Monday, December 22, 2014

Museum Men

I have been watching a new show on the History Channel called “Museum Men”.  It’s about a small custom fabrication (design/build) shop in Florida that builds (at least primarily) museum exhibits.  In some ways the shop is very much like what I work in, and it is interesting to see how projects play out in their shop. 
On the flip side, the show brings up a number of concerns (which I am sure is true for every industry that is boiled down to a short reality tv series).
                -Their timeline from project initiation to installation is about a month.  At times it seems as though they have a month of fabrication time, either way, this isn’t very realistic or practical.
                -How the content is developed seems a little odd.  Perhaps we just aren’t seeing the nuts and bolts here, but the show goes from a conversation about an element, to going forward full steam.  In fact in an episode about building Chuck Yeager’s Supersonic Jet, they were half way through building the piece when the owner comes in with goods news and bad news.  Good – they client was spending more money, bad – they jet is too large and a new piece needs to be built and installed with only the remaining 2 weeks that had been previously scheduled.  Seems like the client is paying extra to have the jet redone- but this seems like a pretty major detail that should have been worked out on paper before anything was built. 
                -Drawings and research, as well as what is being delivered seems to be at the owner’s discretion.  Once thy wondered if the jet could be installed upside down?  Even if the unit is a design build contract, the client should be signing off on something – including what it will be and look like once it is installed.  It seems like they move forward into construction before they even know all of the details about what they are constructing.
                -Perhaps a few all night work calls still exists in the industry – but showing the tight timelines and then encouraging these work practices doesn’t really help clients understand what we can reasonably accomplish. 
                -And a 1 hour load in is just a little crazy. 

I can only hope that the bigger picture is edited out, but I am left with a connotation that it shouldn’t take more than a month to design, build, and install a major piece of exhibition scenery, which is not really feasible.  Now there are a couple of things to note – they do mention not taking on much additional work – it does seem like they primarily work on one project at a time.  Whether bad or good it is interesting to see some of their processes and get an inside look!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Props - life sized animals, dinosaurs, and characters

You never really know what you will find yourself in the need of when you are bidding projects.  The latest museum project has me looking for farm animals and I came across this site: Butlers and Signs.

They carry life sized fiberglass and resin props.  The prices seem fairly reasonable, though probably too high for theatrical props.

Some of what they carry includes Christmas and Santa themed items (great for those Santa visits), dinosaurs, mounted heads, cowboys, pirates, butlers, carousal horses, oversized food and lots of zoo and farm animals.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

USITT Tech Expo

It is not too late to submit your innovative technical solution to USITT's 2015 Tech Expo.  Download the form here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gaff Tape Runner

And now for a product that should have been invented years ago (or was and just not marketed): GaffGun.

I am waiting for one that carries a handful of colors of spike tape marketed to stage managers next...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Digital torque wrench

I was reading a handyman magazine and they had a product that I thought would be a good edition to any theatre technicians tool bag- a digital torque wrench that can be used with any 1/2" socket.  It can also be used with 3/8" and 1/4" adapters.  It is made by Pittsburgh and available at Harbor Freight for under $40.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014


While browsing linked in I cam across this post from ibookbinding on marbling tutorials.  I remember doing this as a kids, and thought it was lots of fun at the time.  Obviously by the title you can tell that this isn't exactly a theatrical site, but I thought that as I looked over the post, that if you adjusted the basin, you would be able to do tiles to create a marble effect onstage.  I know that scenic artists have ways of creating these effects already, but I don't think it ever hurts to have a new technique in your tool bag!

Friday, October 3, 2014

What Type of Collaborator Are You?

One way to look at how you handle collaboration, along with how those you work with act. Knowing a bit about how other people work can help you navigate interactions.  

Mindjet has a blog that has a number of short, to the point entries that are both fun and useful for getting work done.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Technology Training Free Resources

I came across IDC Technologies September 2014's newsletter technical download page, and thought that it is good information to keep as well as to pass on. The page offers a number of links ranging from project management to mechanical Design Concepts for Non-Mechanical Engineers to a train the trainer document.  They also have webinars available, that would be worth looking into.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Electro-magnetic Boards

I recently received an email about a product called Justick.  Its basically a bulletin board without pins, tapes, etc - where notes just stick, without any additional aid.  This works via an electromagnetic field, generated by AA batteries.

While this probably is not robust enough to hold up in some environments, I could see uses.  If you could control the power remotely, things could easily fall onstage.  But I could see it more in use backstage, or for use in meetings where you may not have a post it note, but need to make a note.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

History of Prop Money

Priceonomics has an interesting article called The Business of Fake Hollywood Money.  It’s a really interesting read.  I have certainly ran into issues when I have done props in the past – making money realistic enough for use, but in a way that we could do without getting into trouble (its not like you can just go to the local kinkos and plop a $5 bill down on the copy machine…).

