breakdown

Emergency Contact Info.

Rehearsal Report Template

Performance Report Template

Pre-Cue Sheets (get from Melinda if using post-it method)

Prop Lists/Track Sheets

Costume Plot/Lists


Blocking Key

Cast List

Sheet

Meet with ASMs

Scheduling and Responsibilities

Call Board

Scene Breakdown

Cast List

Sheet

Production Calendar

Rehearsal Calendar

Tape floor



First Day Business

Set up Rehearsal Space

Get Rehearsal Props and Organize Prop Cabinet

Keep Rehearsal Time – Keep on Track

Keep Track of Breaks

Keep Track of Actor Absences/Lates

Keep Notes for Production Meetings/Rehearsal Reports

Send out Rehearsal Reports

Prop Tracking

Time Run

Help Schedule Fittings

Breakdown Rehearsal Space



God Mic

Determine Calling Area


Run Sheets

Updated Costume Plot

Preset Checklists

Tech/Performance Sign-In Sheets

ASM Checklists

SM Checklists

Preliminary Cue Sheets

Paper Tech (if need be)

Meet with Crew

Call Times

Dress Code

Late Policy




HM Notes

Late Seating

Total Run Time

Per Act Run Time

Intermission Time




Loud Sound Effects

Introduce Crew to Actors

Talk to Actors about Go/Hold

Remain calm and remember to breath!



Performance Reports

Sheets




Strike List (if needed)

Final Space Walk Through

Archive Prompt Book


USITT National Conference by Courtney Ricigliano

During USITT in Long Beach, CA I had the opportunity to go to a workshop run by Steven Norman Lee, the costume designer for the reality television show, Dancing with the Stars (DWTS). In this workshop he explained how DWTS differs from theatre and how it is alike.

His week starts Tuesday night after the DWTS results show. As this is live television he does not know who will be around for the next week and therefore cannot start ideas/build until results are in. Tuesday night he meets with all the remaining Dancer/Celebrity Duos and they talk about ideas for the next week. At this point they only have a theme. They will get their music for the first time usually the Monday of the show. There is no time for rendering, no time for research, no time for ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Steven Norman Lee and the Dancer/Celebrity duo’s must come up with their concept in that meeting. Also not only is he dealing with the dancer and the celebrity’s ideas, but also the producers. In regards to the design team, there is no time to collaborate. So for lighting in particular, everything is sequined and bedazzled to be seen no matter what the lighting is.

Wednesday they buy fabric. All fabric must be purchased Wednesday to start build immediately.  Every item, shirt, skirt, suit, pants, EVERYTHING is built for this show. This can mean sometimes 40 costumes for one show! And this is just the Monday show. On the Tuesday results show you can have guest dancers that need costumes, which brings an additional 20-40 costumes that need built!  Also, everything is built with stretch. This makes it easier when you only have two fittings (if you’re lucky). (…Did I mention that there is a separate costume designer for the judges? That build is also going on too…)

Thursday they start to cut the fabric and build.  Friday is first fittings. Saturday is another day devoted to build and Sunday is their last fitting. (Only 3-4 days to build!)

Monday an hour before the show the dancer’s and celebrities see their finished costumes for the first time. There is no time for error. This is a live show, very much like theatre so if something goes wrong they need to think fast and fix it. After they get into their costumes they go to hair and makeup where they do makeup and hair completely independent from the costume designer.

DWTS costuming unlike theatre is a very fast paced environment. There is no time for character analysis, research, renderings, pulling, swatching etc. You need to be able to think fast and go with it. With DWTS you are working with a range of people with different body shapes, and insecurities- you’re not just working with actors.