Scenic and Lighting Resources
Chicago-based LD and scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge wanted to learn the ropes by designing, not assisting. He could do that in a theatre community that encourages experimentation and collaboration, where egoless designers use one another as resources — lighting designers suggest scenic ideas, for instance. “To me that is Chicago,” he says. “I think it shows in my work.”
Local crafts people collaborate, too. Scenic designer Daniel Ostling says Sage Reed, prop master at the Court Theatre and a freelancer, is a “miracle worker. She is a prop master, costume crafts artisan, and general odd-thing maker. She has saved our lives at Lookingglass making a field of flowers to cover the floor in a warehouse for an environmental piece, created an 18' dining table with full crystal, place settings, and linens for $60, and the original headpieces and crown for Metamorphoses.” Ostling says some of those headpieces survived the transition when the show moved to Broadway.
“Ravenswood [Studio] built a crazy set for me at the Goodman, an insanely colorful jungle gym of a set,” says Bembridge. “They did a beautiful job in a short amount of lead time.” Bembridge says Jason Kingsly runs a great crew at Means of Production, “a new shop that really takes pride in the artists' vision.” And Chicago Flyhouse “saved our tush at Lookingglass on several occasions,” always helping you work within your means. He also recommends Hawkeye and Chicago Scenic Studios Inc.
Ostling visits Chicago Dropcloth & Tarpaulin Company, a “great source for cheap canvas and black masking material-great prices, easy to get stuff fast, and friendly.” Textile Discount Outlet is another favorite, for its “very cheap prices and large selection. They have some fabrics that are from the 70s and 80s. You just have to brave the dust on your journey.” Edgewater Antique Mall boasts “a great selection of antique furniture and props, particularly good 50's and 60's stuff,” he adds, and “Lincoln Antique Mall has a great selection, good prices, and nice people.”
When designing lights, Bembridge goes to CW Van Baale, rentals coordinator at Designlab. “This town has hundreds of theatre companies, and they range from the Goodman to a 30-seat storefront theatre. CW will always work you a deal with your budget,” he says.
Costume designer Mara Blumenfeld shares Ostling's enthusiasm for Textile Discount Outlet, where she finds fabrics that fit tight budgets. “Fabrics range from the fabulous to the mundane, with lots of upholstery fabrics and cheap glitz.”
Vintage Deluxe may not be one of the biggest vintage stores, but Blumenfeld says it's one of the best. “It has a great atmosphere and the staff is always friendly and helpful. They carry clothing and furnishings mostly from the 50s, 60s, 70s. Great selection of period eyewear, too! They will usually allow you to take pieces out on approval.”
For tailoring, Blumenfeld favors Fox Brothers Tailors Inc. “I've had suits built here for numerous shows, in periods ranging from Victorian to contemporary — including a friend's wedding suit — and they never disappoint. You can select fabrics from their swatch books or bring your own. Prices vary, since it's all custom work, but a basic two-piece suit runs about $1,200.”
Nan Cibula-Jenkins found a “wonderful millinery connection” in Laura Whitlock at the Millinery Arts Alliance of Chicago.
Rob Milburn gets many CDs at Tower Records, but he goes to Jazz Record Mart when he wants hard-to-find jazz & blues.
TC Furlong at MacPherson is his choice for audio gear. “As Duncan Edwards said, ‘he knows the meaning of service.’ It's not like the big shops in New York, but he's got a lot of great stuff and, if you need a little something extra, TC will get it.”
Researching in Chicago
When Bembridge designed Sunday in the Park with George at the Chicago Shakespeare, he studied Seurat's La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute of Chicago. “The MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and Art Institute are always there for a quick visual pick me up,” he says.
Jenkins loves the Newberry Library “for women's magazines of the early 19th Century. It is great to handle the real thing,” she says.
Where Designers Work and Play
Milburn says the Goodman and the Steppenwolf are the best there is, both for their support staff and the wonderful acoustics designed by the Talaske Group.
