Ten years ago, Pat MacKay and David Barbour, the former publisher and editor of
Theatre Crafts International respectively, put together the first TCI Awards, created to honor design and technical achievement in a broad and ever-changing variety of categories. Then, as now, there were no set criteria; the winners that first year ranged from sound designer John Gromada to the collaborative eforts of lighting designer Pat Collins, set designer John Conklin, and director Mark Lamos at the Hartford Stage to the technical staff of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre for their work in the wake of the 1989 earthquake. Subsequent winners have been equally diverse; this year's talented crop continues that winning formula. Join us in celebrating both the 10th anniversary of the awards and the 2001 group of artisans profiled in the following stories.
ACME SOUND PARTNERS
Tom Clark, Mark Menard, and Nevin Steinberg have been fixtures in the field of theatre sound for many years, Clark and Menard as designers and Steinberg as an operator and technician. Ever since the Broadway production of Side Show, the trio had all worked together in one capacity or another over the years, with Clark usually serving as lead sound designer. Indeed, Clark had an amazing year on his own in 2001, designing such shows as Jane Eyre and The Full Monty. That streak continued when he formed Acme Sound Partners with Menard and Steinberg, creating subtle but effective sound for A Class Act and Bells Are Ringing on Broadway, and the star-studded version of The Seagull in Central Park last summer. (As if he's not busy enough in the theatre, Clark continues to serve as director of ACI Sound Solutions, a division of Artec Corporation.) In eight short months, they've taken the concept of a sound design firm — a staple in the UK, with such companies as Autograph Sound and Orbital, but a relatively new idea in the States — and hit the ground running.
"There is nothing rote or cynical or wearied about how they approach the work."
Left to right: Mark Menard, Tom Clark, and Nevin Steinberg
Photo: Ilona Lieberman
“What I like about them is that their instinct is to make the sound as unobtrusive and natural as possible, so you're unaware of all the complicated electronic equipment that's making the play audible,” says David Loud, the Broadway musical director who worked with the trio on A Class Act. “At the same time, they're very willing to collaborate with my needs as a music director, or with the director's needs; that's the hardest thing, I think, about sound design, is melding your taste with the taste of your collaborators, and that seems to be where they're really strong.”
Says director Tina Landau, who worked with them on Bells Are Ringing, “These guys are so good at what they do that I found myself free from thinking about sound at all — I simply knew they were there, on top of everything before I could even hear it or articulate it. There is nothing rote or cynical or wearied about how they approach the work. Rather, they're like the cool guys you want to hang out with, playing, laughing, dreaming up new and better ways to make theatre.
“All three of them are so responsible and concerned and conscious about this dynamic [of three sound designers] that they work hard to pay extra attention, to make their collaborators feel support and consistency,” she adds. “They know it might not come easy to first-timers experiencing this trinity, and so they approach the collaboration with real sensitivity and care.”
“As with any new team, the past eight months have provided us the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with a new working style,” says Menard. “The vocabulary that we have come up with is a melding of our different working methods.”
“When working alone, you have to shoulder all the responsibility, and experimentation can sometimes get you into trouble,” adds Clark. “With partners at your side, you get instant feedback. We give each other the confidence to play more — comfortable in the knowledge that at least one of us is bound to recognize a really bad idea when they hear it, and pull the plug before we humiliate ourselves.”
“Having three minds working on the same problem is a substantial advantage, as our combined experiences affords us a wide range of solutions,” concludes Steinberg. “It is also more fun and significantly less stressful than going solo.”
The Broadway transfer of the La Jolla production of Dracula: The Musical, At Liberty starring Elaine Stritch at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, and “a slew of irons in the fire.”
BATWIN + ROBIN PRODUCTIONS
Currently celebrating their 10th anniversary, Batwin + Robin Productions has spent the last decade advancing the use of the projected image in museums, theatre, and corporate communications. The primary area of focus for Batwin + Robin, which is a partnership of Linda Batwin and Robin Silvestri, is museums and the creation of whole environments to engage visitors. They also work with corporations on media installations for visitor and learning centers and occasional theatre projects that they slot into what little time they have left. Their work on The Rocky Horror Show has taken the art of video projection to new heights on the Broadway stage, while their design for the Pfizer training facility in Purchase, NY, gave new meaning to the term corporate communications. By incorporating the best in computer graphics, film, video, audio, lighting, and scenic design, they have become one of the leaders in innovative multimedia design.
