In 1977, when I wrote my first stories for Live Design—the magazine was called Theatre Crafts then—I typed them and turned them in with the 8x10 glossy photographs theatres supplied. Some years later, I was able to write articles on a word processor and fax them over. What luxury! Just weeks ago, I emailed a story and attached high resolution images. It was the last story I wrote for the print edition.

Fifty years from now, I suspect someone will find last month’s copy of Live Design in an antique shop and delight in recalling the days of magazine stands, newspaper subscriptions, and book stores, but chances are theatre-goers will not have to search for print materials tucked away among artifacts of our past. We’ll see these as props on stages when period plays are produced.

This year, for instance, book lovers in Michigan and Chicago had the chance to see two wonderful book-centered sets.

In Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, a dying musicologist goes to Bonn, Germany, to search the library that archives Beethoven’s scores and diaries. In the scene shop of the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, MI, technical director Gary Ciarkowski supervised apprentices who built 700 books and scores to line the shelves of Vincent Mountain’s set for Guy Sanville’s production. Lights by Dana White, costumes by Suzanne Young, sound by Tom Whalen, and props by Danna Segrest helped to create the 19th- and 21st-century worlds of Beethoven (Richard McWilliams) and of the contemporary historian (Michelle Mountain) obsessed with him.

In Chicago, the Timeline Theatre Company closed out the year with Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, set in the early 1980s. Nick Bowing’s production featured a 6,000-book wall by Brian Sidney Bembridge, who also designed lights. Michael Stanfill’s projections, Alex Wren Meadows’ costumes, and Andrew Hansen’s sound helped tell the story of an activist (David Cromer) who is determined to make the public aware of the growing AID’s epidemic.  

Bembridge also designed sets and lights for the 2010 production of The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena. Set in 1880s England, the play by Moby Pomerance is about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary. “People would send slips of paper from all over the world, and they would categorize them, find the root, and so forth,” Bembridge explains of the set that required thousands of pieces of paper. The world premiere, a co-production with Circle X Theatre Company, was directed by John Langs and featured sound design and original music by Bruno Louchouran, costumes by Dianne Graebner, and props by Chuck Olsen.