The article is also interesting as it discusses some of the Hollywood prop shops.  And for listing the book by Fred Reed called Show Me the Money, about the history of money in the movies.  It is definitely a book to add to my reading list!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Anticipating Questions and Problems

Anticipating questions and potential problems is a basic step in technical direction and in project management, but one that I often see skipped when the timeline gets tight.

I read once that 70% of project related questions could be anticipated and prepared for – things like schedule, facility information (dock, door / elevator sizes, etc), contact information for onsite, and so forth are easy to anticipate and this information should be collected early.  Asking these questions in advance allow the PM or TD to be prepared when the project is discussed with the crew, since the PM/TD will already be able to answer the crews questions or will present the information as part of the discussion.

While I think that collecting this information in the beginning, it seems like the step often gets skipped when the project is on a fast track.  I also see situations where a TD/PM is somewhat reactive to information instead of proactive.  I know that personally I often avoid any sort of intake forms when I am starting a project, yet these have usually been created for a reason, often reminding the user of a variety of questions to ask and necessary information.  Often I find that clients don’t seem to have all of the necessary information either, but asking the question early at least spurs them into collecting the necessary information.  And using forms shouldn’t be seen as a weakness, there is often a lot of wasted time collecting information that could easily be streamlined if the necessary information was anticipated.  Further, potential problems could be anticipated with information presented early in the process.   

Thursday, June 12, 2014

PM Tools and Time Management

I recently listed to a few webinars online that was about managing projects.  Based on the title, I had expected something very different from the actual content that was given.  The content of the webinar focused on managing time, getting organized, and managing your overall effectiveness.  While the webinar did refer to Pert and Gnatt charts – they used them as a way of seeing your own personal schedule and obligations, not necessarily as a project tool.  I thought that it was an interesting point of view.

I started viewing shows as projects prior to going to grad school and prior to obtaining any professional training in project management.  Projects include many different things – many things that we all do regularly – even planning a vacation could be defined as a project.  I think that when a show is defined as a project it is subtly handled differently than when it isn’t.  Seeing project management tools applied to time management reminds me of how versatile PM tools really are.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Illustrated history of Graphic Design

Pop Chart Lab offers a print that is a stylistic survey of graphic design that covers about 200 years.  It is interesting to see how the styles have evolved over time.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Management by Exception

I recently realized that a common management technique that I see every day (and do for better or worse) is called management by exception.  I didn’t really think of it as a style, or even having a name, though I had actually been thinking about it in the last few months because I saw that the technique was causing problems to develop.
Essentially this technique assumes that employees know what and how to do something, and corrections are applied when something blows up or, if being watching more carefully, mistakes are seen.  This makes sense in many ways.  For instance – when building flats, most carpenters I work with know how to build a typical flat & I would not expect to have to teach them this skill (generally, there are of course situations where this would not be the assumption).  If the carpenters are in the middle of building flats and I see an error in construction (perhaps the plywood corner block has the grain going the wrong direction) then I would stop and correct it, and hopefully the carpenter would not make that mistake in the future.  The technique makes sense because it is difficult to know what someone else knows and doesn’t know.  At the same time people don’t always know what they don’t know – which could prevent them from asking question.  The system streamlines a particular workflow, and only stops when there is an observable issue.
Management by Exception is a transitional model of leadership – it is based on tasks and does not really consider needs of the subordinate or personal development – just the job at hand.  It can be done actively – when the manager watches closely for mistakes and then corrects them, or passively, when corrections only occur after a problem has arisen. The issue is that it always a negative transaction – interactions always happen after mistakes have occurred (there is no focus on catching people doing things right).  In my experience, and what made me think about this style before I even realized that it was an actual style, is that when corrective action is applied frequently it creates a situation that is not very positive.  While avoiding the transactional leadership style completely would create the most positive experience – I think that there is still room for management by exception as long as there is focus on catching good behavior not just problems.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Leadership Development

The class I am currently taking is about different leadership styles.  While I have taken other leadership courses, they usually come from the point of view of a particular style and attempt to develop leadership potential from only that point of view.  This class has been interesting because it talks about the history of leadership and how different theories of leadership have evolved, as well as exposing me to styles that I have not really considered before.  I think that leadership typically calls to mind particular traits – visionary, charismatic, authenticity, for example, and those traits are parts of many theories, there are other theories that are much more behaviorally based, and can be easily learned and used to improve leadership skill.  In particular there are several that I thought were relevant to technical theatre environments.

Leader-Member Exchange Theory.  Have you ever noticed that in some environments there is an in and out group – and that some people are more likely to stay than others, and that the “in” group has more information than they others?  This theory talks about that phenomenon.  I don’t think that this environment is ideal – I think it should be avoided, but understanding what is happening will help you identify what is going on and possibly move into a position where you will receive more information, or would help you break the cycle if you are the leader in this situation.

