Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Announcing TEDxCalArts: Performance, Body & Presence, March 9th in Los Angeles

On March 9, 2013 the California Institute of the Arts Center for New Performance will host TEDxCalArts at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. This all-day event will gather thinkers, doers and innovators to talk about the big ideas that are shaping our world.

Through a series of talks and performances by a diverse array of presenters, our conference will explore how new understandings of performance and liveness are radically changing our experience of art, technology, culture, and politics.

Some of our speakers are performance-based artists, i.e. electronic music pioneer Atau Tanaka, or dancer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire. We also made efforts to look around and outside of the arts for other perspectives that can enhance and inform our understanding of performance, i.e. activists the Yes Men, architect Peggy Deamer, and media-theorist Franco Berardi Bifo.

Other speakers include:

Sardono Kusomo, Dancer, Choreographer
Chris Kallmyer, Musician, Artist
Mirjana Jokovic, Actress
Teddy Cruz, Architect
Ricardo Dominguez, Artist & Activist, UCSD Center for Drone Policy and Ethics
Brian Massumi & Erin Manning, Social Theorist, Media Artist

With special performances by:

Killsonic, Experimental Orchestra Marching Band
Douglas Kearney, Poet/Performer
Ajay Kapur, Music Roboticist
Jeepneys, Music/Magic/Healing

And perhaps some surprise special guests!

TEDxCalArts: Performance, Body & Presence
March 9th, 2013 @ REDCAT
9:30 AM-6:00 PM

Registration now open with special discounts for students and CalArts alumni. Visit http://tedxcalarts.org for more information.

For those of you not in the Los Angeles region, we will be live streaming the conference in its entirely. Stay tuned for more details, or join our email list to receive updates.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thayne Abraham Scratches the Surface

            In the break room last week I was looking through the surfaces book, which is a collection of images of brick, marble, metal, and so forth. This book was compiled as visual research for artists, architects, and designers, and it's a staple for scenic designers and painters. Jim, Shannon and I were talking about how cool we think the book is and how being scenic artists has affected how we see the world. When I'm in a restaurant, I can't help but notice the dings and scratches along the wall. When I see the natural distressing caused by weather on a building, I take a mental note so I can have a better chance of recreating it later. 

          This conversation reminded me that lead scenic artist Patrick Boney at OSF had told me I would start noticing these "surfaces" during my first week of work, and he was right. I just can't help but notice these things around me. Most of the time it's cracked paint on an old building or scratches on chairs, but sometimes it's a little more majestic like a beautiful architectural detail or the patina on a bronze statue (scenic artists love patina.) When I came to Milwaukee I was impressed by the beautiful architecture and there's patina everywhere! So, I thought this week I would share inspiring surfaces images from Milwaukee.




Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chris Perme's Fly Moves

    For the first week of my exchange, I spent most of my time getting acquainted with the theater spaces and some of the people working here at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC.)  By the second week I was involved in the nitty gritty of working shows in the Sydney Harman Hall. 
    The last performance of FELA! was on Sunday 2/10.  Immediately following the performance, we got straight to work loading out the scenery and clearing the space for the Washington Ballet to start loading in the next day.  The FELA! touring crew (which is an IATSE union crew) led the twenty or so non-union STC overhire stagehands during the strike.  During a Union work call, people are assigned positions which they stick to for the entire call.  There are Loaders, who stay on the loading truck to tightly pack all the boxes of equipment  together; Pushers, who stay on deck to load up equipment and strike soft goods and other pieces of scenery; Down Riggers, who work with packing chain motors and loading weights on the rail, and Up Riggers, who stay in the grid to detach various dead hung pieces.  I was an Up Rigger for the call, so I didn't get to see much of what other stagehands were doing, save for what I could see from the grid. 