Dan Ostling and Mara Blumenfeld, ensemble members of the Lookingglass Theatre Company, rank their company high. “The theatre is a completely flexible space, which is reconfigured for almost every production,” says Blumenfeld of the recent recipient of a USITT architecture award. “Lookingglass produces primarily original work and adaptations developed from within the ensemble, so you're guaranteed to see something you can't see anywhere else. The company uses a highly visual and physical style of storytelling and produces work that to my mind is some of the most exciting in Chicago. The Goodman is another fabulous space,” adds Blumenfeld, who once worked in the costume shop there.
Ostling also loves the site-specific work at the Redmoon Theater. “I always feel rejuvenated and thrilled about theatre after seeing their stuff,” he says.
Bembridge says downtown venues, the Oriental and the Cadillac, are enormous and beautiful. “The Chicago Shakespeare is a great tiered theatre with balconies right over the thrust stage. It also has one of the best production managers, Jen Smith.” Bembridge also praises Timeline, an “interchangeable black box, alley, proscenium, in the round, and only 88 seats and the Writers' Theater in Glencoe, designed by scenic designer Linda Buchanan, a 108-seat thrust. “Both of these companies take great pride in the vision that we are creating as a team.”
April in Chicago
You can probably catch Ostling and Blumenfeld's work in Lookingglass Alice. The circus adaptation of the Lewis Carroll novel is scheduled to close at the Lookingglass March 27, but the good money is on an extension.
On April 27, Hillbilly Antigone opens at the Lookingglass, with Blumenfeld's costumes.
Ostling's on at the Goodman, where Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Silk begins previews April 23rd.
See Bembridge's designs for Bold Girls at the Seanachi Theatre Company, The Full Monty at the Drury Lane Water Tower in its new theatre on Michigan Avenue, Living Out at the American Theater Company, Pravda at Timeline, and WAAMU at Northwestern University.
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WHERE TO GO IN CHICAGO: SCENIC/LIGHTS:
Chicago Flyhouse: www.flyhouse.com
Chicago Scenic Studios, Inc.: www.chicagoscenic.com/home.asp
Dropcloth & Tarpaulin Company: www.chicagocanvas.com
Edgewater Antique Mall: 773-262-2525, www.edgewaterantiquemall.com
Lincoln Antique Mall: 773-244-1440
Means of Production: 773-394-8190
Ravenswood Studio: www.ravenswoodstudio.com
Fox Brothers Tailors Inc.: 312-922-5865
Laura Whitlock Millinery: 773.381.2295, firstname.lastname@example.org
Millinery Arts Alliance: www.millineryartsalliance.com
Textile Discount Outlet: 773-847-0572
Vintage Deluxe: 773/529-7008, www.vintagedeluxe.com
Jazz Record Mart: www.jazzmart.com/jrm.home.htm
MacPherson Inc.: TC Furlong, www.macpherson-inc.com
The Talaske Group: www.talaske.com
Art Institute of Chicago: www.artic.edu/aic
Museum of Contemporary Art: www.mcachicago.org
The Newberry Library: www.newberry.org
More museums: http://collaboratory.nunet.net/museums/pages.cfm
Chicago Shakespeare Theater: www.chicagoshakes.com
The Court Theatre: www.courttheatre.org
Goodman Theatre: www.goodman-theatre.org
Lookingglass Theatre Company: www.lookingglasstheatre.org
Redmoon Theater: www.redmoon.org
Steppenwolf Theatre: www.steppenwolf.org
Timeline Theatre: www.timelinetheatre.com
Writers' Theatre: http://writerstheatre.org
Other theatres: www.illyria.com/theatre.html
The city has a reputation for stunning architecture, and the theatres are no exception. Davi Napoleon has covered some for ED: “Public Utility: Lookingglass Theatre” (Nov. 2003), “The Goodman Theatre in Chicago" (Feb. 2001), Architecture in Chicago (Nov. 2000), and "Shakespeare Ahoy! The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre” (Jan. 2000). Find these articles in the Issue Archives at entertainmentdesignmag.com.