I noted the “In Memoriam” for Robert Randolph in the May issue of ED, which I got on May 12, the same day The New York Times reported the death of Jocelyn Herbert. Her passing marks the end of an important era in the history of stage and film design.
Jocelyn's career spanned, and in many ways defined, the sea change in the conception of stage design from the 19th-century viewpoint of a layered pictorial stage to a modern plastic theatre space. Jocelyn was a student of traditional English theatre design at the Slade School of Art and the famous London Theatre Studio; her own work pioneered many ideas of minimalism, neo-realism, and contra-illusionism which have become a standard palette for today's theatre.
She was an artist who was comfortable in different media, with a design vocabulary embracing sketches, models, storyboards, and painting. She successfully crossed over to design plays, musicals, operas, and films with an ease that few of her design contemporaries could match.
Jocelyn Herbert is associated with an incredible range of 20th-century artists: Michel St. Denis, George Devine and the Motley Sisters of the London Theatre Studio, Caspar Neher, Theo Otto and Lotte Lenya of the Berliner Ensemble, Samuel Beckett, Arnold Wesker, John Osborne, David Storey, Ann Jellicoe, David Hare, John Dexter, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, and many, many others from the Royal Court Theatre, the National Theatre Company, and New York's Metropolitan Opera.
I have great memories of Jocelyn in New York, Leicester, and London during 1988 and '89, while we were working on John Dexter's production of Threepenny Opera (or, as we branded it, 3 Penny Opera, an affectation Jocelyn hated) for Broadway. Her brilliant original conception for the show was that the action takes place in the Cardboard Box City (it really existed) underneath London's National Theatre. Although the show was a flop, Jocelyn was a hit wherever she went. She cut a lean, theatrical figure, her hair a wild silver shag above her black, padded Chinese jacket and white scarf. She might have disagreed, but we all thought she fit Broadway like a glove, at least as far as her looks. Her work exceeded our expectations by a large factor. Her collaboration with Dexter was intimate, but their relationship was amazingly transparent to the rest of us on the production team. John and Jocelyn had heated debates about all aspects of the production including the direction. She was fearless and opinionated, and solicited your ideas to solve problems of production. For Jocelyn, it was all about making the play work, and nothing was sacred in her mission to service the ideas of the script. Her script analysis was far superior to most directors and made her part of the core conception of any production she worked on.
She had experienced a miserable time on a previous show in New York where she felt railroaded by the techs, and I worked hard to get her around to all the shops so that she could be close to the process. We joked about Jocelyn being the “doyenne” of British design, but she didn't behave like a doyenne. Jocelyn liked meeting the workers, which is where she shone in communicating what she wanted. The result was that we went all over the place from antique shops and costume houses in SoHo and Brooklyn to scene shops and painting studios in Cornwall and Queens, an extended tour of off-off-off-Broadway New York that she seemed to enjoy.
As you might imagine, Jocelyn was a wonderful conversationalist. Whether I was sitting next to her in rehearsals for hour after hour talking about the production or visiting her studio and discussing masks and mask design as we looked at her collection from different productions, she always had an interesting viewpoint. She enjoyed her time outside the theatre also, and I recall her perched on a bar stool, talking about wine and introducing me to New Zealand Cloudy Bay Chardonnay. She got a tremendous kick out of lunching amidst the posters of flops in Joe Allen's, and we frequented actor bars like Barrymore's and Sam's, which were close to the Lunt. She seemed to enjoy actors almost as much as she loved writers. Though she seemed to know everyone, she was wonderfully open about it and wasn't one-upping you when, for instance, we were discussing jazz and she began to talk about her friendship with Georgie Fame.
We did once catch her out when [wig and hair designer] Phyllis Della introduced her to Lily Tomlin. Tomlin was at that moment a great local star from her one-woman show on Broadway and I'm sure she thought her 15 minutes were up when Jocelyn responded, “And what do you do, dear?”
I shall miss her.
Early this month I was pleased to find the article about the new Caesar's Palace Colosseum Theatre in Las Vegas where CDA Productions will be presenting Celine Dion in the newest Franco Dragone extravaganza, A New Day.
I must commend Ms. Lampert-Gréaux on a well-written and detailed article that gives justice to the demands of the architecture and technical requirements of this very large venue. I have first-hand knowledge of the efforts that the industry suppliers went to, as my company, NISCON Inc., was there as a vendor of facilities equipment.
The article does an excellent job of giving due credit to the efforts of many of the vendors, but alas, NISCON Inc. was not included with this group, and that is why I am writing to you. Ill feelings about the article or the magazine never entered our minds, but my partner, Peter Sinkner, and I did ask ourselves, how could we get NISCON Inc. included in subsequent articles about the venue or production?
NISCON Inc. is the manufacturer and provider of the state-of-the-art motion control system Raynok™. At Caesar's we were a subcontractor to Gala Theatrical Equipment of Montreal, Canada, and had a very close working relationship with Scéno Plus in order to ensure that our supplied hardware and software system used to control the 52 line set machines met with their requirements.
We would very much appreciate a mention of our company name in any subsequent issues of ED that cover A New Day that may be planned for the future.
President, NISCON Inc.
I am writing to commend your magazine for the “On …” columns. As a technical director in a training institution, I appreciate the insight the contributors provide.
Over the past year I have come to look forward to the On Projection column. As both the column and associated articles reinforce, projection, and particularly video projection, is finding its way into productions and events at an exponential rate of increase. A forum that provides discourse and insight into the processes of data/video projection techniques and issues is important to any practitioners who are attempting to satisfy the needs presented by designers, conference clients, and conceptualizers at every level.
I have found the articles by Bob and Colleen Bonniol and the contributors who preceded them to be interesting, informative, and well written. However, at times I could use more suggestions on how they have dealt with simple practical problems such as dousing, keystoning, a comprehensive perspective on the relative brightness of LCD versus DLP, and the front end of multi-projector control, etc., and all of these in situations where available budget is very tight and projection is an afterthought. I have many colleagues who contend with similar problems.
Nevertheless, the column is a welcome addition to the discipline. My immediate concern is that recently the On Projection column has only been published in alternating months. I hope this is due to the extremely busy schedule of the Bonniols or the smaller corral of contributors that the magazine may have access to and not any perception that there is a lack of interest. I, for one, want to make sure that the Bonniols, and all of the other past contributors to On Projection, know that their efforts are highly appreciated and hope that the column will have a longterm lifespan in ED concurrent with the growth of projection effects in performance and presentation design.
Technical Director, Theatre Arts, The Banff Centre