Thursday, March 30, 2006

Trying to figure out why

I'm warning you now, this is a long, potentially ranty post. I just need to get it all out, I think. And then we shall never speak of this again. :-)

I read an article in the paper today that aggravated me. I am aware that part of the reason is emotional and perhaps unfair, and I'm trying to figure out if there is really any reason for me to be annoyed at all. Or am I just being totally ridiculous. I will try to be circumspect in my description to avoid just being crass and mean about the whole situation, because that isn't my intention really. I mostly want to know why this is bothering me as much as it is and how to let it all go.

A friend of mine became the drama club director for a local high school last year. (Now, when I say local, I mean that it is in this county and near where he lives...but in reality it's at least 45 minutes from my house.) He asked me to be the set designer for the spring musical and said that I could do the design and just show up a couple of times to oversee the process but not have to be in charge of seeing the thing constructed and painted. Before agreeing, I explained that I would only be able to come out to the school once or twice to see how things were going, but that I would be happy to answer questions via phone and email as needed.

I spent my free time over the course of about 2 months designing the sets - which included ground plans for every scene and paint elevations of every built piece. It had been several years since I worked on a set where I wasn't around for construction and been the primary painter, so it was a bigger set of drawings than I had done in a long time. I underestimated the time it would take, so I had to use colored pencil on the elevations instead of paint, but I thought the drawings were very legible and I added notes where I thought they weren't.

I went to the school to see progress once. While I was there I commented on several things that weren't painted like my elevations, and was told that fixing them wouldn't be a problem. I answered some questions, but didn't see any big problems with what had been done so far. The line work in the painting was a bit sloppy and there wasn't a lot of detail on the facades, but the line work issues wasn't a big deal when you took a few steps back and I was given the impression that more detail would be added.

I got one question from the director/TD during the process. It was a question about the number and length of benches. I said that whatever worked for the choreography was fine with me, as long as they fit in the general area of the room created by the walls being built. I told him at that time and several times via email when I was available and that he should let me know what evening it would make the most sense for me to come visit and help paint. He never told me to come.

I got a few calls from the parent who was painting the drops, mostly about technique for painting drops that big. I answered his questions and again told him when I was available to come and that he should let me know when would be best. He never told me when to come.

I was a little worried about not hearing much in the last few weeks before the show opened, but I was happy to not have to make the trek out there. In hindsight, I probably should have been more insistent about going one or two more times.

When we went to see the show, there was not one piece of the set that was exactly as I had designed it. Okay, the drops were painted as I had designed them, but since I had been given the wrong dimension for the proscenium they were 10' to tall and 1/3 of the design was rolled up on the floor... Some piece of every set had been changed and there were things I had designed that weren't on stage at all.

Now, I understand that things change during the process of putting a show up. I'm totally willing to accept that. What I *don't* understand is why I got a phone call about changing the benches, one of the most insignificant aspects of the set design (purely functional) and not a single call about the items that were cut or changed or altered. And why did no one call me when the drops were too tall? To top it all off, the show was pretty painful to sit through and I felt especially bad for the four people who came to see it with me.

So fast forward to this year. I wasn't totally disappointed when I wasn't asked to design the set again, but at the same time it did annoy me. I have the feeling that the parents who were involved didn't think much of me since I wasn't there for the process (I don't know this for a fact, it's just a vibe I was getting) and that's why I wasn't asked again. Or maybe they all thought they could do a better job without having to pay me. Or...I don't even know what.

The article that caused all of this ranting is a full-length review in the local paper. Which specifically mentions the sets, including the full stage painted drops (my drops could only be 15' wide because of cost, although if I had the right height dimension I might have been able to afford wider ones.)

All I can come up with is that when I was involved, it was a crappy experience that resulted in much bitterness and negative feelings, and it was a show that no one bothered to review. Quite honestly, I never said much to the director, figuring that I could bring it up if he asked me again and knowing that being upset with him wouldn't really fix the problems of the past. I realize that I could have been more proactive, but I was trying to enjoy the gig I was promised - that didn't involve me needing to be around that much, and letting my drawings speak for themselves. But this year, it sounds like it was a great experience. And really I get jealous every time a set is mentioned in a review because it happens so rarely. Some of my best work (IMO and the opinion of the director I work with most often) hasn't gotten any comments.

On one hand, I'm totally accepting of the fact that theater critics have very little space to review a production with many facets and that a successful set shouldn't be so overwhelming that it overpowers the show. But at the same time there are definitely designers in this town (and in some cases directors who dictate the set design) who get mentions a lot more often than the norm. (I get similarly annoyed at articles about new buildings that don't credit the architect who designed them.)

I also find it sad because I *love* musicals. And I would love to find a regular gig where I could design musicals on a regular basis. But the size of theater companies that I work with just don't do them on a regular basis, and they are really much more prominent around here in the high schools anyway.

I don't know. I think maybe venting in this forum might help me feel better. And if anyone has any wisdom for me, I'm listening. It's really moot since I don't think I'll ever be offered a set design job at this school again (and I don't really know that I would want one without a TD), but the whole thing still feels unresolved and irritating. Maybe it wouldn't bother me so much if I had a nearby outlet for designing sets for musicals or a faraway place to design them for that could be trusted to build my design as drawn (or at least communicate to me about changes).

Rant over.

1 comment:

Jes - melodymoonstone said...

I wouldn't take it personally. It's always difficult to do a paying gig (or non paying, but still professional) for a friend. It could be his school had a dramatic budget limit this year and he didn't want to ask you to lower your price or do it for free. It could be the art teacher for the school wanted to get involved.
Why they changed your pieces without asking you, I don't know. It could unfortunately, be it just wasn't as important to them as it was to you. You put your heart and soul into the design and process of it and they just did what you told them, therefore it wasn't meaningful. It could have been last minute, the drop sizes weren't what they expected and they didn't have enough time for you to create new ones.

Schools are odd. Don't let anything that happens in a school affect you. There are stupid politics. I wouldn't sweat it. If you didn't enjoy the final product, it gives you more to to be doing things that ytou enjoy right now.