Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Ha! Artisan Exchange: Erin Chesnut

I'm Erin Chesnut and I've been a scenic carpenter at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the past 7 years. I started working at OSF when I was barely out of college. At the time, I had one year of carpentry experience in a tiny theatre company that numbered 15 people from the artistic director down to me, the carpentry intern. Going from that to OSF, a company of hundreds of talented theatre professionals, was quite the culture shock.

We've been talking about an exchange program for artisans since I've been with OSF. When the talk became reality with funding from an A Ha! grant, I leapt at the chance to spend some time out in the world. I wanted to see how another large company builds their scenery and goes about the business of theatre. I've just spent 4 weeks working in the scene shop of The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, helping build the last show of their season, Noel Coward’s Private Lives.

During my time in DC, I have paid attention to the work organization and storage systems. They are a revelation. There are many similarities between The Shakespeare Theatre’s physical space and OSF’s new production shop in Talent Oregon. Both are large, located across town from the theatres and built on a concrete slab. This is opposed to OSF's current shop which is near the theatres, too small, and on the second floor of an older building. The DC shop is in a pre-existing warehouse space. It's a little bigger than our current production space in Ashland but with fewer than half the people working in it. It has high ceilings and a concrete floor that can accommodate a forklift. It has been enlightening to learn the difference a forklift makes in the storage options and work flow. Here's a picture of their newly restocked pile of stock flooring - that's 80 4'x8' platforms, 2,560 square feet of flooring stored in a 72 square foot footprint.

That is more than twice as efficient as we can manage by hand in our current shop. Much of the odd sheet goods and random accumulations of gear that breed in a shop are stored on high shelves, preserving floor space but still easily accessible with the forklift.

One of the big floor space debates we have at OSF is about work tables. We don't have any, and we don't have the room for them in the current space. But in the new shop... Here in DC, there are 4 carpenters and each has a set of two 5'x10' work tables. Here's a picture of mine.

There are a couple spare tables which the bosses use for smaller projects and their sawhorses are the same height as the tables. There are dedicated carts for moving material around the shop. These carts do no leave the shop and are not used to store scenery. Carpenters use them to collect and move lumber from the racks to the saws or work spaces. These two simple carts are my new favorite tools.

The biggest surprise of this trip was delivered by the pedometer app on my phone. I've had it running in the background for months and thought that I would set records on it during my time in DC; all that sightseeing, living without a car, etc. Shockingly, my highest count days in DC have been the same as an average day in Ashland. Turns out walking 2+ miles and through the entire Smithsonian, or working 10 hours each work day and walking to the metro, neither one can hold a candle to the amount of walking I do on an average work day in the OSF shop. I've often joked that I spend a lot of time  at work walking in circles. It turns out that I really do. I don't walk as much in this shop thanks to the giant work tables and lumber carts. Instead of doing endless laps carrying lumber and fetching tools out, I can gather what I need, wheel it all to my table, and work. I always knew work tables and carts would save our knees and backs, but I had no idea how much it would affect our mileage. This exchange has given me all sorts of great ideas about storage and setup options for the new shop. Now to get home and start planning our new reality in that big, shiny, new building. 

I have never spent time in the northeast, so this exchange was a great opportunity for cultural exploration. The sheer number of museums in the city is overwhelming. I've gone through 10 or so and still have more I want to cram into the last days of my trip. My favorite bits thus far have been the First Ladies exhibit in the American History Museum and Julia Child's kitchen. The Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum is also incredible. If I lived in the district, I would come back to the Portrait Gallery as often as I could manage, stopping in to say hello to the presidents. The Air and Space Museum is staggering and the Mars rover photography exhibit is stunning. The main hall holds nearly every spacecraft I've ever heard of.  I was happy to see a familiar name on the wall: "SpaceShipOne, a Paul G. Allen project." From the first private manned spaceflight to the oldest Elizabethan theatre in the United States; what wonderfully diverse hobbies you have, Mr. Allen.

My trip coincided nicely with the cherry blossoms. I now  understand why they are such a tourist draw. The tidal basin is so densely planted with them that the petals carpet the ground for days. They resemble the all-too-recent snow that district residence spent this winter cursing. Word to the unwise traveler: they'll set off allergies you never thought you had.

