Scenic designer Robert Mitchell, who once assisted Jo Mielziner and Boris Aronson, recalls how his mentors vacationed: "Jo usually spent a month in Paris. He was very well organized and ran his studio like a business; he would increase or decrease his staff depending on the number of jobs he had, and he arranged schedules so everyone would get at least one week of paid vacation. Boris would find himself tied up all summer or totally out of work for a year, and then he would take the most wonderful vacations."
Designers today still fall into varied summer camps. Some work extra hard. Some think about working. Some play. Some take on other projects, from renovating a home to writing a book. We caught up with John Conklin at the Glimmerglass, enjoying the bucolic ambiance. Well, yes, he was also running the place, while working on a Philip Glass opera based on Kafka's In the Penal Colony. Construction was beginning on She Stoops to Conquer at Baltimore's Center Stage and he was preparing classes for NYU and Bard College. "My sense of a vacation is being in a place where you can do good work," says Conklin, whose house overlooks a field with horses.
Priorities vary. Projection designer Wendall Harrington puts her career on hold each summer to vacation with her kids, now 10 and 15. That meant turning down The Lion King and, recently, the London production of Napoleon. The family often goes to Cape Cod "to hang out by the water and bike and swim. You clear your head and try not to gnash your teeth when you read things in The New York Times that you're missing."
Scenic designer Robert Brill and director Loretta Greco were in production this summer with their daughter, due in October. So was lighting designer Shannon McKinney, whose son should be in diapers when you read this. The Brills did a show together at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Brill did some sketches for the Roundabout production of Design for Living, due in February; McKinney prepared classes for the University of Denver, where she teaches lighting design.
"I have a wife, a son, and two dogs," says Robert Israel, who took on more than he wanted, involving summer trips to Austria to discuss a Mozart opera, Helsinki to confer on next summer's Don Giovanni, San Francisco to work on Martha Clarke's Hans Christian Andersen at the American Conservatory Theatre, and New York for Fidelio at the Met. "I don't like being this busy," says the scenic designer, who will take next semester off from UCLA, where he co-chairs the theatre department.
James Youmans protects some summer time for his wife, playwright Elizabeth Egloff, and their three-year-old son. He also clears weekends, something not all producers accept. "If you tell them you have another meeting on Sunday, they understand. If you say `I'm staying home to teach my kid how to hit a baseball....' " After a Cape Cod break, Youmans worked on transformations, including turning a pumpkin into a carriage; the national tour of Cinderella begins in November.
Summer found many costume designers researching one show, sketching another, fitting a third. David Zinn takes time off to rest, "but never in the summer." This summer, Zinn's projects included Sartre's Kean, an opera in Santa Barbara and a Judith Viorst play for the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis.
Laura Crow researched historic dress in Greece, then lectured on the use of computers for design rendering in Cuba. She also began writing a Fulbright that will take her to Asia, where she'll recruit countries for the Costume Working Group Web Site, which she heads. Crow also worked on a musical based on C.S. Lewis' Narnia series for the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
Sound designer Tony Meola took advantage of the Little Women postponement. "I've never had a summer like this, and I'm thrilled to have it," says Meola, who checked up on The Lion King in London and opened it in Toronto, then took a month off, "trekking in Nepal and bopping around the northeast." At the Cherry County Playhouse in Michigan, he did The President's Men, then got to work on the Broadway-bound The Rhythm Club. He was also thinking about Tom Sawyer, the musical.
Brian Ronan says that early summer, after the spring shows are up and before fall projects engage him totally, is a humanizing time. He can work on a first-grade pageant in Queens or help interns at the Adirondack Theatre Festival learn mixing techniques. "I'm more of a person," says Ronan, who wouldn't do such things during the season. He also kept tabs on Rent, on which he was the sound mixer.
Fran‡ois Bergeron tried to enjoy family life with a new baby, did Bill Graham Presents in Beverly Hills, followed by The Education of Randy Newman at South Coast Rep. He programmed for a virtual reality ride for DisneyQuest and followed up on various Cirque du Soleil shows.
In Kansas City, Tom Mardikes did two outdoor Shakespeare productions and prepared for Major Barbara at the Missouri Rep. He was thinking about Native Son, which he'll do at the nearby Gorilla Theatre.
Lighting designers plotted future shows and teched summer festivals. After a busy season, Frances Aronson took some time to clean her studio, stop by the gym, and "put my life back together." In Williamstown, she did a new Simon Gray play, The Late Middle Classes. She worked on Fully Committed, which opened in San Francisco, LA, and Boston.
After an "incredibly busy year," Donald Holder enjoyed time with his family and "rediscovered the concept of a good night's sleep." Still, he managed to do Julius Caesar at the Delacorte and Barry Manilow's Copacabana for Pittsburgh CLO and a two-year national tour.
Christopher Akerlind was engaged in preproduction work on The Butterfly Collection and preparing The Tale of the Allergist's Wife's for Broadway. He also "vacationed" in the Berkeley Hills, where he lit three productions for the California Shakespeare Festival and designed scenery for two of them. In addition, he renovated his house in Portland, ME for about six weeks. "Work in the theatre disappears after a month," he reflects, delighted that he'll have something to show for his efforts now. "And it's therapeutic, after all the work we do in enclosed dark spaces." Robert Mitchell worked on his house in New York, too, a project he's put off for years because he spends so much time in Greece, where he's currently developing a new theatre company.