Tag Archives: design

!nsp!re – Walking Away From Your Dream

I wanted to share this article from Allison Ford on The Gloss. In it, she details her decision to “give up on her dream” of becoming an actress. Her words and perspective resonated with me; and I think anyone who has struggled with career choices could benefit from reading her story.

Here’s the thing: You can have more than one dream. So many who pursue a career in the arts become obsessed with the one thing they THINK they want that they become blind to all the other possibilities that are out there waiting to be explored.

This situation is exacerbated by parents and teachers who encourage students to “follow their dream” and “pursue their passion” despite being able to (sometimes) see that the student is poorly suited for the path they are choosing.

When I was young, I wanted more than anything else in the world to be an architect. It took a while for me to understand that unless I could muster some interest in math, my career as an architect was an empty, pointless pursuit. As it turns out, I loved the IDEA of being an architect; but not enough to put in the hard work it would take to become one.

That situation repeated itself with music. Again, I had a huge passion for music, living and breathing records, tapes, and going to see concerts. My parents bought me a guitar and after two years of practice, I had gotten to be… atrocious at playing guitar. I was unable to parse that musical dream into distinguishing between loving music and playing music.

And then, finally, there was art. Always art; since early in elementary school. I dove deep into sketching, painting, sculpture, oils, watercolors, graphics, batik, etc. I was going to be a great artist. Except for the fact that I wasn’t a great artist. I was fine but far from exceptional. That was a hard pill to swallow.

Once I got into theatre, I fell in love with scenery design. I had a teacher who encouraged that love and I made up my mind to be a set designer. My reasoning was that it was sort of like architecture and relied on my art training as well. But again, that dream died.

It died when I saw The Police on the Synchronicity tour in 1983 at the Houston Summit. That night, I saw moving lights for the first time (they were in their infancy). I didn’t know what THAT was – but I knew I wanted to do it. So on my way to becoming a lighting designer, I left at least four dead dreams in my wake; and I regret it not one single bit.

As it turns out, my chosen career combines elements of many of those discarded dreams into one pretty sweet package. Had I known that could happen 30 years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble starting down paths I then abandoned.

But each of those paths added to what I ultimately became, so they were worthwhile after all. I still engage my passion and love for architecture, music, and art; in my career and in my life. So, ultimately, they don’t feel like discarded dreams – they’re just elements that added to the whole.

Pursuing your dreams has to be done with diligence, care, and thoughtful self-examination. Note that I said dreamS. You can have more than one!

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!nsp!re: Read These Books

I get asked, pretty frequently, to recommend reading resources for my line of work (entertainment live show design). Here you will find a constantly updated list of the books and I have found useful, across a variety of related subjects. They are grouped by category.  Enjoy!

Creativity

The Accidental Creative – Todd Henry

Art Before Breakfast – Danny Gregory

The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit – Whitney Ferre

Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self – Don Hahn

The Collaborative Habit: Life lessons for Working Together – Twyla Tharp

The Creative Fight – Chris Orwig

The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

Drive – Daniel H. Pink

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything – Sir Ken Robinson

One Little Spark – Marty Sklar

Start With Why – Simon Sinek

Steal Like An Artist – Austin Kleon

Taking The Leap – Cay Lang

 

General

Backstage Handbook – Paul Carter

The Business of Theatrical Design – James L. Moody

Careers in Technical Theatre – Mike Lawler

Digital Technical Theater Simplified – Drew Campbell

Stagecraft Fundamentals – Rita Kogler Carver

Starting Your Career as a Theatrical Designer – Michael J. Riha

 

Audio

Live Sound Mixing – Duncan R. Fry

Sound Check: The Basics of Sound and Sound Systems – Tony Moscal

Sound Systems: Design and Optimization – Bob McCarthy

 

Automation

Automation in the Entertainment Industry – Mark Ager & John Hastie

Mechanical Design for the Stage – Alan Hendrickson

Theatre Engineering and Stage Machinery – Toshiro Ogawa

 

Concert/Touring/Event

Access All Areas: A Real World Guide to Gigging and Touring – Trev Wilkins

Concert Lighting: Techniques, Art, and Business (third edition) – James L. Moody

Freelancer’s Guide to Corporate Event Design – Troy Halsey

 