"They are the perfect combination. Their personalities complement each other."
Linda Batwin and Robin Silvestri
Photo courtesy Batwin + Robin Productions
What Their Peers Say About Their Work:
François Bergeron, sound designer for Cirque du Soleil and partner in Thinkwell Productions, collaborated with Batwin + Robin on two projects at the new Hayden Planetarium/Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Museum of Natural History. “I love them!” enthuses Bergeron. “They are the perfect combination. Their personalities complement each other.” Bergeron first worked with Batwin + Robin on the Passport to the Universe show in the Space Theatre in the upper portion of the dramatic Hayden sphere, and eagerly came back later to work with them again on the Big Bang presentation in the lower half of the Hayden sphere. “I came out of these projects thinking that they were the easiest to work with; it was the most fun that I have ever had on a project,” says Bergeron. “We all need a project like this every now and then; since we all have the projects with no time and no money, this was refreshing. Working with them is very enjoyable.”
“What we do is not just interactive, but is a part of the whole environment that surrounds the visitor,” explains Silvestri of their museum work. “We get to use all of the skills that we spent 15 years honing in corporate shows.”
“We work to incorporate theatrical and media techniques as well as controlling all of the aspects of the media production, from the scripts through the shooting,” adds Batwin.
“Theatre projects are something we do for love, not for money,” says Silvestri, pointing to their work on The Rocky Horror Show. “We had a great time shooting the ending in Times Square. It was early November and freezing, and we were shooting these half-naked actors staring at Times Square. You could tell the tourists from the New Yorkers — the tourists all gawked and the New Yorkers just ignored them.”
Projects for over 10 museums scheduled through 2005, as well as a number of corporate installations and theatre projects scattered through their schedule. “The projects are long in development and leave only about six to 12 months to actually produce them,” says Silvestri. Upcoming museum projects include the National Museum of the American Indian for the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, a new visitors center for the Gettysburg National Military Park, in Gettysburg, PA, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the BP Story Pipeline in BP's new community center in Anchorage, AK, and a new indoor exhibit around the German U505 U-Boat at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
ARIANNE PHILLIPS & MIKE POTTER
As writer, star, and film director, John Cameron Mitchell is unquestionably the creator of Hedwig, transgendered rock star and protagonist of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But would the moody East German songstress have become such a sensation onstage without the hair and makeup design of Mike Potter? And would the film version of the show, which takes Hedwig beyond her iconic wing-tipped wig into a series of outré fashion statements, have been possible without the contribution of costume designer Arianne Phillips, who worked closely with Potter to create a series of camera-seducing looks for the character? Potter, who has contributed makeup and hair stylings to music videos and magazine layouts, is fairly new to feature films; Phillips is a veteran of such major movie productions as The Crow, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Mod Squad, and Girl, Interrupted. But together they helped Mitchell achieve a rare feat: the transformation of a thrilling piece of theatre into something completely new, and just as valid, for a new medium.
"Working on Hedwig
was the wholly collaborative experience that I always thought filmmaking was supposed to be."
Photo of Mike Potter and John Cameron Mitchell: S. Giraud/©2001 Fine Line Features
What Their Peers Say About Their Work:
Thérèse DePrez, Hedwig production designer: “Mike, who certainly is a Hed head, was completely dedicated to the project, and took to film very smoothly. His wigs are amazing, each and every one. And Ari's work is so detailed and original, especially when you realize what constraints we had with our budget, with having to hire a Toronto crew, and working out of town. When I was meeting with John quite early on, and we were thinking about costume designers, I was in quandary whether Ari would be interested in doing something like this, because she's done so many big-budget things. And then I remembered that she and I did Going All the Way together right after she did Larry Flynt. She's a lot like me, where we'll go from a huge project to something that we really, really have our hearts into. She became obsessed, and she and Mike completely hit it off. This was a project where you needed that bond.”