To end my explorations, I'm currently on the train to New York City to see OSF's freshly Tony-nominated Broadway endeavor, All The Way. I'm curious to see the difference between a Broadway-budget set and the version I helped build a couple of years ago in Oregon. Then back to work at home, to finish up the last 5 shows of our season at OSF!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Artisan Exchange: Matt Wolfe at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I've come to Ashland Oregon for the A Ha! Artisan Exchange program and it is absolutely beautiful here. There's a mountain that looks over the town; at least I'm calling it a mountain. I'm not sure if it's tall enough to qualify or not, but it had snow on it on a day when the rest of the town was warm and sunny, so I'm calling it a mountain. I can't get a good picture of it. I keep trying, but the camera can't capture the scale. Photos do not show how it's in the background of everything you do in town, or how the light shifts on its hills throughout the day. I need a time lapse high definition video.
Ashland is beautiful, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is right in the heart of it. Everything in this town seems to be based around OSF. Every other store has a name that's taken from a play or a Shakespeare reference: Puck's Donuts, Stratford Inn, Oberon's Tavern. The town is designed to cater to out-of-town theatre patrons. It's a one-themed tourist town, but that doesn't aggravate my anti-touristy buttons the way a normal tourist trap would. I think it's because everyone here is so laid back and isn't constantly trying to sell you something. There is a West Coast, laid back attitude and an abundance of hippies. There are more street musicians here than anywhere I've ever been. Well maybe not La Rambla, but it's certainly close.

Someone told me this statistic: Ashland has a population of 20,000 people and 300,000 people descend upon it each year just to see theater.That's glorious and gratifying for someone working in this industry, but also crazy.

I was able to fit right into the scene shop. There are some things they do differently due to the repping of shows, but the basic premise and tool use is the same. I've been getting to use some of their cool machining tools and have played with some of their automation equipment, but I'll get more into that in a bit.

The biggest difference in the construction of scenery here is that everything is built to be light. The stage operations crew takes apart and reassembles shows up to 120 times during the season. Our shows generally move once, and then sit still for three months. Everything here is designed to be lightweight and easy to install and shift. Platforms are built out of 1x, they use 1/8" Maso to face everything and even the metal pieces are made from an extremely light gauge steel (which is difficult to weld without blowing through when you're used to the thicker stuff.)

I got to watch the shift for A Wrinkle in Time to The Tempest. The OSF stage ops crew is a machine. They went from this:
to this:

to this 90 minutes. That was cool to see. A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I got to do the load-in for this show and am so excited to see it this weekend.

We are working on three shows at once, which is a change for me. The show I've been working on this most is Richard III. It's a fun show and I'm sad I won't be around when it goes up. I'm hoping someone sends me pictures of the finished set. I'd like to see how it changes the Allen Elizabethan Theatre (also known as "The Lizzy"), which is a very cool space:

Some neat things about the Lizzy: The Tudor facade looks like it would impose restrictions on scenic designs, but it is actually very malleable. Most of the trim can be removed and replaced by custom trim designed for a given show. Everything is built to be coffin locked together so it's easy to take apart. Many of the openings have automation built into them. The walls on the sides of the "center below" slide away; the center below arch can track on and off stage separately from a slip stage; the slip stage can track to front of the stage or retract to reveal a trap room beneath. The slip stage even has a track built into it's modular parts, which operate off a push chain. That's all cool, but the coolest thing I saw was a Snowy Owl that lives in the space and hunts pigeons. If there is anything I regret about this trip, it's not getting a good picture of her, she was gorgeous.

The OSF scene shop is cramped, but I got a tour of their awesome new production facility. Most of the shops will move over there this summer. It's huge and will be amazing space to work in.

There is a full-size version of the Angus Bowmer Theatre trap room built into the floor, so they can build and test scenery in the shop without having to load it into the theatre. I was also impressed by the 1/2 ton capacity beam with the chain motor overhead. It can move on x and y axis AND it has wireless remote control. Oh, and there's two of them.

I've been working with the automation team for the last week and their system is very different from ours back home. It's hard to draw parallels because of the major differences in set up, but it is certainly cool to observe. I'm particularly impressed by the modular belt-driven lift towers.

