The theatrical design community spent a very busy week in Toronto, March 12-19, with a jam-packed schedule of events and meetings including WSD2005, OISTAT, USITT, the next PQ, and ESTA. Sound like alphabet soup? Here's a little update from the organizations and events hidden behind these acronyms.
Saturday, March 12 marked the opening of WSD2005, a new international design exhibit (see winning designs on page 2) held in the Canadian Room at the Royal York Hotel. Organized by Eric Fielding and legions of volunteers, the gallery exhibit at WSD included 82 set designs, 55 costume designs, 40 lighting designs, and a sound design gallery. In addition to costume forms, framed renderings, digital video catalog, and environmental soundscapes are 42 scaled (1:25 and 1:50) models representing a wide variety of outstanding work by the international set design community. The models were lit with LIGHTBOX technology by lighting designers Jim Hunter and Robert Emmonds from the University of South Carolina, who used the LIGHTBOX LED/fiber-optic lighting system to light each model.
WSD2005 was presented in association with OISTAT, the Organisation Internationale des Scénografes, Techniciens et Architectes de Théatre, or International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians. This ambitious international organization held its once-every-four-years World Congress in Toronto, immediately preceding USITT. The keynote address for the OISTAT event was presented by French scenic designer and theatre consultant Jean-Guy Lecat, who worked with director Peter Brook for over 25 years. Lecat's speech was provocative in that he challenged many traditionally accepted ideas about theatre design. Consider the source, one might say, as Brook prefers to perform in half-derelict theatres and abandoned quarries, rather than conformist theatre spaces.
I felt that Lecat was challenging OISTAT to look to the future, rather than the past, and challenging theatre designers and architects not to be beholden to tradition. “If you build a theatre for nobody, nobody will come,” Lecat warned, as he spoke of iconoclastic buildings built for their postcard appeal as architectural destinations. He also warned against spaces that are “dead,” especially in terms of the actor/audience relationship, and the pitfalls of respecting the past (theatres that look like wedding cakes) to he point of impeding progress.
OISTAT announced that Michael Ramsaur, professor of lighting design at Stanford University, has been named its new president. He has been active in OISTAT's education commission, now run by Marina Raytchinova, an associate professor in scenography from Sofia, Bulgaria. One of the main activities of this commission is the Scenofest, or student design section of the PQ, or Prague Quadrennial International Exhibit of Scenography and Theatre Architecture. The next PQ will take place in June 2007, with the next WSD taking place in 2009, so that a design exhibition will take place every two years in various parts of the world (the PQ stays in Prague but it looks as if the next WSD will be in Korea.) Sean Crowley, head of design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, will spearhead the Scenofest activities. The next meeting of the education commission will be in the UK in December 2005.
USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) had one of its most successful events to date. Not only where there the requisite 3,000 college students taking classes at all hours of the day and night, but the Stage Expo seemed more professional and better attended than in the past. Certain companies (Strand Lighting and Wybron spring to mind) introduced new gear, while others, such as CAST Lighting and Vectorworks did demos of their new software for designers.
ETS-LDI, Entertainment Design, and Lighting Dimensions have endowed the new USITT Rising Star Award, and the first one was presented at the USITT banquet on March 19 to Kelly Hanson, a very talented young set designer (find complete details about this new award and Kelly Hanson at http://entertainmentdesignmag.com/news/kelly_hanson). The award was presented to Hanson by Steve Gilliam, one of her former professors. She was in good company, as such designers as Willa Kim (costumes), Luc Lafortune (lighting), Bill Dudley (sets), and Jonathan Deans (sound) were honored with distinguished designer awards.
ESTA (Entertainment Services and Technology Association) usually holds many of its meetings in conjunction with USITT, and this year was no exception. In addition, ESTA's Training and Seminars committee, now under the banner of ESTA's new Educational Foundation, held a console training session at Strand Lighting's Toronto facilty and taught by Bobby Harrell.
Yes, it was a very busy week. But it is certainly heartening to see all these various events and organizations, and all the volunteers that make them possible, promoting quality design and more importantly, design education, on an international level.