Arianne Phillips: “Working on Hedwig was the wholly collaborative experience that I always thought filmmaking was supposed to be. John Cameron Mitchell's writing, direction, and characterization of Hedwig were constantly inspiring; my creative process was nurtured, supported, and informed in a most intimate and rare fashion. The extra bonus of collaborating with the extreme talent and vision of Mike Potter's makeup and wig design made coming to work every day a real treat.”
Mike Potter: “I've worked with John for six years developing this character, and she only really looked one way until the day we started filming. Now people can say what their favorite look is. I'm always introduced as the guy who did Hedwig — but now it's on the level of people I don't even get to see or meet contacting me via the Internet. I guess I've hit something that touches them.”
Following Hedwig, Phillips designed costumes for One Hour Photo, a film starring Robin Williams. She recently completed Guy Ritchie's remake of Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away, starring Madonna; the designer is also personal stylist for Madonna and Courtney Love. Potter has continued doing hair and makeup design for photo shoots, “working with beautiful girls, making them look however I want.” He is also collaborating on a futuristic film project, Spectropia, which is designed to be an interactive museum installation.
THE SEATTLE OPERA RING CYCLE DESIGN & TECHNICAL TEAM
It's always an enormous undertaking to do a production of Wagner's epic Ring Cycle. Says technical director Robert Schaub: “If we played football, we'd want to play in the Super Bowl. When you do opera, there's the Ring. It's what you aspire to do.” This one, however, is something else. Famously known as the “green” Ring, for its spectacular rendering of the operas' natural settings, this Ring Cycle has been praised for its cohesiveness and visual thrills, including the flying Rhinemaidens. It also represents a spectacular feat of organization, in which director Stephen Wadsworth, the designers, and the technical staff have worked together for nearly five years to bring this project to fruition.
"When you do opera, there's the Ring. It's what you aspire to do."
The Seattle Opera technical team (l-r: Robert F. Reynolds, Michael Moore, Lise Schellman, Charles T. Buck, Robert D. Schaub, & Kitty Kavanaugh. Not pictured: Denise O'Brien.
Photo: Gary Smith
Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz
Photo: Gary Smith
What Their Peers Say About Them:
Speight Jenkins, general director of Seattle Opera: “Stephen Wadsworth has been kind enough to say that he would never have agreed to direct a Ring anywhere but in Seattle because of the support the company would give him. I think that the coordination between Tom Lynch and Robert Schaub might serve as a paradigm of such a relationship. From the beginning of our work in the winter of 1995, everyone worked hard on the same track to create the finished product, one that would fulfill the designer's needs and the opera company's artistic desires and financial capacities. The same was true with the work with Peter Kaczorowski and Martin Pakledinaz. In the latter's case, of course, the work was between him and Lise Schellman, the head of the costume shop. From my standpoint, Seattle Opera was more than fortunate to have such marvelously talented and practical artists working together on our most daring, and in the end, most successful product.”
Scenic designer Thomas Lynch
Photo: Chris Bennion/Seattle Opera
Lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski (right) with Speight Jenkins
Photo: Michael Baker
In Their Own Words:
Kaczorowski: “The Ring was the most trying, difficult project I have ever undertaken. The length, the breadth, the time it takes to just work through the cycle in one's mind — much less design it — the stamina required… the dramaturgical problems with the thing, its relentless details, the concentration required of us all.” Schaub: “When you work on the Ring, you have to conceive all four operas at once, or you end up with a hodgepodge. We decided to do the engineering, budgeting, and the developing of all the concepts as one process. The best way to do something like this was to assemble the full resources of the organization.”
Seattle Opera begins renovating at the end of 2001, a project that will be completed in 2003. Lynch just completed designing Me and Mrs. Jones, a new musical at the Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia; his busy schedule includes a revival of Edward Albee's All Over for the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, and Richard Nelson's new play Franny's Way for Playwrights Horizons. Having just opened Kiss Me, Kate in London, Kaczorowski is looking at Tokyo and London productions of the hit musical Contact and is getting ready for the touring edition of The Producers. Pakledinaz's next project is the upcoming Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, scheduled to open in the spring.