Path-Goal Theory assumes that subordinates will do a good job and be motivated as long as they believe that they can do a good job (capable of performing their work), and that the reward for doing the work is worthwhile.  The leader here seeks to motivate his/her employees.  This style also emphasis removing obstacles, clarifying goals, and supporting the people doing the work.  I identify with this style of leadership most closely because it is such a close fit to how I see myself and my responsibilities as a project manager.  This theory identifies 4 types of leader behaviors (directive, supportive, participative, and achievement orientated) that can be used based on the task and the subordinates needs to provide proper motivation and support.  Finally, the theories include subordinate characteristics (need for affiliation, structure preference, control, and task ability) that must be considered by the leader when choosing their own leadership behavior.  While somewhat complex, it is a situational approach that focuses on removing obstacles and clearing the way for your staff to do the best work possible.

Contingency Theory attempts to match leaders to specific situations creating a match where they will be most successful.  Obviously this doesn’t work in all situations, but can be used in looking at what approach would work best.  The theory looks at leader-member relationships, the task structure, and the leader’s positional power, as well as the leaders preferred leadership style.  A chart shows what situations the preferred leadership style is most effective in.  The leader’s style is based on an assessment on the LPC scale (least preferred coworker) which separates leaders based on relationship versus task motivations. 

Situational Leadership.  I have encountered this several times before & I find it useful for determining behavior in a situation.  This approach looks at the skill of the followers, and has a chart based on two factors – supportive behaviors and directive behaviors.  This creates four styles: Delegating, Supporting, Coaching, and Directing.  Based on the skill of the employee and the task, a leader can determine which role would be most effective for the situation. This approach assumes that the leader should adapt to the abilities of their subordinates.

I think that I struggle with seeing leadership qualities in average situations.  I tend to associate leadership with great people (Lincoln, Roosevelt etc).  I think that it is very easy to see leadership flaws in people that I interact with, and I needed to take a step back and view these interactions from a grander viewpoint.  Leadership and change are linked – and change is hard, especially organizational change, which I think also minimized leadership accomplishments of those I know.  I also have started to consider that leadership often happens in small moments – not large ones.  For instance, I had a hard time talking about transformational leadership because I viewed it only in terms of large transformations.  Yet I work in an industry that frequently mentors others, and these mentors are exhibiting transformational leadership. 

While most leadership books (at least those that are meant to develop leadership abilities) assume that leadership is a skill that can be developed, many rely on personality and traits, that I fee are more difficult to change.  The approaches above, to me, provide very concrete concepts of ways to increase leadership ability based on context.  In some ways, I think that had I taken this course prior to some of the other classes I have taken; I would probably have viewed them differently.  On the other hand, I don’t think that a single exposure to a thought or concept allows full development of the idea – the more often ideas are thought about and developed, the more concrete and meaningful they become, and the more they become woven into your practice.

Images are from Leadership Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northouse.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Watercolor Colormixing

Colossal has an article about an artists named A. Boogert who made an 800 page book about mixing watercolors and describing the paint colors - somewhat similar to our modern day pantone color books. Its really quite a remarkable accomplishment and tool, and a wonder that it has survived.

The book can be viewed here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quote of the Day

"You can fix it on the drawing board with an eraser or you can fix it
on the site with a sledgehammer."
-Frank Lloyd Wright

Friday, April 25, 2014

New Arrival

The newest addition to our family:

Riley Annette
12:48 Am

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Design Fees

Recently, I talked to a couple of designers that I have worked with previously about an upcoming potential job. They told me that they wouldn’t do it “on spec” which, I have to admit, took me back a bit because I didn’t expect them to do the work for free.

In theatre, designers, in my experience, are hired based on their reputation, portfolio, and so forth. It is common for certain directors to request a certain designer based on the show and a previously existing relationship. Designers, at least professionally, are not expected to work for free. Once hired, they are expected to make the design work for the director.

Working in a commercial scene shop, some clients think of design the same way that I do – that they hire us based on reputation, relationship and portfolio, and we work together to make a design that everyone is happy about. Technically, we could do a design and not do the fabrication, though that doesn’t happen often. Also, I suppose that if a design wasn’t going well, they could pay for services to date and move on, though that doesn’t really happen either. However, there are a variety of customers, who work in other industries where they do expect us to design and/or sample and develop ideas for free. There is really quite a debate about this practice & about how it can be bad for the industry in general. It reminds me of the debate I heard when I was younger about how the theatre industry underpays in general, but especially for interns because it’s a learning experience and besides – you are doing what you love. I have to admit that my early days in theatre were in small places that economically took advantage of me, but I did gain a lot of experience. On the other hand, I have seen others take a much different career trajectory.

