I was doing mostly stage management and production management for my company at the time, Nosedive Productions, Inc and acting any chance I got. We did one show that was very surreal that involved some blood effects and make-up called "The Adventures of Nervous Boy". I worked with a few others to achieve the blood effects - making my first "hand" squibs. That fall 2 of our producers wanted to start a new theatrical horror series. Each year, we would ask playwrights to join our team and write something that would be based off some idea of horror based theater or theme, from Grand Guignol to horror comics to true life crimes of horrific nature. The series is called the "Blood Brother's Present...." and is still going to this day hosted by the Brother's Blood - Patrick Shearer and Pete Boisvert. During our first iteration "The Blood Brother's Present...Grand Guignol" all of us chipped in doing "blood labs", trying out effects, trying to make our own fake blood, etc. The next installation was called "The Blood Brother's Present...Pulp" based on EC horror comics. Each director of each piece was pretty much responsible for their own effects. During tech, we noticed that a lot of effects weren't really working or the director hadn't figured it out as of yet. So, I jumped in and me and the lighting designer worked on the effects, while running through tech and figured it out on the fly. I continued to work on this series and any other "special effect" (blood effects and any sort of specialty prop or effect from flash pots to puppeteered boxes and bottles in a piece about super heroes called "Colorful World") for Nosedive and slowly moved more away from stage management, into design work.
Over time news got out about what I was doing on the stage at the independent theater level. And theater productions at that time were getting more dependent on putting film effect quality work on stage for a very limited budget. Hence, other theater companies started asking me to come in and work for them. Over time, I also started working with more and more make-up designers, so now I can add special effects make-up to my design work.
Why New York? How did you make your way to the city?
My focus was acting. I was either going to go try and make it in LA or get accepted to a school in NY and get my foot in the door that way. Got accepted to a musical theater conservatory (AMDA) and started in October of 1996. Never looked back. I think I was always a big city girl, so if it wasn't NY, it would have been some other big city.
How do you negotiate artistic need and limited resources? Is there an artistic difference between how you approach an indie show versus a show with plenty of time, money etc?
I get really creative. I have been described as the "MacGyver" and the "Tom Savini" in my field at times. When resources are especially tight, I start thinking of other applications, other devices, other materials that could be used in place of high priced items or dangerous items. Sometimes, that artistic challenge lends to the way I design pieces on a regular basis. I really haven't been able to work on a lot of productions that have a large budget for what I do. I think a lot of times, once everything is added up, producers are shocked at how much a few effects can cost. Sometimes they are pleasantly surprised at how cheap I can make it. The real differences are people that have never done any sort of blood effects, special effects or special effects make-up on stage and those that have with varying degrees of success.
What's exciting for you about doing an indie show? What makes you cringe?
What's always exciting is what crazy sort of effect is someone going to come up with for me to design to be able to pull off onstage for multiple performances. Cringing is usually when I am given how much time I have to do it or the budget. I've gotten into a habit that I will not do any more film or theater that gives me less than 2 weeks to prep and design. It's not fair to me or the production especially when there are complicated blood effects that an actor needs to learn.
What could the indie community do to make things easier for designers all around? What could producers/directors/other designers do to make your job easier on a specific production?
Probably the most challenging is when one is asked to work on a project and then not hear from anyone in the production team until near the time of tech. I believe it is really important, at least in my field of design, that everyone be on the same page. And there is enough communication between the designers and the production that everyone feels comfortable going into tech, which is usually a very limited amount of time in a rented theater. I think most productions go into rehearsal and then have sporadic design meetings or leave the design meetings to the tech director/production manager. Maybe a few with the whole production involved wouldn't be the worse thing in the world.
Tell me about something you achieved in 2013 that makes you feel really good:
In "Frankenstein Upstairs" by Mac Rogers, produced by Gideon Productions, I was asked to create some pretty unique effects. The big one was to achieve an open chest surgery realistically onstage and the actor could not leave stage and had to be "all sewn up" and ready for action in the very next scene. From the time the "patient" was wheeled on through into the next scene - it went beautifully. And it was a time where designers and actors all had to be involved and a lot of communication and testing had to go into it. In the end, the actual doctor that was consulting with the piece, after seeing a performance, said that the scene looked like a realistic surgery. You can't get much higher praise than that.
What's coming up in 2014?
Quite a bit. I am currently preparing for a music video shoot that involves zombies. Pete, Patrick and myself are producing a new Blood Brother's Present...series at the Brick in their late night series slot in the upcoming months. I have a chance to work on the musical "Bat Boy" in conjunction with the NJIT school. I am in talks to work on another Antimatter Collective piece in the spring. And, I will be working with Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House in Maine on a new play "R&J&Z (Romeo and Juliet and Zombies) this May into June.