Control/Data

Control Freak: A Real World Guide to DMX512 and Remote Device Management – Wayne Howell

Lighting Control: Technology and Applications – Robert S. Simpson

Practical DMX – Nick Mobsby

Show Networks and Control Systems – John Huntington

Rock Solid Ethernet – Wayne Howell

 

Costuming

Costume Design – Barbara Anderson & Cletus R. Anderson

Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters – Lynn Pecktal

Costume Designer’s Handbook – Rosemary Ingham & Liz Covey

Costume Craftwork On A Budget – Tan Huaixiang

Character Costume Figure Drawing – Tan Huaixiang

 

Design/Drafting

Autocad: A Handbook for Theatre Users – David Ripley

Computer Visualization for the Theatre – Gavin Carver & Christine White

Designer Drafting for the Entertainment World – Patricia Woodbridge & Hal Tine

Drawing and Rendering for the Theatre – Clare P. Rowe

From Page to Stage: How Theatre Designers Make Connections Between Scripts and Images – Rosemary Ingham

Fundamentals of Theatrical Design – Karen Brewster & Melissa Shafer

Scenic Design and Lighting Techniques: A Basic Guide For Theatre – Chuck Gloman and Rob Napoli

Showcase: Developing, Maintaining, & Presenting A Design-Tech Portfolio for Theatre and Allied Fields – Rafael Jaen

The Handbook of Techniques for Theatre Designers – Colin Winslow

Scene Painting Projects for Theatre – Stephen Shirwin

 

Electricity

Electricity for the Entertainment Electrician and Technician – Richard Cadena

Ugly’s Electrical References – George V. Hart

Wiring Simplified – HP Richter and WC Shawn

 

Lighting

Automated Lighting: The Art and Science of Moving Light – Richard Cadena

The Automated Lighting Programmers Handbook – Brad Schiller

Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Stage Lighting – Peter Coleman

A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting (Second Edition) – Steven Louis Shelley

Stage Lighting Design: The Art, The Craft, The Life – Richard Pilbrow

Media Servers for Lighting Programmers – Vickie Claiborne

The Assistant Lighting Designer’s Toolkit – Anne McMills

 

Makeup

The Makeup Artist Handbook – Gretchen Davis & Mindy Hall

Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen – Todd Debreceni

Wig Making and Styling – Martha Ruskai & Allison Lowery

 

Rigging

Entertainment Rigging: A Practical Guide for Riggers and Designers – Harry Donovan

An Introduction to Rigging in the Entertainment Industry – Chris Higgs

Stage Rigging Handbook – Jay O. Glerum

 

Scenery

Stock Scenery Construction Handbook – Bill Raoul

Scenic Art for the Theatre – Susan Crabtree & Peter Beudert

Structural Design for the Stage – Alys Holden & Ben Sammler

 

Special Effects

Basics: A Beginners Guide to Special Effects – Peter Coleman

The Stories Behind Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the morning I stood on the balcony of the Maka’ala and saw a glorious rainbow emerge above Waikolohe Valley. In Hawaiian, rainbows suggest transformation and that’s certainly an accurate word to describe my experience here.

The first guests were welcomed to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, located in Ko Olina on the island of O’ahu five years ago today. In that time, the resort has quickly become one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the world. What happens when Disney, a company of storytellers, comes to Hawaii, which is full of storytellers?

Magic. That’s what happens.

So, while much has been written in the travel press about the resort and it’s amenities, I want to give you an artists look at Aulani, and share some of the ideas and concepts behind it. In other words, it’s time to “talk story”…

Ahupua’a

Ahupua'a
Ahupua’a

Central to Aulani was the concept of “ahupua’a“, a complex system of land division dating back to when the islands were ruled by chiefs. An island would have multiple ahupua’a – wedge shaped plots of land that stretched from the mountains to the sea. Within each ahupua’a were most of the necessities to sustain a community – water from mountain streams, koa and other trees in the upslopes for building structures and canoes, farmland in the valley for animals and crops of taro, the lowland and beaches for living, and the sea for fishing. Whatever could not be found in one ahupua’a might be traded for something of value from another; enabling trade and commerce. While this certainly seems a practical approach, it’s actually rooted in Hawaiian spirituality. The Hawaiians believed in the interrelationship of humans and the elements. The ahupua’a infused all of the elements of nature into the activities of daily and seasonal life. Not only were all of the elements necessary and important but so was each person and their contribution to the community. You hunted, or built, or gathered, or cooked, or fished. Each person had value. Each contribution to the community had value.