These are built to fit the trap room's specific height, but can be spaced around the room to create different size lift beds as needed. When ganged together, the four tiny motors can provide an impressive amount of force.

The biggest tool I'm learning to work with is the metal lathe in the machine shop.

It requires an intense level of precision, such as measurements of 5/10,000 of an inch. It's a slow process and often messy, but I ended up making some very cool things.

With that, I leave you with a picture of standing stones outside of a gas station:

....because this town is full of hippies. And I love it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Chris Carpenter at STC - Painting Costumes

In the process of of looking at sketches to determine the painting of racks of costumes for Henry IV,  I was very surprised to come across this one. Look closely......who is that playing The Lord Chief Justice?  Derrick Weeden!  Such a small world. 

Costume designer Anne Hould-Ward has requested a final painting touch be given to the costumes. It is a flick of  a brush stroke in highlight areas. She feels this accent will give a more painterly feel to the costumes on stage. Here are a couple of examples:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chris Carpenter at Shakespeare Theater Company

At Shakespeare Theater Company, it is so nice to be able to work on one show at a time, unlike OSF which had nine shows in the shop when I left. It allows for the privilege of concentration. This is certainly needed with the show we are working on now, Henry IV, Parts One & Two; yes both parts at the same time. The costume designs are by Anne Hould-Ward, who I worked with at the Old Globe. By the way, she was nominated for a Tony as the designer for  Into The Woods. Henry IV is huge. It has over 200 costumes with multiple layers and pieces to each costume, and Anne likes all her costumes to be touched by paint.
I have been learning some fabulous tips for painting  and distressing of costumes. Joshua , the crafts artisan and painter/dyer,  paints in all his highlights first using a thinned Neopaque with a broader tip airbrush.  This gives  a wider then necessary highlight, but when the mid-tone color is  applied  afterwards, it has much more clarity and visibility on stage. The pigments he uses are Dynaflo.  The use of these paints and the wider tip eliminates the need for straining, quite a time saver when detail is not important.
Another great time saving feature is the distressing techniques STC uses in the construction of garments. Costumes are sewn with the seams on the outside, even the  darts. A contrasting lining gives another accent of color.  

They also pink the hem edges and sew on lace in a haphazard manner. Both techniques are great ways to achieve frayed edges while keeping the garment sturdy.

Last Monday was a "snow day" and the costume shopped was closed.. I was excited because I had plans to hit the museums, but they were closed too. Even Starbucks was closed.  Only a couple inches of snow, but very cold and very icy. It stopped snowing and I made the trek on ice  to the Vietnam War Memorial.  It was worth it. I found the names of my sister's partner's two brothers. With the reflections of the light & snow the wall became a mirror of me taking the photo. With the weather conditions it was quite empty and a very moving experience.

More to come later,  this has been so rewarding.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Donna Memmer at the Alliance Theatre

When I first arrived at the Alliance, I wanted to find all the ways that our two theatres were different.  Halfway through my exchange, I started seeing the ways we are similar, if not the same.  Since my last blog, I attended the opening of The Geller Girls, a well done production of a new play set in Atlanta 1895.  I hadn't realized how long it had been since I had seen another company’s work on stage. The Alliance brings just as much passion and energy as OSF does to every aspect of the production.  I especially noted how kind and attentive the ushers were. Upon exiting, the house staff handed out cards encouraging the audience to share their theatre experience on social media, which seems to be a big focus.  The card also offered $10 off the price of a return ticket for the same show. I thought these were both inventive marketing ideas. 

During my last weekend in Atlanta, I took a backstage tour of the Fox Theatre.  The tour was only an hour long but showed me so much beauty.  Built in 1929, The Fox was built by the Shriners to resemble a Mosque.  The Shriners began construction before they had raised the $7 million needed for the project and came up short about half way through.  The Shriners negotiated a deal with the movie producer Willam Fox. Fox provided the funds to complete the project and the Shriners shared the building with him, allowing him to use it as a movie palace.  Three years after construction was completed, the stock market crashed and the theatre filed bankruptcy. Through many twists and turns, this beautiful building still survives as a road house for traveling shows and as a space for private events, including weddings and memorial services.  The Fox includes the Egyptian Ballroom, The Spanish Room and many more spaces we didn't have time to see.

