Introducing Five Tyro Talents Currently Making Waves in the Fields of Costume, Lighting, Projection, Set, and Sound Design
Our annual education issue has always been about the importance of proper training to become a successful designer. This year, we decided it was time to show how that training pays off by placing the spotlight on five relative newcomers in the five major disciplines. The most interesting aspect of these talented tyros - projection designer Sage Carter, sound designer Obadiah Eaves, lighting designer Robert Perry, costume designer Mattie Ullrich, and set designer Klara Zieglerova - is the fact that none of them followed the same exact path to where they are today. Some came from foreign lands, some started as musicians, some completed grad school, some never even finished undergrad. But all have shown exceptional promise in their short careers. So read on to get a glimpse of the future of entertainment design.
SAGE CARTER: Projection Designer Sage Marie Carter pulled her baseball cap down around her eyes. Here she was on Broadway, shy and completely overwhelmed. She was overseeing the manufacture of some 10,000 frames for The Who's Tommy for projection designer Wendall K. Harrington, and she felt like an outsider. She couldn't guess she'd soon be on her own, working with top talents, including two Tonys - Straiges and Walton. "It was scary. Everyone knows everyone in the theatre," says Carter, who wasn't so sure she wanted to fit in.
"I think I had seen two plays," says the designer, adding that she'd been involved in only one, and that was in high school. After graduating, she worked in a slide house in Virginia, doing conventions and meetings. Her biggest show had involved 15 projectors; Tommy required 57. Just how had she gone from doing slides for a Kay Jewelers meeting to a hit megamusical?
She had quit the slide company to try college. When she ran out of money two years later, she went into the jewelry business with her sister. Creating jewelry was fun, and so was traveling to international festivals to sell it. She enjoyed everything about that business, in fact, until fire destroyed it.
What could she do? She didn't have much of a resume. She returned to New York, where she had spent part of her adolescence. One of her mother's friends knew Harrington, who desperately needed some help. Carter got the job.
Paul Vershbow, projection programmer for Tommy, saw at once that "she was smart and creative, and she could pick up on what we were doing." He felt he could trust her with complex tasks that could have brought down the show if mishandled, and she never let him down.
A whirlwind of activity followed. "We [Harrington, Bo Ericksson, Harrington's husband at the time, and Carter] were doing three or four shows at a time. I was waking up in cities, and I didn't know which city or which show. It was intense." Although Harrington always welcomed input, at first Carter only offered logistical suggestions. Then she was suggesting images. Soon, they co-designed Having Our Say, a happy collaboration.
Eventually, Harrington suggested her assistant when she couldn't take a job. Carter's first solo was Cakewalk, based on the life of Lillian Hellman, at the American Repertory Theatre. Straiges had designed sets to support projections, collages of photographed locations including Martha's Vineyard and New Orleans. "I leaned on him a lot," says Carter, recalling how stunned she was when she visited his Brooklyn studio and saw all his models. "I've gotten to meet a lot of extraordinary people through Wendall."
She did Missing Footage with Tony Walton, which involved projecting video onto a floor that was reflected in a mirror, perfect for the biographical story of a ballerina. "Like Wendall, she is extraordinarily focused on the material," Walton says. "Sage will cut what we have jointly dreamed out, and what she has worked very hard to achieve, if it is not in the very best interests of the material."
Today, designers, directors, and producers often call Carter directly. She did The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Public, in which characters watch a movie filmed nearby. She worked with George Tsypin on the PBS series Wynton Marsalis on Music. She did Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna and Zurich. And she reached inside the mind of a schizophrenic for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Steppenwolf and the Barbican.
Impressed by the quality of her prep work for Harrington on an earlier production, director Terry Kinney could see she was "a masterful technician, highly conceptual and very artistic." He was even more convinced after the first artistic meeting of Cuckoo's Nest. Accustomed to designers who brought very rough sketches to initial conferences, Kinney says he found it "mind-blowing when Sage showed up with a storyboard of every single image, all colorized." Kinney says Carter's initial concepts inspired the other designers on the project. Her ability to stay under budget - "She and her sister are incredible at finding images in the public domain" - also impressed him. "At first glance, she looks like she might be a techie, someone there to hang the lights," Kinney reflects. "She is an artist and she keeps it deep in her back pocket."
Carter, 30, supplements her work in the theatre with commercial clients and does technical consulting for people who want to do their own projection, advising them on what equipment to get, where to find it, and how to use it. She has done multimedia for installation artists and worked with Harrington on preshows for sports teams, including the New York Knicks. the New York Liberty, and the New York Rangers. But what deeply engages her is the kind of storytelling she did on Cuckoo's Nest and Having Our Say. "What I love most," she says, "is telling a passionate story."