The other challenge with design and prototype / sample proposals is quantifying what they entail. If it is unlimited, a client could take advantage wanting endless samples, drawings, revisions, and so forth. If you price based on the assumption that something like that will happen and try to allow for time and materials, your cost will be too high. If you assume the best case scenario, but don’t put any limits into the contract then you may lose money on the work. I have some people do a time/materials proposal, but generally people want to have a final price in mind for the budget. If you do a proposal that specifies a particular process and amount of revisions etc, and allows for additional charges – it allows everything to be very clear to both parties, and minimizes risk to the artist, but I have seen clients shy away-to a certain degree once they pay for design they want it to be finalized without additional charges and have a hard time recognizing how their actions and request increase costs.

While I don’t really have answers, I think that ultimately it is about a relationship.

David Airey has a blog that talks about spec work. He also has many good resources for designers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Stage Machinery in 1873

In an article “the New Theatre” published in the New York Times on 1873 (not to be confused with Claude Hagen’s new theatre that occurs 40 years “ish” later) also reference James Schonberg as contributing to designing the stage. The building is being done by architect, Frederick Draper. The proscenium “will be of original form and construction, the plans for it having been designed by Mr. Dion Boucicault, and will be so formed as to act as a sounding board.” The stage is described as having many improvements by Boucicault and Schonberg. The stage is described as 40 squares, each 3’ which can be raised and lowered. These could also be used to create steps. This article describes a patent by Schonberg for supporting and setting the scenery, but also describes traditional scenery (defining it by two types, English and French). The article describes French Stage shifting equipment as a truck beneath the stage with a ladder / frame that the scenery is mounted to. (Pictures below are from French Theatrical Production Nineteenth Century by J P Moynet). The article discusses advantages and disadvantages of this system. They describe the English system as having the scenery supported from above, by “grooves” or “parallel fillets”. This technique is said to be faster than the French system and able to be done in front of the audience. Disadvantages are that everything is square and that grooves must be masked. It also talks about stage screws and braces; obviously we have inherited many of these practices despite European theatrical influences. The article names Mr Flechter and the London Lyceum as advancing a system blending the techniques for shifting scenery, also including Boucicault and Schonberg. The new Lyceum Theatre (in NY) would be built with mechanisms described within the article (too lengthy to quote but freely available on the NY Times Archives Website).

In “Mr. Fechter’s Theatre”, published in the New York Times Jan 20, 1873, we see a continuation of the description of the theatre. It has a very elaborate account of the building itself. Included are items that involve fire safety such as doors that swing in both directions. The theatre was outfitted with gas lighting (that could change color and strength). The stage itself moved as well. The theatre includes a second “sounding-board” (proscenium) which moves upstage – downstage by way of stage machinery. The scenery is lifted from traps “upon what are termed parallel boats, are then attached to the stage, which, with the scenery upon it, can be moved completely out of sight of the audience.” Credit to the system was given to James Schonberg who was a stage manager at the Wallack’s Theatre, and the article states that he patented the system. W. Lester, a machinist, built the system. Absent from this account is Dion Boucicault’s contributions. Under the stage, the area is described as “a perfect labyrinth of cranks, wheels, parallel boats and other mysteries, all worked by hand”. The workshops are also under the stage, while the scenic painter’s gallery is behind the stage, in use by painters Hosford and Laran.

Further New York Times articles indicate that James Schonberg was also a playwright.

His patent can be seen online as well: US 123735

As a side note, I have come across many references to technicians referred to bay their last name only (though very politely). This makes tracing these names more difficult, if not impossible, at least with the fairly searches that I am doing within this research. I assume that they have shorted the names to save space, or because they considered the first names unimportant and not that there was an assumption that they were so well known that first names were not needed. I say this because many names that I am more familiar with are fully spelled out.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Entertainment Design & Technology Blog

Jeromy Hopgood writes a blog called Entertainment Design & Technology. It is fairly new and has limited content, but the posts are interesting. I linked specifically to an entry about doing visual research.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Stage Carpenter for Herne, the Hunter

I was reading an article from the New York Times Archive called “Broadway Theatre” published on Feb. 19. 1856 about a show called “Herne, the Hunter”. Evidently the show did not go well since the author states that “neither the scenery nor the machinery worked well. … Large demands are made on the stage carpenter, and it will be one or two nights before everything can be expected to work with exact precision.” Later though, the author claims that the scenery is good, but that it needs to be better lit.
This predates the first version of IATSE, which was the Theatrical Workman’s Council (started in 1863). It also seems to predate commercial scene shops, most of which seem to have started opening around 1890, though I am sure that there were builders operating before that out of a small shop, just as there are individuals today doing the same.
We have Stage Carpenters today of course; they typically help during load in, and run and maintain a show. If it’s a tour, the carpenter would likely be a Show Carpenter or perhaps a Technical Supervisor. Depending on the venue, a theatre may have an IATSE crew, and the “head” would be the steward. This person generally manages crew – but doesn’t usually handle dealings with the client, so it’s a tricky separation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lab Theatre

Traditionally, when talking about a lab theatre, one might think about a black box space. Now however, we can test some technical ideas out in a model theatre, allowing experimentation before time is limited during tech week.
Yeagerlabs includes scaled softgoods and lighting packages.
Lightbox also has a scaled model of a theatre. I have seen this in use at USITT, but have also seen it in development at Syracuse University. This website seems to be out of date, so I am not sure if they are still in existence or not.
Both of these instruments seem to be primarily effective for lighting experimentation – still leaving room for future development for scenic automation experimentation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Carl Lautenschlager, Technical Director.