Egyptian Ballroom

 The most impressive feat of engineering is a vast balcony cantilevered on two 1" steel plates.  No posts support the very impressive span.  I was obsessed with lighting fixtures, textiles and ceramic tiles. 

Fountain in Lobby

Air return

Inside Front Door

Carpet in the Ladies' Lounge

Tiles in Gentlemen's Lounge

Chair on Landing

Lobby Carpet

Lobby Lamp

During my last week of work "Snowmagedon 2014" gripped Atlanta.  I couldn't believe it when 2" of snow shut down the city for days. Having had the forethought to pack my Yak Trax (chains for shoes), I was prepared to walk the block from my hotel to work.  Others were not so lucky.  


Frozen Fountain

Main Stage performances were cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, The Alliance was also in the middle of tech in their black box space. People working that night either stayed on couches at the Woodruff Arts Center, or doubled up with people staying at the hotel on couches or Equity cots.  The next day, I was one of a very small band in the costume shop.  As most people were either not able to make it in at all or had to leave early, I was one of four people representing costumes at the evening tech.  This was the first time that the "Avatars" costumes from In Love & Warcraft appeared onstage. Shop Manager Carol Hammond assigned me to wardrobe for the evening and I had so much fun! Carol, designer Lex Liang designer and puppet maters Scottie all pitched in. I felt right at home helping the actors with these very cumbersome ensembles. We were able to see the "monster", the "princess warrior", the "dwarf", the "shaman" (my personal favorite) and another androgynous "princess warrior" onstage in game mode.  Somehow we completed enough tech rehearsal to make it to the first preview, which I was able to attend on my last night in Atlanta.  The play has huge crossover appeal and brings a brand new audience to The Alliance.   

Monster Costume Rendering

Monster Getting Some Skin

Monster Upper Body

Monster Fitting

Concerning the Costume Shop, The Alliance and OSF struggle with many of the same challenges: 

1. Space   The Alliance has smaller staff and isn’t as crowded with people as OSF, but they are very crowded with stock storage. Like OSF, every nook and cranny is packed and you have to bob and weave to make forward progress. 

Alliance Costume Storage

2. Overlapping shows.  Even though The Alliance doesn't perform in rotating rep, the Costume Shop can have up to four shows in the hopper at once. 3. Fittings.  The nature of the beast is the same.  Frequently, we don't find out about a fitting until the night before.  

My favorite thing about The Alliance Costume Shop is their thread stock, silly to some but important to stitchers. They stock Gutermann. The Alliance doesn't have to keep as many basic supplies on hand since they're in an urban area.  They simply send out a shopper, one of the two design assistants.  And, the Costume Shop has its own car!  On my last day I was able to go shopping with Lea Preston who does the majority of hunting and gathering for shop supplies.  We went to Gail K Fabrics; ahh, a real fabric store! As Carol put it, you can always find something that will work. The OSF Costume Shop is extremely challenged by its remote location.  I hate to imagine how much is spent on overnight shipping. 

While I was in Atlanta, Carol Hammond, Costume Shop Manager for 33 seasons, announced her retirement.  She will be greatly missed but I think she is looking forward to some time for herself.  She is a great leader and I'm glad I was able to meet her before she retired.

Alliance Costume Shop

     Front Row L-R:  Diana, Scottie, Maegan, Donna, Cindy Lou, April

     Back Row L-R:  Mila, Emily, English, Leah, Julie, Carol, Laury

Though I've been home 3 weeks, I miss Atlanta and the camaraderie of the people I met.   Thank you TCG and MetLife for the opportunity to be a part of this generous company.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chris Carpenter at the Shakespeare Theatre

Chris Carpenter is a dyer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is participating in an A Ha! funded artisan exchange at The Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington DC.

Greetings from Washington DC, 

It's snowing!


It's beautiful. Here is my little apartment two blocks from the costume shop.