Waianae Tower
Waianae Tower

If you look at Aulani, you’ll see that the hotel towers begin far from the beach. They represent the mountains, and just like the mountains, decrease in height as they approach the water. Large timber elements grace the facades of the towers, representing trees in the upper reaches of the mountains.

Waikolohe Stream
Waikolohe Stream

In the Waikolohe Valley below, multiple sources of water meander through areas thick with lush, overgrown foliage; spanned by “old” bridges. Dark-colored textures and stones appear within this area of the valley.

As you get closer to the beach, the landscaping thins and the stonework becomes more arid, similar to the Ewa plain upon which the resort is built; and as you get closer the beach, small structures begin to appear as they would have in the lowlands of old Hawaii.

DUALITY

Another element underlying Aulani is that of gender duality; acknowledging that everything has a masculine and a feminine side. This is expressed primarily in two areas. First, on either side of the Maka’ala as you enter through the front doors of the resort, there appear two streams. The one on the left (the Ewa side) is tranquil and calm (feminine). The one on the right (the Waianae side) is lively and boisterous (masculine). Further representation of this concept can be found on the towers themselves. The Ewa tower features rounder, softer graphic elements. The Waianae tower’s graphic elements are sharper.

Waianae Tower Detail
Waianae Tower Detail

Additionally, the sides of each tower capture, in magnificently oversized bas relief, key Hawaiian legends

Maui Bas Relief
Maui Bas Relief

LOOK TWICE

Aulani is suffused with the Hawaiian concept of “look twice, see three times”. This is perhaps most evident in Pu’u Kilo. At first glance it appears to be a caldera. Upon closer inspection, there appear to be discernible shapes. An even closer look reveals silhouettes of island animals carved into the face of the caldera.

Do you see the whale?
Do you see the whale?

A HALE (or home) FOR ART

Guests are welcomed to Aulani through Maka’ala. Maka’ala is distinguished on the exterior by three large arches, echoing the inverted hull of a canoe (which is how the first polynesian settlers arrived). The interior of the lobby features a wraparound mural telling the story of the islands, from its pre-contact days through the present. The mural, along with the rest of the art on the property, was created by Hawaiian artists. The resort houses the single largest collection of original Hawaiian art (outside of a museum) in the world.

Maka'ala
Maka’ala

SMALL TOUCHES

Hundreds of details abound across the property. Instead of tiki torches, the resort has custom designed torches inspired by one of the Hawaiians first sources of artificial light – the Kukui nut. At the entrance, you aren’t greeted by tiki figures (tiki is not Hawaiian) but by Hawaiian Ki’i figures). The guest room carpet features sculpted Taro leaves, one of Hawaii’s original food sources. Everywhere you look, graphics and design elements rooted in Hawaiian history tell a story.

Kukui Nut-inspired fixtures
Kukui Nut-inspired fixtures

CULTURAL SENSITIVITY

None of this would have happened without a concerted effort and outreach to local leaders, artisans, elders, Auntys, and Hawaiian historians and scholars. They shared their history, their knowledge, their stories, and their hearts with the Imagineers who were tasked with designing and building Aulani. That desire to honor Hawaii and its people is abundantly clear; and the resort delivers on its original intent which was to be authentically Hawaiian, yet distinctly Disney.

!nsp!re – An Evening at MorYork

Text Tile Art
Text Tile Art

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the evening at MorYork. It’s tempting to call it an art gallery (which it is) or a studio (true also) but a better description might be what Los Angeles magazine describes as a “modern day cabinet of curiosities” in this article from March, 2015.