The earliest mention of a “Technical Director” within the New York Times is in an article titled “Conried Tells his Plans” published on May 14, 1903. Within the article Conreid (a producer) announces that Carl Lautenschlager will REMAIN with him as TD for work at the Metropolitan Opera House. The article also describes that a new lighting system, counterweight system, stage floor, and costumes will be purchased and installed, and a revolving stage is to be added a year later. These improvements are probably for “Parsifal”.

In a December 20, 1903 article in the New York Times, called “”Parsival,” The Music Drama” outlines the story. It announces the upcoming opening of the show. The article lists Lautenschlager as “Technical Director (in charge of all mechanical and electrical effects)” as part of the cast list. Further, the article indicates that Lautenschlager has rebuilt the stage and “devised” lighting, and claims that he “has no rival in his own field in Europe.” It is also interesting to note that “including the electricians, property men, stage hands, supernumeraries, and choruses, nearly 300 persons” are involved. While we cannot be certain how many of these people filled a technical role versus being on the stage, it does suggest a vastness of scale to the production.

Several days later, the New York Times, on December 25, 1903, claims “”Parsifal” A Triumph”. This article indicates that “The chief masters of stage craft and of scenic manipulation had been summoned from Germany to superintend and co-ordinate the material factors.” The article also lists Lautenschlager as part of the cast list.

Henry Edward Krehbiel offers information to the end of Carl’s tenure in the USA. In Chapters of Opera, published in 1911, Carl is mentioned as “stage mechanican, or technical director” and it is claimed that despite doing notable work in “Parsifal” he was “hampered by the prevailing conditions” and returned after a year to Germany.

Carl Lautenschlage also is mentioned within The Election, Volume 34, on March 29, 1895. Here he is described as a “great Bavarian stage machinist”, and is working on London on a new ballet. He is also credited as being “well known in theatrical circles as electrician to the Court Theatre of Bavaria, and his efforts to introduce the use of electricity in connection with the machinery of the stage have been crowned with considerable success.” It would seem as though this would indicate that he is the father of theatre automation as well as perhaps America’s for Technical Director. It is clear from what I am reading about Lautenschlage, Hagen, and others that they were generally machinists, involved in lighting, as well as involved with installing large scale stage mechanics for the stage, not just for an individual production.

Revolving Architecture: A History of Buildings that Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot by Chad Randi, states that the first patent for a rotating stage was in 1883 by Charles Needham, but was not built. The Fifth Avenue Theatre evidently had a master machinest that also proposed a turntable. In Germany, Karl Lautensschlager was working at the Mucich Court and Residence Theatre and installed, in 1896, the first permanent rotating stage in the Western part of the globe. He was also looking at lifts and traps, similar to what Claude Hagen would later install in the New Theatre in NY. Further, Carl is also credited with installing 4 of these in major cities throughout Europe. This author claims that the first rotating stage in America was at Ye Liberty Playhouse in Oakland, Ca in 1903. Harry Bishop is listed as the “manager”, who may have been influenced by Japanese Kabuki stages. It is clear from the description that this was manually operated by stagehands. That Lautenschlager was first is also supported by The Japanese Theatre: From Shamanistic Ritual to Contemporary Pluralism by Benito Ortolani.

He is also mentioned in Theatre Technology by George Izenour. Izenour is about to produce quite a bit about his background. Carl was born Arpil 11, 1843. After he father died, he mother remarried to a man that was a stage inspector. As he started working he originally studied under Carl Brandt, eventually moving to Munich and working there for 22 years. While there, he was sent to Paris to study an electrical exhibition there. Upon his return to Munich he installed electric lighting. Working with Jocza Savits they reinvented the way Shakespear was performed. He is also listed as working with Ernst Possart for the development of the rotating stage. Izenour states that he retired in 1902 (though we know that he came to the US), and that he died on June 30, 1906. It seems as though once he went back to Germany after his American tenure, he did not return to the stage.

