Saturday, September 13, 2008

For the Artistic Directors

One of the largest expenses facing the producer is the cost of creating scenery for each production. Having spent nearly ten years designing scenery on nearly no money, and spent over 20 years working for theatres trying to do it, it's one of those topics that I read up on.

We try to re-use and re-cycle as much scenery as possible; we go to nearly ridiculous lengths in some cases. I am particularly proud of taking the top of a column designed by Michael Amico, and turning into the base of a fountain for a different show. It became a circular center bench for awhile, and then back to a fountain. It's been in more shows than some actors in the region.

I remember working on repertory productions of EDUCATING RITA and AGNES OF GOD that shared the same basic set, with dressing changes. The old Florida Rep (the one that was where the Cuillo Center is now) tried to use a "unit set" for a season, with limited success. These approaches had limits, in that we were trying to hide the fact that it was really one set for multiple productions. There was some savings in materials, but additional manhours spent converting the set, and often the production seemed compromised; a square play being shoved into a round stage, as it were.

So I was intrigued when I stumbled across a blog entry titled "Model: Make It Sustainable (Scenery)" It was posted back in March, but I've only just found it via another theatre blog, TheaterForte.

The post is discussing the book Hi Concept - Lo Tech, by Barbara Carlisle and Don Drapeau, and the topic is sustainable theatre:
"In writing the book Hi Concept - Lo Tech*, Barbara and her co-author Don Drapeau (also of Virginia Tech)
coined the expression "sustainable theatre" to refer to the need for a mode of theatre making that does not deplete the resources of the theatr
e makers."

That is the problem facing the production teams of regional theatre in a nutshell.

They suggest more than simply building one set and making every show work on it; they propose that the basic set structure should influence the choice of plays as much as the choice of plays influences the design.
"Our idea was that RALPH (Radically Alternate Limited Production Habitat) would be designed in advance of the season selection, and would, in some respects, inform the choice of season. It would provide a theatrically challenging environment with the possibility of some tailoring to a specific production via lighting, props, and detail elements, or, in some cases, projections. We imagined that every two or three years a new structure would be designed with an altered theatrical emphasis..."
In other words, they are saying that the play selection should take more notice of the theatre's technical limits and strengths. This is a sound approach to producing theatre, and variations of this can be found in place at the more successful companies. "Sustainable Theatre" simply takes it one step higher.

It's worth a read. After all, selection of the play is only a part of a theatre's artistic mission, and paying more attention to the other aspects up front may help you to not only contain costs, but make bolder statements with your productions, as well.

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