Since the company was launched in 1993, Bill Mensching's ShowMotion has proven to be the bedrock of set construction for Broadway and beyond. This full-service shop, located in Norwalk, CT, specializes in high-tech engineering, sophisticated motion control, steel and wood fabrication, and the building, painting, and electrifying of scenic elements for everything from live entertainment and industrial shows to themed environments and amusement parks. Recent Broadway musicals, ranging from 42nd Street and The Producers to the complicated scenic carousel designed by John Napier for Jane Eyre, prove how Mensching and ShowMotion step up to the plate and repeatedly solve the most challenging problems with technically sound solutions.
"What I like best is the challenge of mixing engineering with creativity."
The ShowMotion team
Photo: Stan Godlewski
What Their Peers Say About Them:
“They were great at carrying my concepts and ideas through to fruition,” says set designer Bob Crowley, who worked with ShowMotion on the building of the sets for the Tim Rice/Elton John version of Aida on Broadway and its current national US tour. “Some of my ideas can seem very silly and pretty insane at the time, yet Bill Mensching made sense of them, and he's a lovely man to boot. When you are doing a show like this for the first time, you never know if things will work or not, and they were great at making it all happen. The sets for Aida were very diverse with all kinds of tricks, textures, and illusions, and they helped make it all possible.”
“My great-grandfather Henry had a horse-and-cart business hauling scenery for Vaudeville and Broadway,” says Mensching, a fourth-generation IATSE member. “My grandfather, William H. Mensching. unloaded trucks for him and eventually became the production carpenter for Billy Rose and for the Shuberts, as well as the Yiddish Theatre. He then became the first general foreman for the CBS Television Studios in New York. My father, William G. Mensching, did his apprenticeship at CBS, then went back to the theatre working at Feller Scenery across the street from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. He finished his career at Radio City Music Hall. I did my apprenticeship at Pete Feller's Canal Place shop in the Bronx in 1972. I never knew anything but the theatre; it was always in the house. The first set I saw in the shop was the opening mountains scene for The Sound of Music.
“What I like best,” he continues, “is the challenge of mixing engineering with creativity; working with creative people and bringing their ideas to reality. We stay current through people on our staff constantly looking at different ways to do things, and looking at new products on the Internet and in mailings. We try to integrate new technology with what works and what's practical along with our old hands-on experience in theatrical applications.”
Thoroughly Modern Millie for Broadway; Carnivale for Radio City Music Hall; a new front entrance to Madison Square Garden; an outdoor trellis for Flatotel on 52nd Street; Figs, a new Todd English restaurant at Mohegan Sun Casino; and a rigging package for the national tour of Blast.
Well before U2 became a contender for title of “greatest rock-and-roll band in the world,” Willie Williams was lighting them up in his singular style. Having worked with the band for nearly 20 years (since 1982), Williams' creative role has continually evolved; he now serves as show director, responsible for the entire visual content of the band's performances. While U2's current Elevation tour is striking in its simplicity, Williams created an almost complete amalgamation of lighting and video by using the entire space of each arena as a projection surface.
"Willie has become one of the great modern show directors."
Photo: Simon Annand
What His Peers Say About His Work:
Renowned production designer/architect Mark Fisher (a previous EDDY Award winner) has frequently collaborated with Williams on many projects — including the Elevation tour — throughout the years. “Willie has become one of the great modern show directors,” he says. “He challenges the formulaic approach to big productions, creating edgy and uncompromising shows that are hugely popular with the public.”
“In my mind the most significant part of U2's Elevation show was the video reinforcement, which created a new way of providing camera closeups without being a distraction,” Williams explains. “The continuous feed of images proved to be a genuine enhancement without upstaging the performers. Increasingly I find myself being invited to work on projects that may already have a scenic artist, video director, or even a lighting designer onboard. My responsibility is to offer an impartiality in marrying together visual elements, which might otherwise compete with one another, and make them work as a cohesive whole.”
Williams' future plans include creating year-end tour designs for Bryan Adams and the Scottish band Travis. For next year, he is working with the modern/classical string musicians Kronos Quartet on a “musical/visual evening” tour that was commissioned by NASA in celebration of Voyager's 20 years in space. Williams will have access to 3,000 pictures taken from outer space to use create a video piece. Plus, he and Fisher are again collaborating — this time it's on a musical based on the music of Queen, which is scheduled to open in London in February.