    As an Up Rigger, me and one other stagehand, were responsible for lowering in dead hung masking, which was tied off through a device called a "Rabbit Ear".  This has a hole where the line comes up and a cinching lever that has an arm that doubles as a cleat to tie off the line.  I had never seen this device before, but it is easy to make and it gave me some inspiration as to how we might be able to integrate the principle into the Angus Bowmer Theatre grid at OSF.  Once the masking was down, we then began the slow process of lowering chain motors to the deck.  The FELA! tour put up about 20 chain motors for various purposes, mostly to hang electrics trusses.  These trusses were hung from "barrels," which are large pieces of pipe that lay across the grid ribbons. The motors themselves were hung from 3/8" aricraft cable swagged on both ends.  The work was slow because we couldn't lower the motors until the electricians struck the truss from said motors, so I spent most of the 5 hour call looking around the Harman grid and talking about the industry with the other Up Rigger, who is a seasoned stagehand.  This was insightful because I learned how flexible a non-union stagehand can be.  For example, an IATSE stagehand CANNOT touch any other department's equipment, no matter how helpful it may be to the entire process; it is against the rules.  Looking back on OSF's production of The White Snake for example, one stagehand moved a wardrobe cart through the hallway to its track at the beginning and end of each performance to assist the costumers.  This would be a complete NO-NO for an IATSE stagehand. 

    I was given the day off for the Monday load-in of the Washington Ballet, due to the fact that I would be working six days in a row for the performance.  Tuesday and Wednesday were tech days which lasted about 14 hours each: about  12 hours of tech rehearsals and taking care of various notes and two hours for lunch and dinner.  During the performance, I was assigned to the flyrail with three other people. During the first half of the performances there were as many 4 fly moves happening at one time.   The first piece was Dangerous Liaisons , a play that was adapted by a choreographer into a 1 hour ballet.  After a fifteen minute intermission, there were two more pieces which lasted about 35 minutes in total.  At the end of the second short piece, I had a cue to fly in a blackout drop a distance of about 20 feet slowly over the course of one song, which was about 3:30.  All of their fly rail is set in a "double purchase" which means that when you fly the piece, the arbor moves half as much as the batten.  So for 20 feet of batten to travel in, I had to move the arbor only ten feet over the course of 3:30, which is REALLLLY slow.  The trouble was finding the right speed to time the fly move with the length of the song.  The timing was very difficult to achieve, but by opening, I had it down to near perfection.  We had one preview on Wednesday night, opened Thursday, ran a night show on Friday, with two shows on Saturday and Sunday.  On Tuesday 2/19 we will be changing some of the flying pieces to prepare for one more week of the Washington Ballet running a new show.  We will be doing the same performance schedule as this past week. 

Chris Perme


     This past week has gone well. I am here for the last couple shows of the season and there is always some  relief when the end of the season is in sight. It is nice to be a part of that.  We have made progress on Ring of Fire.  In the design there is a painting of a field and clouds on wood paneling. The project looked fun and therefore I was  happy when Shannon trusted me enough with a brush to help her out. I learned about a crackle technique that works great and could be used on giant surfaces if necessary. It could really come in handy. We have already started work on Raisin In The Sun, which is beautifully designed so I am looking forward to it. 

