(td)squared Blog

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

Designer Debut by Chelsea Bath

This semester I designed a show for the first time. I accepted a position as the sound designer of a play called “Fen” by Caryl Churchill, performed in our black box theatre. I had never planned in any kind of sound designing, but after being thrown into the deep end of sound technology, I managed to learn a lot and actually enjoy myself. Exploring the design of a show from the inside is a new experience for me, but an entirely thrilling and exhausting one. I spent days of my life listening to tractor engines starting up and crickets chirping in the night. I arranged music and composed pieces. I was pushed as an artist and my creative mind learned every step of the way. While all of this was brand new, I was able to use skills that I had acquired from other jobs to accomplish my goals and duties as a sound designer.

Arranging music and rehearsing with actors a year ago would have been intimidating beyond belief. But, after two semesters of music theory, I managed to get three actors with little to no musical experience to sing a song together, on tempo, and even harmonize with each other. I also composed underscoring for several scenes after spending countless hours pounding away at the piano like Beethoven after he lost his hearing, except that what I came up with is hardly a 5th symphony. These things at first seemed like impossible tasks, until I collected my thoughts and realized that I had these skills all along. And thanks to my experience as a Stage Manager and Director, I know the importance of self-imposed deadlines and communication among everyone on the team. I also learned just how valuable other designers can be. After all, they’re working on the same show, maybe they have some similar ideas and opinions. Overall, my advice to all new designers is to remember that you already have all the skills you need to succeed; you just have to figure out how to use them to your advantage. And if there happens to be a skill you haven’t yet acquired, there is always someone nears you who knows how to do it and is more than willing to help you; all you have to do is ask.

The 10-Act Play: The Ten Crucial Steps to Going from Undergrad to Grad Seamlessly by Ryan Gleason

Deciding on the next steps after undergraduate studies can be can be a bit tough. However, if there is even some inclination to go to graduate school then URTA (University/Resident Theatre Association) would be a perfect next step. I have composed a sequence of steps to aid any theatre undergraduate student in the graduate search based on my own recent experience. One thing to remember is that there are many options for a future in theatre, graduate school is only one of them.

  1. 1.      Reflect

Take your time. Deciding to go to graduate school takes the same amount of time and dedication as actually completing grad school. The best way to find out if grad school is for you to ask yourself, “What would I like to do for the rest of my life even if I didn’t get paid to do it?” If the answer is unanimously theatre then grad school is a great future where you will continue to develop your theatre design/ technical skills as well as learn new methods hands –on with professionals in the field. While you are at it, you might want to answer a few other questions on if grad school will be right for you.

-What do I expect to get out of grad school?

-What area or areas do I want to study? Do I want to study an area outside of theatre also?

-What locations would be best for me in terms of education and opportunities?

-Is teaching a crucial component of my graduate career?

-What would I do if I didn’t get into grad school? Or couldn’t do theatre anymore?

This list of questions will both help to talk to a mentor to the full extent and prepare you mentally in order to own your decision.

  1. 2.      Discuss

Talking with an instructor or anyone that has been through this process will be a great help. They will be able to generate a list of credible schools as well as a list of schools that gear more to your own studies and interests. Make sure you write all of these schools down and star all the ones that really interest you. This step will get you on your way to grad school. A good mentor will also help you throughout the process in answering any questions that you may have.

  1. 3.      Research

Look into all of the schools your mentor mentions to you. Find out:

-Their location

-The tuition

-Their scholarships/assistantships and any financial aid

-Their courses

-What jobs past graduates obtained

-Who the faculty are

-Nearby apartments

-The amount of shows you will get to work on

Determine what makes each school unique to set them apart from other schools. Then narrow your list to about five.

  1. 4.      Prepare

When it comes to preparation there are two main aspects to prepare: your portfolio and your interviews. Since URTA is a combination of portfolio review and college interview, most of the work that will have to be done will be for this step. For URTA there are three types of “portfolios” to create: hard copy form, a website, and a display. While putting together these displays of your work just remember to be yourself. Anyone can create a portfolio that is beautiful, but few can create one that captures the essence of who you are and what you can bring to any school. Putting these together will in the end prepare you for your interviews at URTA. As with your portfolios answer all questions truthfully and allow the interviewer to feel a connection with you. This will help you and them in finding the best future company.

  1. 5.      Attend

Make sure you make all the plans to attend URTA, meaning paying all the fees, deciding how you will spend your weekend, and making sure you have everything that you need to impress. URTA will be the most strenuous interview process ever and visiting the URTA website will prepare you for this journey (www.urta.com). Just remember to dress your best, bring a notebook to take down notes, and be personable. The day will fly by and schools will soon begin to merge together. Above all, be honest and be yourself.