He is also mentioned in Wagner Nights: An American History by Joseph Horowitz, Richard Struss: A Chronical of the Early Years, 1864-1898 by Will Schuh (credited with installing a revolving stage in 1896 in the Residenztheatre), Richard Wagner and His World by Thomas S. Grey (a photo is available of Carl here), The Dramatic Touch of Difference: Theatre, Own and Foreign edited by Erika Fischer-Lichte, Josephine Riley, Michael Gissensehrer (though this is a fleeting reference), The Development of methods for Flying Scenery on the English Stage, 1800-1960 by Susan Stockbridge, a supplement written by Lautenschlager in Scientific American Supplement, no 1541 (July 15, 1905), Early Uses of Electricity for the Theatre:1880-1900 by Walter Kenneth Waters Jr.

Wikipedia also offers the following bibliography:
The American Architect and Building News. Volume 53. Boston: American. Architect and Building News Co, 1896.
Ackermann, Friedrich Adolf. The Oberammergau Passion Play, 1890. Fifth Edition. Munich: Friedrich Adolf Ackermann, 1890.
Fuerst, Walter René and Hume, Samuel J. Twentieth-Century Stage Decoration. Volume 1. New York: Dover Publications, 1967.
Hoffer, Charles. Music Listening Today. Fourth Edition. Boston: Schirmer Cengage Learning, 2009.
Izenour, George C. Theater Technology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
MacGowan, Kenneth. The Theatre of Tomorrow. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921. Print.
Ortolano, Benito. The Japanese theatre: from shamanistic ritual to contemporary pluralism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Randl, Chad. Revolving architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008. Print.
Sachs, Edwin. Modern Theatre Stages. New York: Engineering, 1897. Print.
Vermette, Margaret. The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg: The Creators of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Martin *Guerre, and The Pirate Queen. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2006.
Williams, Simon. Shakespeare on the German stage: 1586–1914. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
WPG, . The Revolving Stage at the Munich Royal Residential and Court Theatre. New York: American Architect and Architecture, 1896. Print.

It also seems that more would be available if I was able to do additional research in German.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Women in Theatre

I was browsing through Scene Design in American Theatre from 1915 to 1960 by Orville Kurth Larson and something caught my eye – a woman technical director. The author names Carolyn Hancock as the Theatre Guild’s technical director. It also notes that she married Less Simonson.
The book has a variety of other interesting points (I am sure there are many more that I am skipping in my brief browsing of the book:
•In 1924 the scenic artist union starting requiring designers to become a member. This requirement doesn’t seem to prevent crossover between building the productions and designing them (or even directing them).
•The book introduces Cleon Throckmorton, as engineer from the Carnegie Institute for Technology and as a technical director. It also refers to him as a designer including him in the thongs that came to New York and joined the union. In 1930, he opened a commercial shop, and as a way of advertisement sent out the Catalog of the Theatre which is described as “a historical and technical manual of the stagecraft of that period.”
•The author calls out a studio called Wits and Fingers Scenic Studio “formed” by Peter Larson. From references within books, and the age of the union, I think that commercial shops predate scene shops (therefore TD’s) in standalone theatres, but I have little research to prove this theory.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Iphone case with tools

Task Lab has an Iphone case that includes 22 tools, basically creating a scenario that looks like a leatherman or gerber turned cell phone case. The case is made from aluminum and polycarbonate, suggesting that it would be strong. Its unique and potentially handy (and sure beats having your screen broken from the tool in your pocket), i'm not sure that I would want to include my phone in some of the situations that my gerber gets used in.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Claude Hagen- TD, Continued

Upon a little more exploration I was able to find out more about Claude Hagen. Robert Grau wrote about him in The Business Man in the Amusement World, even including a photo of him. Grau calls him the “greastest exponent of the technical side of the stage living at this time.” He discusses his life as well. Hagen was born in Chicago on January 21, 1863. He seemed to get his start (or at least became known about his mechanical ability) in Kansas City in the 1880’s. He was reported to work with Robert Cutler a machinist and technician. He built the Gillis Opera house and stayed as the Master Carpenter. This opera house was apparently just a few blocks away from the Grand Opera House that we visited when we were in grad school which had rigging materials that had survived.

Hagen left the Gillis Opera House to work on the Warder Grand Opera House. Dr. Felicia Harrison Londre in her book about Kansas City Theatre talks about Claude Hagen installing traps and mechanical devices in the space, allowing that it kept him “so busy that he could spare no time to build scenery for the opening.” (The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theatre, 1870-1930)

Grau goes on to say that Hagen toured with combinations as “the foremost stage machinist of his time”, landing at the Fifth avenue Theatre in New York on 1898. He evidently opened up a studio to build scenery, patenting effects, and then in 1900 executed the effects for Ben Hur, and traveled with the show for several years. The stint of the Luna Theatres “Fighting of the Flames” was in 1903, followed by the New Theatre in 1908. The author then claims that the space within the book is too limited to describe the rest of Hagen’s career.

Grau, however, does work with Hagen once more in The Stage in the Twentieth Century: Third Volume, where Hagen describes the New Theatre stage and includes drawings. The book also, much later, mentions that Hagen’s rigging “inventions” are built and distributed by JR Clancy.