Lighthouse Mirror
Lighthouse Mirror

Located at 4959 York Blvd in Highland Park, in a building that formerly housed a Safeway and a roller rink before falling into dereliction in the mid-80’s when it was purchased by artist Clare Graham, it serves as gallery, studio, incubation, and event space.

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The building, with high ceilings and wonderfully creaky original wood floors, is packed to the rafters with Clare’s work and collections of ephemera.

Floor Detail
Floor Detail

 

Furniture made from soda can pop-tops sits next to a display case filled with primitive carved sex toys. A whole series of art features stuffed animals sealed in plastic and bound together with twine.

An armoire inlaid with teeth
An armoire inlaid with teeth

Still other corners reveal furniture inlaid with human teeth, woodblock art, armoires covered in scrabble tiles, and display cases filled with animal skeletons and doll heads.

Skeleton and Vials
Skeleton and Vials
Caged Doll Head
Caged Doll Head

One enormous section of shelves near the entrance is filled with vintage carnival knock-down dolls while the opposite end of the space is dominated by a stunningly gorgeous lighthouse mirror.

Carnival Doll
Carnival Doll

It’s a mind-boggling, fascinating, and intoxicating environment. Added to the mix is Clare’s recent decision to invite music artists in to perform at MorYork. Alma Sangre (a trio with flamenco) and Edith Crash (LA-based French singer-songwriter) provided a lively evening during our visit, interspersed with drinks and munchies, all surrounded by this incredible collection.

Edith Crash
Edith Crash
Alma Sangre
Alma Sangre

The mix of art and music works, especially because neither is held up as being particularly “precious”. Clare’s work (which has often used recycled materials) is as much about craftsmanship as it is about anything. He’s an approachable artist who has a tremendous respect for, and love of, craft. That’s evident by his work on display at MorYork, and in the musicians that are selected to perform there.

If you’re looking for a deliciously surreal place to spend some time, I’d suggest taking a trip down the rabbit hole that is MorYork.

 

!nsp!re – Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters @ LACMA

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Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the member preview for a new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – GUILLERMO DEL TORO: AT HOME WITH MONSTERS. The exhibit focuses on the artistic life and influences of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak, Pan’s Labyrinth).

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Costume detail from "Crimson Peak"
Costume detail from “Crimson Peak”

For those who have read his book, “Cabinet of Curiosities“, this exhibit is especially thrilling. In the book, readers get a view inside Del Toro’s suburban Los Angeles home (named “Bleak House”). The home is packed with all manner of unusual oddities, props, artwork, and collections.

Satan and Death with Sin Intervening by Henry Fuseli
Satan and Death with Sin Intervening by Henry Fuseli

 

Arm of Hosts by Dave Cooper
Arm of Hosts by Dave Cooper
Illustration from "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
Illustration from “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

In this exhibit, those collections have been placed on view for the public; and it is horribly magnificent. The show is not a retrospective of Del Toro’s work; but a look at his influences and inspirations. In keeping with that idea, the exhibit is laid out thematically. Paintings, drawings, maquettes, full size sculptures, and more bring Del Toro’s unique visions into full relief in this exhibit that surrounds and immerses you into one mans fever dream.

A Life-sized sculpture of Schlitzie and Johnny Eck, both by Thomas Kuebler.
A Life-sized sculpture of Schlitzie and Johnny Eck, both by Thomas Kuebler.
Life-size sculpture of Ray Harryhausen by Mike Hill.
Life-size sculpture of Ray Harryhausen by Mike Hill.

The work of many artists is on display, and its easy to see where Del Toro derives his inspiration.

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Sculptures by Mike Hill
Sculptures by Mike Hill

Taking its inspiration from the tone and architecture of Bleak House, the exhibit is housed in an architectural shell, with long hallways that twist and turn, opening into room after room. The walls and other elements are in muted tones of black, gray, and blood red. The use of rafters overhead is enhanced by lighting that casts shadows onto the ceiling and surrounding walls.

One room in particular is modeled after Del Toro’s writing room, in which a perpetual rainstorm falls outside the “windows” of the room.