  1. 6.      Contact

After URTA be sure to thank everyone that took the time to interview you. These people obviously saw something that they liked in you and reminding them of what sets you apart from the remaining applicants and of your unique traits which may be what they base their decision on.

  1. 7.      Visit

Make sure you make all the plans to take a visit of a campus or two, especially the ones that you are most interested in. There are many great schools in the Midwest and due to their proximity to each other a devoted weekend to college visits may yield visits to at least three schools, which was my case. At each campus that I visited there were four major parts for each visit. The first part was a tour. This is a great way to take in the full experience and ask any questions if something doesn’t look as promised. This may also include the attendance to a class or two. The next component is a lunch with the current grad students. This is the time to impress the current students as well as ask anything about the student experience. Just remember that the lunch is another informal interview that may or may not affect the school’s decision. The third component is a portfolio review with faculty that have not seen your work yet. This is a time to pretend you are at URTA again and remember everything that you have learned up until this point. Remember that you are in control of the situation and focus even more time on the projects that you feel the best about. The last component will be a wrap-up. This is a great time to ask any final questions and to leave the school with a great final impression of yourself on them.

  1. 8.      Inform

Many schools that you visit and that are interested in you will want to know how the remainder of your visits went. Keep them informed and remember to include any information on current work you are working on to show that you are a well-rounded candidate that has a lot of experience under their belt.

  1. 9.      Hope

Just remember that whatever happens is for the best. If you do not receive any offers there is always next year and maybe you will receive a better offer. Just take in all the criticism that you may have received from the different schools and you can return to URTA the following year at full force.

  1. 10.  Decide

As all the offers come in, make sure you find the best one for you. You are the only person at that point that can make any type of decision. Just remember your entire journey and you will make the best decision for you.

Hopefully these steps allowed for an insight into your future or at least gave you something to think about. No matter what happens, good luck and always remember your passion for theatre.

Danceable Bubbles by Caitlin McLeod

Currently at the University at Buffalo we are creating the world of “Grease” the musical. I am working in the costume shop this semester and have been assigned the task of creating the bubble headdresses for “Beauty School Drop Out”!
There are four dancers that are going to be wearing these headpieces. So not only do the bubbles need to be extremely durable during the dance, but they also need to be secure on their head. To top it all off the headpiece needs to be put on during a quick change – don’t they always…
My project has taken on many forms so far in its development. I created a few prototypes, but now we finally have a concrete plan which I am in the midst of executing.
The original plan involved plastic canvas, as a foundation, plastic play balls, spray painted and covered in glittery fabric, Easter eggs, spray painted, clear Christmas ornaments, and finally spray foam to hold me all together.
I began by patterning out a hat-like base, then sewing some of the play bills and ornaments to it, and en adding in spray foam. While the spray foam was still soft i placed the bottoms of the easter eggs into the foam to give it some bubble dimension. I probably made 4 layers like this, working upwards until the headpiece was around 9″ above the dancers forehead.
The end result looked more like a cake than a pile of bubbles, so revisions were made.
It was decided that the opaque nature of the foam and playbills and Easter eggs were not giving the right effect. So we put those aside and focused on the plastic ornaments.
After testing a few options we case to afix our plastic ornament bubbles to plastic sheeting. The sheeting is the same shatterproof plastic used in hockey masks. I then used scissors to cut out a cone-like pattern. This plastic cone became the base of the headpiece. To hold in the dancers hair we have a head wrap that is spandex, allowing them to easily slip in and grip their head and create a snug fit. The cone base will the be sewn to the head wrap, along with a chin strap for extra stability.
I am the using a stencil cutter, a hot utensil which melts plastic, to create holes in the plastic cone to push the hook of the ornament through. The end look is a collection of transparent bubbles, the exact look we wanted.
Today I even dyed some of the plastic bubbles pinks and purples using rit due at high concentrations. The effect gives us more of the colorful nature of bubbles that we see in real life.
I am looking forward to the end result of all of them together!

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.

Cobalt Studios – 8.10 and 8.11

Began our transparency projects!

We are making small drops that alter their appearance when lit from behind. Tis is accomplished through the selective use of opaque paints and dharma dye. By making certain areas less opaque than others you enable the light from behind to go through the fabric easier, you can then apply the dharma dye to the back side of the drop to create a new image that appears in that place.

This can be used for sunsets, windows lighting up when it’s darker, most often a change in time of day, or color.

The biggest advice I can give you is to starch and size the he’ll out of your fabric. On the back side use 3 layers of starch and 2 on the front (since the front is generally where you apply the opaque paint – whatever side you’re applying the dye on you want more sealant)

My project is one with the pyramids in which it changes from day to sunset. I’ve been using prevail sprayers to achieve semi translucent skies on the front, and then even coats of color on the back. Another important note is that in areas with transparency you will be able to see your brushstrokes, or any strokes made with your tool. This is why I used sprayers, however your choice of tool can also aide in your image, just make it purposeful.