It is interesting how much cross over there is between film and theatre. While on one hand this should not be surprising, on the other, today they is not as much cross over as one would think. Yet, it seems novel today how much video is used onstage, and how movie like some shows attempt to be (Dirty Dancing for instance). While some of this influence is that some stage productions as of late are being created on the basis of successful films, it is interesting that the interest in moving scenery in a fluent, film like method has been around over the course of the last century, and really isn’t a very new idea at all.

It would seem from some of Hagen’s writing referred to above, and his chapter on “The Intimate Theatre Idea” published in Architecture and Building vol. XLV published in 1913 that his later career evolved into writing, as I have not found much else about his life after his tenure at the New Theatre. According to the 1940 census, he was living in New York at the Hotel Flanders and he was divorced.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Claude Hagen, Technical Director

I came across a New York Times article published on February 11, 1910 that Claude Hagen has tendered his resignation for his position of Technical Director at the New Theatre. He left to establish a “fire show” which he is credited for inventing.

Looking a little further, I found that he was the IATSE International President in 1895-1896.

In the book The New Theatre New York (available for free on google play) lists Claude as the TD under Executive Staff. The book seems as though it was written as part of the founding of the theatre, describing their purpose to be a stock company. The book talks about the German influence, which is interested as some of the other research I have done suggests that the title of Technical Director may have been developed in Germany first. The stage was 100’ wide (between fly-galleries), 119’ to the grid and had a 32’ deep pit. The book credits Hagen for development of stage machinery for the theatre, including a turntable, “sinks” and “bridges”, as well as rigging improvements.

The Green Book Magazine Volume 6 in The Two Years of the New Theatre by Johnson Briscoe states that the opening ceremonies of the New Theatre was on November 6, 1909. Perhaps this is an indicated that the 1906 reference in the above book can be attributed to the start of the company.

Theatre in the United States: Volume 1 expands the description of the stage, saying that the machinery alone cost $250,000 and that it “revolves, moves backward and forwards, or transversely and up and down, as a whole or in parts. It also permits sections of the transverse stage to be dropped, and the rest of the sections to be opened so as to form sinks or cuts through which to lower whole sections.”

Play Production in America, as part of its section on scene shifting devices also mentions the theatre and Hagen, this time in reference to a rigging apparatus that allows ceiling pieces to be placed and moved in coordination with the turntable. This is mentioned in a brief article called Scene Shifting Devices on a website called Old and Sold.

The New York Architect, Volume 3 also discusses the New Theatre and its stage mechanisms.
JR Clancy has a PDF about their company and the history of rigging. John R Clancy started as a stagehand in Syracuse, NY. A show arrived in town, and the theatre’s current rigging system could not handle the shows requirements. Clancy set to work and changed the way that scenery was moved throughout the country. Clancy started to work with Claude Hagen, who is credited with being the TD at both the New Theatre and the Fifth Avenue Theatre. It implies that this relationship predates the New Theatre’s opening of 1906. The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903 moved the pair to start working on asbestos curtains and rigging for the curtain to be automatically released.

The American Architect {and} the Architectural Review Volume 122, Part 2 also mentions Hagen as developing a piece of rigging equipment that was able to automatically adjust the counterweight needed for a load (p455). His designs are further supported by patents (these are a few among many):

The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompsan and the Rise of American Amusements also mentions Claude Hagen, crediting him for doing stage effects for a chariot race in Ben Hur, directing Fire and Flames in 1903 for Luna Park, and was connected to Thompson as he was hired to design a stage for the Hippodrome. This would have occurred concurrently to his work at the New Theatre as the Hippdrome opened in 1905.

A New York Times article from 1908 mentions that in Dreamland, Hagen has a “Fire Exhibition”, calling Hagen an owner or the Surf Avenue Fire Show.

Hagen’s work with Ben Hur Is referenced in an article called Filmed Scenery on the Live Stage by Gwendolyn Waltz. This actually referenced an earlier article that appeared within Scientific American that described the effect in detail. Steam at Harper's Ferry talks about the article as well (which I don't currently have access to, which describes the way the race scene was executed. Of not in the blog entry is that Hagen is reported to be from a firm called McDonald & Hagen.

Dr. Felicia Hardison Londre in The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theatre, 1870-1930, also mentions Claude Hagen. Occurring in 1887, this predates the work mentioned above. In this case he was working on a tour (I assume he was traveling with the company) with Edwin Booth and Lawrence Barret. In the scenario mentioned Hagan was working with Augustus Thomas (playwright) when a stagehand let a flat fall during a strike. It isn’t clear from the entry what Hagen’s role was.

I also found a piece written by Claude Hagen, an introduction to The Theatre of Science: A volume of Progress and Achievement in the Motion Picture Industry by Robert Grau. What he wrote though does not elaborate on his own contributions to the entertainment industry.