007The exhibit is truly wondrous. It’s a through and detailed examination of artistic inspiration and process. A good example is that there are several of his notebooks on display. Since they could easily be damaged by the public, all the pages have been scanned and patrons can flip through them virtually on a touch-screen adjacent to the actual notebook. It’s a great way of revealing the artist while preserving the work.

El Velo Negro by Pedro Meyer
El Velo Negro by Pedro Meyer

I have only two small quibbles with the overall exhibit. The first is that it appears to have been put together quickly. The finishes on the display vitrines are somewhat slap-dash, with visible paint brush marks and drips. One would think that an exhibit with this sort of “draw” in the marketplace would have warranted a greater attention to detail. My other minor negative comment is that I would have loved to seen LACMA embrace a greater degree of theatricality through lighting and video. The black costume from “Crimson Peak” is especially poorly lit, diminishing its detail and beauty.

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003Finally, there’s also a great book/catalogue that has been published in conjunction with the exhibit (Guillermo Del Toro: At Home With Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections). The book goes into even more detail about Del Toro’s process, journals, and inspirations.

The exhibit is on view through November 27, 2016. Admission is free to members (which I highly recommend by joining here) or with regular admission ($15) to the museum.

Looking Back – The Who’s TOMMY

I tend to not dwell on the past. The future, after all, is strange and unknown and exciting – so I’m nearly always focused on that. Once a show has opened, I move on pretty quickly. But every now and then, a show comes along that challenges and changes you. For me, that show was The Who’s Tommy. Given that it was five years ago this month that the show opened, I thought it would be fitting to take a look back…

"I'm Free"
“I’m Free”

It began when I was designing a production of Merrily We Roll Along. During rehearsals for that show, the director approached me and mentioned he had two choices for the upcoming summer musical – Disney’s AIDA or The Who’s Tommy. If I recall correctly, I begged him not do AIDA. When he asked why, I told him it was because I could see Tommy in my head. I knew, from the moment he said the title, what the show would look like. One cue sequence “Pinball Wizard reprise” came into my head fully formed, with the final version being virtually identical to my early thoughts.

Poked, prodded, and tested in "Sparks"
Poked, prodded, and tested in “Sparks”

I suppose it goes back to the original 1992 version of the show which brought Broadway kicking and screaming into modern times as far as technology was concerned; largely attributable to the efforts of Wendall K. Harrington and her groundbreaking video design. The narrative of the show, a pop-rock opera with a disjointed story, demanded a unique visual language that Wendall found through video. I was deeply inspired by her work (combining projection with video monitors in an artful, story-driven way) on the original; and quickly added it to the list of shows I wanted to tackle. The initial design brief I wrote proposed an approach that obliterated the line between lighting and video; such that it would be hard to tell which was actually which.

Tommy surrounded by medical "experts"
Tommy surrounded by medical “experts”

I did a significant amount of research in preparing for the show, since I was doing the lighting and video design. I culled through hours and hours of historical footage to craft the opening sequence, which is a little over 15 minutes long; and full of exposition that reveals itself entirely through music and movement without one sentence of dialogue. Grounding the story in the mindset of a specific time and place was important, and the sequence ended up working magnificently.

Captain Walker heads off to war
Captain Walker heads off to war

With each design, I like to try something new. With this show, I used a lot of backlight (fairly typical for me) but this time, I added a lot of texture to the backlight. This gave the show some interesting aerial beam architecture, but even more fascinating was what it did to the stage surface. As the actors moved in and out of the shadows, their movements added to the shadow layers; creating new combinations of color and texture. It’s an idea I have had the opportunity to build on in the years since.

"Eyesight to the Blind"
“Eyesight to the Blind”

Then, I began to experiment with coloring the shadows themselves. This experimentation really paid off in “Eyesight for the Blind” and “Acid Queen”.

The Acid Queen
The Acid Queen

I also experimented with specific color arcs through the show. From the deep blues of the “history” moments, to the light blues of Tommy’s youth, to the colorless aura of his teen years and the blues/greens of the “medical” scenes; to the introduction of yellows in “Acid Queen” (overlayed and penetrating into the blue of Tommy’s youth), and finally to the searing red/yellow combo of Tommy’s rockstar days – I had tremendous fun creating the arc of Tommy’s life with color.