Cobalt Studios – 8.6 and 8.7

For the past few days we have been working on our “you want me to paint WHAT?! on THAT?!”
Basically each student got an unusual fabric to work with and had to paint a given image on that fabric.

My project wS on a shower curtain, and I painted a translucent stained-glass window of an ogre.

Useful tips, when painting on a surface that the binder in the paint does not want to stick to, put a coat of crysal-gel, from rosco. Originally my paint would just chip off but after a few experiments I was able to find this solution. I also worked with Dharma dye,which is water soluble and translucent!

Some other tips that came from this project include:
Mask everything you don’t want sprayed, even if it’s 5 ft away, over spray will find a way.
When working with satin methicyl works as a great binder to maintain the shiny quality of the satin and allow paint to stick to the surface.
When cartooning on an unknown surface use string lines, so you don’t have to worry about the cartoon lines being unable to erase.
When working on scrim use a scrim pick to ensure that the scrim does not stick to the surface – things DO stick to bogus paper.

Cobalt Studios – 8.5

Today we finished up our marble! And also worked on drapery and stenciling.

For stencils there are a few ways to get the image to come through the stencilbwi minimal bleeding.

The most traditional way is to use a natural sponge, or sponge roller, and apply the paint to the sponge using a brush, to avoid over loading it. Then while applying the sponge to the stencil you do an even build up across the entire stencil, rather than focusing on one area at a time.

My personal favorite is the “wax on – wax odd” method. For this one you fill a large fitch with a small amount of paint, dab out the end before applying the fitch to the stencil, to get rid of any blobs that may be on the end of the bristles. Then you place your fitch on the stencil and move it in a tight clockwise motion, or wax on, then alternate with a counterclockwise motion, wax off. So you move across e stencil surface with alternating clockwise and counterclockwise motions, filling in the stencil evenly.

One last method Rachel showed us was to use a wood grain brush, the kind the resembles a wide tooth comb- where half e bristles have been cut out, and apply paint in one direct, giving a streaky texture. Us ia greT for stencils on wood grain etc.
With this method paint tends to gather on ne edge of the stencil, the edge you are moving all the brush strokes towards, this can either be annoying or wonderful, as the small build up tends to resemble stitching marks. If you don’t like this effect then you simply need to clean the stencil every so often to remove any build up on the underside of the stencil.

Helpful hint is. To always have a clean bucket of water and a clean sponge handy to clean the stencil. Build up will happen and it is always necessary to clean it if you want to keep a uniform stencil pattern.

Cobalt Studios – 8.3 and 4


The only sure thing about marble is that the is no one way to do it. Every reference of marble has new characteristics that you would approach differently with a new set of tools.

However there are a couple hints I can give you:
For your base coat scumble together 2 to 3 colors
Always take note of patterning and directionality of your sample
Consider using non-traditional tools such as burlap, sponges, feather dusters, sprayers.
Let layers dry, you don’t want to get soupy.
If you have marble with large chunks in it mask off with pieces of bogus paper
You can always go in with a glaze after it’s dry to add contrast.

Cobalt Studios – 8.2

Woodgrain, all day.

We started woodgrain exercises for both finished and aged wood. Right now they don’t lo like too much but tomorrow we will be adding in all the highlights and shading so I’m ready to make things pop!

Here’s some helpful hits I surmised today:
for your base coat, wet blend at least two colors, and make sure all your brush strokes are going in the same direction as your grain.

The next step is to have a sample of the type of wood grain you are trying to emulate. The pease of e day was “thin grain, thin space, wide grain wide space”. The rule of thumb is that when the grain is thinner the grain is very tight and close together, while when the grain widens the spaces between the grain widen as well. It also helps to use your brush as you would a calligraphy tool when doing the knots and wider grains. We were using a husky brush, much like a fitch except the bristles were aligned to create thin lines. When focusing on a section of all thin lined grain you can use a regular lay-in brush whose bristles separate easily.

After you apply the grain you begin adding details, such as glazes imitating the stain of finish wood, or highlights and speckles for aged wood.

All I can say is practice makes perfect. Every scenic artist needs to know how to woodgrain, you’d be hard pressed to find a theatre season that doesn’t use it.

Cobalt Studios – 8.1

Hello world, back again for another week at Cobalt!
Today we had our lesson in perspective. Specifically in how you use perspective drawing to transfer a drawing from small scale to a larger scale drawing that you would use as a cartoon for a drop.
You essentially plot out the vanishing points on the paper and use a string tied to a pushpins in the ground to plot out the perspective lines from each object.
Make sure your smaller reference is in scale! Or else you’ll have an even bigger headache.
By using the scale rule and the vanishing point or points you are able to chart out the large draw, no grid involved.