Thayne Abraham

Crackle technique

Ring of Fire drop 1

Drop 2

Simple Pleasures

I am a person who gets a lot of joy out of the simple things in life: a good cup of coffee, a pleasant conversation, a beautiful sunrise.  So, I wanted to share some of the simple pleasures of living in Ashland and working for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 
On my very first day here, one of the carpenters told me: Working for the festival is great, but living in this area is the real treasure, so make sure you go out and enjoy it while you’re here.  I wholeheartedly agree with him there; I love working in theatre, but I really enjoy the things I do outside of my job as well.  I’ve had no problem taking his advice.  For the past two weekends I’ve been on awesome hikes with some people from the festival.  I’m really enjoying working and socializing with people from OSF, but I’ve also met a lot of people in the community through taking yoga classes at a neighborhood yoga center, or from wandering the streets of Ashland.  I’ve found that Ashland is a very spiritual community, very artistic, very “intentional”, as one woman put it. The people here care very much about their community and their impact on it.  It is incredibly beautiful here.  Every morning when I’m walking to work, I enjoy the bright greens of the mosses and plants in the area, watching the clouds pass over the mountains, watching the mountains change colors as the day passes.  I’ve included some of my favorite photos of the area. 
            The simple pleasures of working here are similar to the simple pleasures I find everywhere I work: the camaraderie, using specific tools to make the job easier, the job in and of itself.  Here at OSF, the camaraderie is something special, though.  The crew here has so much obvious affection for each other, as well as pride in their work.  It is not uncommon to hear them talk of past seasons in the break room, or for them to socialize outside of work.  On a personal note, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone.  There is typically a lot of laughter during the work day. 
            There are a few tools in the shop that have made my job much easier.  When painting drops, we put bridges at one end of the drop to allow for air to circulate under the drop.  It helps the drying process, among other things.  The bridges here are designed to be much more user-friendly.  I’ve included a photo for those interested.  We also took some time to create the scrim picks that Thayne was talking about in his last entry, as we’re painting scrims here, too.  We added googley eyes to ours (some of that laughter I was mentioning…); I’ve included a photo of those as well. 
            The most obvious “simple pleasure” I get out of my job is the painting.  I love scenic art.  I’ve gotten to do a variety of projects in my three weeks: I’ve done touch-ups, sign painting, texturing, painted two drops, been involved on a tile floor process involving vinyl transfers, and today we started two scrim drops.  After only three weeks, it feels like business as usual here in Ashland! 

Kira Nehmer

The mountains near Ashland


Bridge design

Scrim pick in use

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Artisan Exchanges: Never Stop Learning

From Kira Nehmer:
Blog 3- Never Stop Learning

            At the end of my first week here, I was talking with one of our more seasoned scenics and he told me that if he could pass on one piece of advice to every scenic he encounters, it would be this: never stop learning
            Now, I’ve been hearing this for years and years.  I had mentors in college (at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN) stress this to us.  We’re in theatre- our job is to ask questions of our communities, and reflect life back onto our communities.  Our communities are ever-changing, so we had better be changing with them.  Not to mention that our technologies that help us tell the story are always changing, so we need to keep up with things like that as well….
            Then I left college, went out into the “real world”, and my other mentors continued to tell me, never stop learning.  One of the things I loved about freelancing was how easily it lent itself to learning from other artists.  Then I came to Oregon because of that same principle of mine to never stop learning.  I wasn’t going to blog about this, because it originally seemed very obvious to me.  But I don’t think this principal is an industry standard.  It’s a value here to OSF, but there are probably theatres that have gotten stuck in the “this is how we do it” mindset. I would like to take this opportunity to pass on this advice: never stop learning.  There must be something to it, as wherever I go, people tell me this.  Pass it on.
I find this is the perfect opportunity to share some of the things that I’ve learned here thus far.  At the end of two weeks here, I’ve learned a lot about myself and these two companies, but I’ve also learned about different products and techniques to use.  One project that I worked on last week was a cabinet that wanted faux wood grain texture.  I’ve created wood grain texture countless times, but here at OSF, I used a product I’ve never used with tools that I’ve never used.  The product was Nova Matte Gel.  In the past I’ve used a joint compound mixture with white glue, or Rosco’s Crystal Gel, or even the roofing compound Jaxsan.  The joint compound mixture tends to gum up the tools quickly and Crystal Gel tends to be too brittle.  I really enjoyed working with the Nova Matte Gel because it was easy to smooth out with water, and dries incredibly hard, so it’s very durable.  I also used a wood grain rocker to create grain, but then I rolled a chuck roller through the wet mixture to create more divots.  This isn’t exactly the intended use of a chuck roller, but part of being a scenic artist is using tools in ways that they were not intended to be used!  I’m having lots of fun learning from the folks here, and doing what scenic artists do best: play!  Enjoy the photos from the process.