"Pinball Wizard"
“Pinball Wizard”
"Pinball Wizard Reprise"
“Pinball Wizard Reprise”

I also learned how to blend lighting with video and have one serve the other. Many people are worried that lighting will wash out the projected image. By and large, that’s true, but it’s also possible to use lighting (especially in highly saturated tones and with judicious amounts of texture) on top of the video image to create entirely new landscapes.

Tommy gets religion
Tommy gets religion

Mind you, all of this would have been technical overkill had everyone else not been firing on all cylinders; but the cast, crew, musicians, musical director and director were all deeply engaged in the show. It’s not the easiest musical to do, primarily because it hangs on the thinnest of narrative and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but there IS a story there. For some reason, I’m always attracted to shows that are problematic; and this was no exception. Finding the core of the story took some time.

"Smash the mirror"
“Smash the mirror”

Most directors feel that lighting and video should “gently support the narrative”. Luckily, I was working with a director who allowed me to use the lighting and video language to, in some moments, drive the narrative. It was an incredible experience – visual storytelling that I rarely got to do, at the time.

"Listening To You"
“Listening To You”

The show opened to pretty great reviews and we were lucky enough to remount it about six months later at a larger venue. With most of the cast returning (and reinvigorated by a new choreographer who reimagined the movement of the show, turning it into  a more muscular, visceral piece of theatre) we managed to top the original, which was no mean feat.

"I am the light..."
“I am the light…”

The show also provided me with my favorite review ever, from Paul Hodges of The Orange County Register, “I felt as of the afterlife was beckoning at the end of an explosively lit ‘Pinball Wizard’. KC Wilkerson’s lighting and video design ranges from delicately beautiful to tyrannically overpowering – effective in this narrative context.” I have lit quite a few shows at this post in my life, but there are only a handful that I can claim as my best work – and The Who’s Tommy is near the top.

The cast and crew of The Who's Tommy at Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts
The cast and crew of The Who’s Tommy at Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts

!nsp!re – Creative Traits

I’m not certain that I’ve ever subscribed to the belief that “creative” people are inherently different. For the most part, I agree with Sir Ken Robinson – creativity is nurtured.

That said, this is an interesting read, about 5 creative traits that most people won’t understand. I think one of the more salient observations is that “creative people see the world differently”. Whether that’s by nature or nurture is debatable, but I do believe it’s true. When one considers the paintings of Jasper Johns, the writings of Roald Dahl, or the songs of Nina Simone; what they share is a specific and unique perspective on the world. I would posit that HOW we see is the key differentiator between those who are creative and those who do not consider themselves to be creative.

One of the questions I get in workshops is, “As a creative, where do your ideas come from?”. To me, it’s not a mysterious process: It simply begins with seeing, but seeing in a way that filters the field of view through my experience, sensibility, and aesthetic. The design work that then emerges from that process is my own; even though it’s informed by what I’ve absorbed through art, architecture, music, and design. But it’s also more mundane than that. Inspiration is, quite literally, everywhere; from the way the light streams through the breakfast room window on a December morning, to the way the tomatoes are displayed at the grocery store; from the striking layout of a beautifully designed website to the repeating motif of a pattern in a hotel lobby.

EVERYTHING is input. Is all of the input valid? Maybe not for the project immediately in front of me; but ultimately, yes, much of it will be. The moment a creative loses their ability to truly see (and feel, experience, hear, and absorb) might as well be the equivalent of an artistic death; because that’s where it all begins. The challenge is to continually maintain that openness; that ability to look at the world with “new eyes”.

That’s the challenge I’m setting for myself – to do ONE thing differently each day to keep my vision fresh. Turn left instead of right. Take a walk during lunch. Watch my favorite movie on DVD in a different language. You do the same; and watch how your world can change.

future cre8tors – Should I Go To College?

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted six different workshops for high school arts students. At the end of each workshop, there is time for Q&A. Invariably, no matter what workshop I’m doing, one of the questions I always get is, “Should I go to college for an arts degree?”.

Well,  that depends.