While this is certainly not a complete history, it is an interesting introduction to an early American TD.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Internet Book Archive

Looking around for some information I ran across this Internet Archive. It has many historical theatre books available as a PDF for download.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fabric Shapes and Walls

Many corporate shows seem to be using fabric backdrops with 3-D shapes, with internal lighting. These shapes are also used on show floors as well. While Rosebrand offers some basic shapes and columns, the following three companies are my go to resource when looking for 3D fabric structures.

Pink Inc has flat walls, curves, ripple walls, arches, tunnels, and shapes as well as a few costumes!

Transformit has many of the same products, though they are a little more organic. They can also custom build a piece to your specifications & print on the fabric.

Moss Inc also has a wide variety of shapes, signage and event outdoor tents available.

While many of these things can be built in a shop (either as hard scenery or with frames and fabric) since these places have stock pieces, the engineering and technical development can provide an economic edge to building it yourself.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fosshape & Wonderflex

For a theatrical production that came through, we were tasked with doing a statue. Instead of carving the body and clothes we used Fosshape. It’s a material that can be sewn or glued, and can be shaped with steam or heat, and when the material is cool it maintains its shape. The material can shrink up t 30% though, so allow for that when using the product. Below are a couple of photos from the shop showing the piece we built.

The same company can has a product called Wonderflex, which would work better in situations where you would typically use Fiberglas, carved foam, or paper mache. It is similar to Celastic, but celastic requires immersion in solvents to become moldable, and Wonderflex uses heat instead. For more information on the history of Celastic & props check out Prop Agenda.

Fake Rock and Brick Panels

Making a fake rock isn't uncommon in theatre, and I have done a post previously on options, but of course, as time and projects have past, I have gathered additional options.

This time combing through my files I came across a variety of options:

Superior Rock Solutions which offer panels and classes (on how to use their panels) offer panel as well, in brick, stone, wood, and other textures (like concrete and asphalt). They also have corners. While the panels seem to line up well, they don't go around corners and the columns are pretty obvious.

Antico Elements has a variety of architectural products including stone, rocks, and bricks (stones being smooth, and rocks being rough)and square column wraps. Again, I don't think these would take a corner well (but this is true for vacuformed panels and fiberglass panels as well (like from Warner Brothers). The pulp art panels seem to do corners the best, as they were fairly solid.

Back in the day, we use to cut grooves into blue foam and melt the edges (ah the fumes), but it worked well. For rocks I have seen a variety of built up options - from homosote to chicken wire and crumpled newsprint. We have also tried molds, but it was a fairly expensive process. Recently we have used a cut stencil (representing the mortar lines) & used that to spray texture onto flats (using dryvit for example, and that created a nice texture fairly easily within the shop.

Faking Glass

On some of the TV work I have done, a designer we work with uses Screen Glass when there are windows on set for film. The material also acts as a diffuser. It is provided by Warp’s. Warps carries a variety of other “glass” products that are clear plastic.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Recently we were referred to Formglas for a project we were working on. Formglas can make panels in a variety of textures (we needed large woodgrained forms). I am linking to their technical drawings. While this specific project didn't pan out, I think it would be a good resource for future projects.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

WeldOn Adhesives

I am going through my office and trying to get rid of paper I have accumulated throughout the years. Since this blog is much easier to find a product in than my filing cabinet, I will probably be updating this with products that I have found and used for projects throughout the years.

Today I ran across a file for WeldOn Adhesives, which creates adhesive for vinyl, ABS, Polycarbonate, Styrene, PVC, and Acrylic.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pulp Art Bricks

While working on pricing for an upcoming proposal, I was recommended to check out Pulp Art Surfaces. This company provides brick and stone surfaces (as well as others) either as a finished print that can be applied to a wall, or as a 3-D (approximately 3/16" - 1/4" thick) material made from recycled paper, card board and wood chips. The sheet is raw, so it will still need to have scenic art applied, but the bricks can be easily cut to go around corners. The person making the recommending the product to me prefers it to vaccuform. The price seemed reasonable, though it would quickly add up. While there would be fright charges, there is no additional charge for shipping prep. Take a look the next time you have a design for rock or brick walls.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Project Resource for Teaching Tools

I was browsing the internet looking for ideas for a project for my nephews to make over the summer when they visit. Complicated enough that a 13 year old would be interested, simple enough that I could help the younger kids in the neighborhood through it as well. I started off thinking about either a pine car derby or CO2 cars. Then I found Kelvin Educational. This sight has good prices on pieces if I do decide on cars,, but they have a lot of other cool things too, many geared towards classroom use. Bridges, cranes, catapults, hydraulics, robots, they have a bit of it all. Certainly a resource to use when thinking about how to teach concepts of engineering within the classroom.