Artisan Exchanges: Painting in Milwaukee

From Thayne Abraham:

       I am now getting to know the shop a bit better as we work on "Ring of Fire".  I assumed I would learn something  during this experience but I am pleasantly surprised with my success in that department so far.  There are many variables in the scenic painting process.  Certain elements like brick, keep showing up in designs, but the specific look for each design varies and requires a different approach.  Products are changing over time and any product is fair game, from roof sealers to household cleaning products. Many tasks that are common place in scenic painting are endemic to the trade and therefore have no specific mass produced tool for the job. 

     Considering the nature of scenic art it is no surprise that different shops use different products and approaches.  I helped to paint a wallpaper pattern on a piece of scrim and Jim showed me a tool he made. I have always gotten down on my knees and used a thumbtack to pick up scrim to keep it from sticking to the floor but Jim fashioned a small hook from a type of clip that he attached to a bamboo stick which works perfectly to hook the scrim without tearing it and without the added wear and tear to the knees. During a long process of blocking on the walls for "Ring of Fire"(applying paint with a piece of wood) I was thrilled with the little handle they had applied to a piece of scrap pine.  These things may sound relatively insignificant but they really make a difference over the course of a long day. I have also been really excited about some products that I had never tried before. I am always happy to use a less toxic option and so I was thrilled by the performance of a water based stain we used today, the company is from right here in Wisconsin. Also back in Oregon we have been hunting for an inexpensive and high performance flat sealer and it appears that the Milwaukee Rep paint shop has just the product we were looking for. It's fun to see other peoples ways of generating scenery and I already feel a little more prepared to tackle my next project as my knowledge base grows. 


Artisan Exchange #3: Chris Perme

 Greetings from DC!  This has been a great week for me here at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.  The biggest difference I have found between STC and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is that this is not a standard rep theatre.  The Lansburgh (451 seats) is housing a production of "Hughie" that will run until March 17th.  Harman Hall, (774 seats) is currently running a touring show called "FELA!".  This particular show is a "rental" which is common in this space.  A touring show comes in with their crew, and takes over the space for several weeks.  The "FELA!" production has hired two stagehands to operate the flyrail for a couple of cues during the show.  When this show loads out on Sunday, a ballet company will begin to load in and perform in the space for two weeks.  These will be the productions that I will start to work on as a stagehand.  The first few days I have been here, I shadowed stagehands in both theatres and acclimated myself to the production style and systems here at STC.  In addition to these performances, special events like NT Live (a live feed of a show from London is shown on a projection screen) take place. 

  Because of the limited stagehand requirements, STC has one "Stage Carpenter" for each theatre.  These are basically Lead Stagehands in charge of the space and take care of any set repairs and notes that are needed.  Then there are two "Run Crew" stagehands that are called whenever a production needs any extra hands.  If more stagehands are required, a pool of overhires are tapped to fill in any gaps in the production. 

  That's all for now! I will take pictures during the load out of "FELA!" so that all y'all can see Harman Hall and it’s amazing fly space!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Artisan Exchanges: Update from Kira Nehmer