There are a variety of factors that can influence this momentous decision; among the many are location, financial feasibility, desire, and expectation. Making the choice to engage in higher learning is a deeply personal one and, sadly, it is one that few high school students are equipped to make.

My real answer is that it all depends on what you want to be when you grow up and what you want from life. What are your long-term goals; and I do mean long term (30-40 years from now)? If you desire to be a Broadway designer or a professor at a University; it helps considerably to be packing at least an MFA. If you want to teach at a junior college, you may just need a teaching certificate along with the appropriate coursework. If you want to be a roadie, traveling the world on concert tours, then an MFA might be superfluous. Again, though, if you look at the career of a roadie, it’s important to look past the 25 good years of your youth (when the job is physically easier) and into your 50’s. What does life look like then?

When you’re a junior in high school, projecting that far into the future is difficult. It’s too abstract; but I encourage students to try nonetheless. What is the future? City or suburbs? Buy or rent?  Spouse? Kids? Travel for work? Vacations?  The inklings of answers to those questions can point you in the right direction.

Perhaps more importantly than “Should I go to college?”, is “Which college should I attend?” There are a plethora of exceptional schools out there; and it’s important to remember that YOU are hiring them and paying them; not the other way round. It’s perfectly fine to demand the most for your money. The key thing to remember is that this is YOUR decision. Picking the school that fits your learning style, that offers you connections to your industry, and that excels in teaching what you want to learn will take time. Talk to the professors, recruiters, and administrators. Interview THEM; not the other way around.

That sounds like a lot of work; and it is. But I will tell you that I know a number of people who blame their school or college for not preparing them adequately, or who feel their degree was a waste of time. The work you put in is directly related to what you’ll get out of it in the end. YOU have to do the work.

Another way to think about college is to do what my buddy Mike did. He always wanted to work in lighting. He had a lot of experience and was quite good even at a young age. He looked at his industry and realized that most people were free-lancers; and that in order to be very successful, he would want to run his career as a business. He also realized that he didn’t know the first thing about being in business, or free-lancing, or entrepreneurship. He paid his way through college doing lighting gigs, and graduated with a business degree. He’s now incredibly successful. I tell this story because its a great example of someone willing to engage in tough self-examination of their strengths and weaknesses, resolving to do something about it, and then following through with the hard work.

Finally, if you decide not to go to college, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you need to bend to societal norms or your parents expectations. Also, take a look at this story from Mashable, offering 6 ways to succeed without going to college.

!nsp!re – How To Talk Design by Sean O’Skea

Just a quick post today to share a few brief tips.

I read an article recently in Dramatics Magazine. Written by Sean O’Skea, “How To Talk Design” is a helpful guide to young designers navigating their first production experiences. It also functions as a pretty good reminder to seasoned pros as well.

While it’s clear that his advice is aimed at theatrical designers, anyone in an artist/client relationship can relate to these questions, which focus on getting concrete information out of a director (which, sometimes, is no mean feat…).

A few of my favorites are:

“Why is the director taking on the show?” This one can be important because we all do projects for different reasons. Understanding why the director is participating can give you insight into what they are looking for.

“What does the director think the play is about?” I think “Sweeney Todd” is about how revenge destroys us from the inside. Others think it’s about British societal castes. Still others think it’s a charming little tale about embracing opportunity. The point is – everyone has different opinions about what the play is about; but only one really matters.

“What is the director’s vision for the ‘world’ of the play?” If the director says he’s doing a traditional staging of “Hello, Dolly”, you begin to form certain images in your head. If the they say they’re doing “Hello, Dolly” as imagined by Tim Burton, you get a very different set of mental images.

Perhaps his best statement is “Communicate artfully, early, and often”.

Communicating artfully is something with which I believe we all struggle. To state your artistic intent clearly and with purpose in a way that allows people to understand what you see in your head is something that must be worked on continuously. It first requires that you know what you want to see on the stage. That is informed by the project, the research, and a myriad of other influences; all combining to create that vision. But as long as the vision stays stuck in your head, it’s virtually useless. It’s YOUR responsibility to get it out of your head through drawings, words, and actions. Communicate artfully!

You can read Sean’s full article here (on page 31).