The first thing that hits you upon entering the Shakespeare Theatre's costume shop is the amount of SPACE.  I imagined a shop in an urban area would be very cramped. What a surprise having the freedom to move around without running into anybody. The cutters' tables are huge. Demonstrating this is Julie Rose, a former OSF employee.

And, the dye shop has some very serious gloves; full length and very heat resistant. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mike Hamer at OSF: Week 2

 I have now been in Ashland for two weeks working in the scene shop for OSF.

I continue to work on a few notes as they arise for the shows.  One of the greatest challenges of operating in a repertory schedule is to find the time and opportunity to do set notes. Many of those notes need to be done while the scenery is in its proper place on stage.  However, in a rep schedule, you might have a few precious hours to accomplish some notes in the morning before a rehearsal begins, then there is another rehearsal that often doesn’t end until 11:00 pm or later, and then the set is shifted offstage and another one is shifted on.

I was tasked with constructing some rolling platform wagons for the show Water by the Spoonful.  These are simple platforms constructed from 2x4 and plywood.  Some of these wagons will carry a raked platform, some a projection screen, some both.

In the foreground of this picture is a large platform that will carry a projection screen.  In the background is a raked platform on its rolling wagon:

This is a picture of a projection screen on its rolling wagon.  The projection screen material will be applied along the large angled rectangle:

This is a picture of a ground plan for Water by the Spoonful:

There are 10 large rectangles, some of which are raked platforms; some are shorter platforms that aren’t raked. There will be an LED lighting effect in the platforms.  Nearly 600 holes, about 1” in diameter,  will be covered by small plexiglass discs with an LED underneath to create different light configurations on the floor.

This picture illustrates a method for deadening the sound of people walking on a platform. This is the underside of the platform:

Most sets are insulated with the same kind of fiberglass insulation used in the walls in a house.  This insulation is made of RECYCLED JEANS!!  That is awesome.  Since these platforms are going to be carried and handled during a changeover, it is a much nicer material than fiberglass (but maybe a bit more expensive.)

This is an overall picture of the shop:

You can see how tight the working space is, and how quickly it can get cramped.  I think that everyone is very excited to move to OSF's new scene shop, where they will be able to set up the full set for a show before it goes into the theatre.  Being able to ensure that every piece of a set fits together and works properly, with all the tools and benefits of the shop at hand, before installing it into the theatre is a great advantage. Some people are concerned about not being so close to the theatre complex. The current scene shop is a block away from the theatre, the new shop is about five miles away.. Being able to walk to the shop and get the tool or material that you need to accomplish a note is very convenient.

This is a picture of a bed frame, that was printed ON A 3D PRINTER!!  So awesome!!!

I believe it is for Richard III.  This awesome piece of technology is being used by OSF to create model pieces.  A scenic designer (or maybe assistant designer, or assistant technical director) creates a 3D drawing, and then prints it.  The designer can then paint it accordingly.  The shop also printed some line weights for The Tempest.  They needed to resemble light bulbs that were already part of that scene, so they printed hollow light bulbs and filled them with ball bearings.  I am also told that there is an attachment for the printer, called the “digitizer.” This scans an object, and will then either reprint it or create a drawing of it for manipulation.

The Elizabethan and Bowmer Theatres back up to Lithia Park.  This is a beautiful and lovely park.  As I was walking through the park on Saturday, I thought it would be a great place to have picnic dinner before the show.  This idea was inspired by the long standing tradition of “tailgating” at the Santa Fe Opera.  This tradition started years ago, and has since taken many shapes.  Some people arrive and find a picnic table or set up their camp chairs and have a sandwich, cheese and crackers, and a bottle of wine.  Others arrive to a fully catered three course meal with silk table cloths and fine china.  The opera decided to try and take advantage of this, and teamed up with their catering company to offer “box meals” for an additional price to the ticket for the show.  When they arrive, patronspick up their dinner and enjoy it in the wonderful outdoors overlooking the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.  I wondered if OSF could do the same thing, team up with a local catering company over the summer and encourage their patrons to enjoy a picnic in the park, maybe even provide a blanket that they could borrow and then return in a hamper before the show.

This coming week I think that I may be observing or taking part in a scenic changeover.  In my next few weeks I hope get a closer look out the automation systems.