First impressions and Self-examinations: February 2, 2013
            I made it through my first week at OSF!  Already I’ve learned a lot, shared a lot and had many really interesting conversations with the other artisans here at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  It’s hard to know where to start, so I will start at the beginning. 
            Monday, January 28th:  My first day was a touch-up call on stage at the Bowmner Theatre for Two Trains Running.  (A “touch-up call” is when the set is installed on the stage and we start to see where things don’t match up, or we need to add paint treatments.  The most typical notes are to darken areas of the set, or age areas.  Sometimes entire scenic elements are added and we have to match those elements to what already exists.)  The notes on Two Trains were to darken areas, age areas, and seal the floor- pretty typical.  Now, in my experience as a freelancer, I was constantly walking into theaters to do touch-ups on sets that I didn’t paint, with people that I didn’t know, in spaces that I didn’t know.  It’s part of what I do as a scenic artist, so I wasn’t out of my element getting lost backstage, or having to ask people’s names, or not knowing where scenic elements were onstage.  I discovered a long time ago that I can be a scenic artist anywhere.  BUT there is a huge difference between being able to perform the required tasks of your position, and being able to “replace” an individual.  I found that, while I was able to do every task asked of me, I mostly felt in the way that day.  Between not knowing the set, not knowing the processes, not knowing the other scenics, it was hard for them to simply tell me to do a note.  They also use some products that I’ve never used before (more on that to come!).  I’m starting to discover that when a group of people work together day in and day out for 9+ months (or in the case here, years and years), you develop shorthand for communicating. Not knowing the shorthand makes it very difficult to switch in and out.  One of the credos of freelancing was: you are replaceable.  I’m discovering that in regional theatre, you are NOT replaceable.  A theatre becomes your home, the people you work with like family and you cannot simply switch them in and out.  I was discussing this idea with some folks last night and they pointed out that by the end of my six weeks here, I will have mostly likely found my place here. There will be things that I bring to the company that will be irreplaceable.  We will have to wait and see on that, but I sure hope so!  
            The rest of my first week was a lot of back and forth between touch-ups on stage for Two Trains and for The Taming of the Shrew, and painting props in the shop.  Yesterday, Friday, I painted a sign for Shrew from start to finish. It felt really nice to complete a project on my own.  I had a lot of setbacks, mostly because I would have to stop and hunt for tools, but I am learning where things are, slowly but surely.  I used an electro-pounce for the first time, and I loved using it.  It was much easier than using a pounce wheel, so I’m glad to have gained that knowledge. 
            I’ve had wonderful conversations with the other scenics that I’m working with; they’re all inspiring me for future blog postings… so look for those soon!  I’d like to end with a thought that one of my coworkers shared with me yesterday:  she told me that she’s already learning so much from me (and likewise, I’m learning so much from her!), but she’s also learning about OSF.  We spend a lot of time throughout the day chit-chatting about differences between the Rep and OSF, and with every question I ask her, she’s had to step back and really think about how the organization runs and her position in it. She’s discovering things about OSF that she didn’t realize before.  She’s discovering just how happy she is here, discovering that she’s become a part of this family.  I’m happy to be able to hear all of her observations and for however I contributed to that.  Self-examination is hard work and here we all are, doing it on a company-wide, national scale.  It’s already exciting to me to see what we’re discovering!

Artisan Exchanges: Update from Thayne Abraham

     I settled into Milwaukee with a tour of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater led by production manager Melissa Nyari Vartanian. The Theater is located downtown and has three separate performance spaces: the Quadracci Powerhouse (720 seats), the Stiemke Studio (205 seats) and the Stackner Cabaret (118 seats), which is also a full-service, restaurant and bar. The theater began in 1954 but moved into its current home across from Milwaukee’s City Hall in 1987. The building was previously a power plant, hence the name of its largest theater space.  The building houses all of the production and administration spaces as well.  As I walked through the building I was intrigued by the visual history still in place, bricks covered with porcelain glaze cracked and aged stretching around massive windows overlooking the river.  Old instruments of the power plant are on display and footprints of its larger elements are still visible throughout the levels of the building. 

     After a day off I met my new coworkers and helped with notes for Clybourne Park in the Powerhouse. The team, minus Kira, consists of Charge Scenic Artist Jim Medved, Lead Scenic Artist Shannon Mann, and full time Paint Intern Shannon Meyer. I was harboring a minimum amount of apprehension about meeting the crew but that departed almost instantly as I was met with warmth, respect and a bunch of shared sensibilities. Jim has worked at the Rep for 16 years and Shannon for 13 and I am already realizing how much I am going to learn from them.  I look forward to getting into the next show "Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash" and learning the tricks of the trade that have evolved within this fun and accomplished paint shop.