Tag Archives | theatre

Many Hats

This post is by Coeurage’s Production Manager Michelle Stann, lighting designer and stage manager for Double Falsehood.

My title says “Production Manager”. In reality I am the production manager, resident light designer, stage manager, and general tech for Coeurage. It’s a lot, but I like having a hand in every aspect of the production.

When I was asked to take on all of these roles for Double Falsehood, my first thought was, “Oh good, this show will be a break from the epic, award winning musical we just did.” I was only partly right. The Trouble With Words was an original, unknown piece. We had no idea how it would turn out, how much the experience would tax us, or how successful we would be, but we knew we had to show it to people and we had to do it well. Double Falsehood turned out to be a similar beast. It’s an unknown, “new” Shakespeare play that was co-written and adapted. The play hasn’t been performed since the 1700’s and we are the west-coast premiere. We have to show it to people and we have to do it well.

Double Falsehood The pre-planning of the show went pretty well. Now that the company is almost finished with its second season, we have gotten pretty good at thinking ahead and anticipating the needs of the next show. We got all of our ducks in a row during the run of our last production so that we could hit the ground running with this project. For me that means planning production meetings, setting up a calendar with a list of due dates and goals for the company, getting design elements in place, and continuing to manage the production as we went along. Again, it’s a lot, but it pays off.

My favorite part about designing this show was that it was completely new. Just like the last show, there was no blueprint from any other company that I had to compare myself to or live up to. Just an original presentation of a show few people have ever even heard of. It was a blank canvas and I was ready to paint. My parameters were 1950’s rural Midwest, simple town, hot and lively wilderness, and multiple locations. The real challenge of a small theater is finding a way to make what you have planned in your head into a reality. There are several limitations including lack of dimmers, lack of lights, and lack of space. It can be frustrating at times, but I find it also makes me more creative with my choices.

I decided to use a lot of different angles with the lighting of this show. It was a play off the “Double” in the title. Every scene has a light that is slightly off kilter. To balance or “double” these lights are partner lights that are angled traditionally creating a pretty picture with one or two elements that are slightly off in each scene. It makes for a play that seems like any other Shakespeare play until you really take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You see, Double Falsehood is not your typical Shakespeare play. The play ends in several marriages, but I dare you to call this play a comedy.

Now that the show is up and running, we can only wait and see what people think not only of the play itself, but our execution of it. We took on quite a challenge for such a new company, but we are excited to hear the feed back. We knew we had to show it to people and we knew we had to do it well. We hope you enjoy.

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Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Post by Joe Calarco, Company member, casting director, and Sound Designer for Double Falsehood.

Sound design is a fickle beast. An idea for a complex design can develop relatively quickly when inspiration strikes. On the other hand, a single cue not working on a conceptual or technical level, even in a simple production, can result in sleepless nights.

My original design concept for Double Falsehood was the worst of both worlds… complex, flawed, and beyond the means of my equipment. For the first time in my experience as a sound designer, I had to learn how to let go of large ideas, and change quickly in order to deliver. This is not so much the story of what made it on stage, but more of a brief account of the design that never came to be.

Our production of Double Falsehood takes place in 1950’s America. When a concept like this is overlaid onto a preexisting text, the design elements must be solid. If they are not, there is a danger of the choice appearing to be arbitrary to the audience, no matter how relevant it is to the text. I felt that I had a lot of responsibility to fulfill.

I had wanted to take instrumental (i.e. karaoke) versions of popular 50’s music, and have singers re-record the vocals in Shakespearean language. I would choose sonnets and songs from other works in the canon that were metaphorically applicable to the themes of our show, and could also fit within the structural confines of the chosen music. I would then use various effects to “age” the recordings, and make them sound as if they were being played through vintage radio equipment on stage between the scenes. I had tried this on a smaller scale for an audio project in graduate school, and it worked quite well.

Not so much in this case. When constructing the graduate school project I had a professional recording studio, and countless audio “toys” at my disposal. For Double Falsehood I had my aging Macbook, a USB microphone, and a copy of Garageband. Not quite the same toolset, obviously.

I assumed that as I was going to be “aging” the finished tracks, the quality of the vocal recordings themselves would not be so important. My reasoning seemed sound. Did it work? Nope. Even after artificially lowering the quality and layering audio effects, it turns out recording in a room with soundproof walls is necessary.

I also found that quality karaoke recordings of 50’s music are not common. With the exception of a few Sinatra songs, tracks that utilize live bands are virtually nonexistent. Most tend to be largely synthesized, and thus impossible to place in a period show.

I tried everything imaginable to make the concept work. I even tried recording an original Shakespeare song in the style of 1950’s folk to see if I could expand on the idea. Blech. It was terrible.

But I kept going. And going.

It almost became an obsession. I was convinced that the use of actual 50’s music would be detrimental to the show. I believed that, on some level, the modern lyrics would take the audience out of the world of the play.

At the peak of my frustration, I had spent days on the concept and had not produced one usable cue. I lamented my situation to Kirsten Kuiken, who is both the director of the show and a dear friend. She said, quite simply: “Dude. I really don’t care if you use actual 50’s songs. ”

The clouds parted. Angels sang. Birds…tweeted. I realized that I was in a prison of my own making.

In the end, I was able to let it go. Once I did, I was grateful. Freed from these constraints, a new concept emerged…one that I could accomplish with the resources I had. Do I regret not being able to realize my original idea? No. Quite the opposite, actually. I am much happier with what we ended up with. More importantly, the experience of designing became what it should be–fun!

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