I was a freshman at Williams College looking for a summer job, and I applied to the Williamstown Theatre Festival. While working in the props department I got to meet all the designers who came in during the season - I was envious because they seemed to have the coolest jobs. From that first summer on I was hooked. Many of the people I met during my first summer working in theatre remain my mentors, colleagues, and friends. I spent several summers building in the prop department, and after college applied to grad school and got into the University of Washington. Eventually I moved to New York after I graduated in '08 and started to meet directors and design shows. A lot of my first shows and early connections were made with people looking for designers online. Websites like backstagejobs.com and playbill.com were my friends.
Your stuff always looks incredible. How are you able to achieve such expensive looking scenery on small budgets?
Thanks! When I design for indie theatre or any small budget production I have a bunch of tricks to stretch my dollar. I try to:
- embrace the venue, take advantage of everything the space has to offer. (architectural quirks, old cans of paint in the basement, etc.)
- be creative with materials and where I source them. Like a lot of designers, I love Build it Green, Materials for the Arts, and Craigslist. It's always better to buy used, because used objects already come with so much character.
- reuse stock flats/platforms storage items in a way that you can't tell it's stock.
- try to be as crafty as possible. For example, on a recent show I made an entire shingle roof out of free cardboard I found in my building's basement. I spent days cutting out shingles, but once painted, they really didn't look like cardboard at all. It was worth all the time it took.
What are the amazing things about working in indie theatre and the not so great things? What could we as a community do to make things easier for designers off-off-broadway?
There are so many people out there who are able to do so much with so little; it's an inspring place to create theatre. It's amazing how motivated everyone in indie theatre is. There is a lot of good work out there given the scarcity of resources/ space/ and money. One thing that would make life easier for indie-designers is to get the community more organized (and this is happening) so that resources can be shared as much as possible. For example - a theatre with a shop/ space/ that only produces a couple shows a year should rent out their equipment to as many people as possible. There are a lot of message-boards and e-mail listserves out there, but a more-universal online network for material sharing would be a great resource.
Talk to me about the balance of art and life for you. How are you able to make ends meet and still devote so much time and energy to your indie projects?
My friend Marion Williams has a good rule of thumb that I try to follow. Any job that you take has to satisfy 2 of 3 conditions: be a great project, be staffed with great people, or pay really well. For example, you can sell out and take a great paycheck, but you can't work with jerks on a script that is terrible. But maybe if the people you were working with were close friends that you admired, you might be willing to make the best out of that terrible script.
What are you working on now? Is there anything coming up in theatre that you're excited about?
Right now I'm working with two of my favorite directors on new plays. The first is Adult by Christina Mascotti at Abrons Arts Center dir. Ian Morgan which opens the end of January. It's a two person play about a girl who moves back in with her divorced father after a failed attempt at college. The second play is Gidion's Knot by Joanna Laurens at 59E59th st. directed by Austin Pendleton that opens in February. Another exciting two person play between a teacher and a parent during a parent-teacher conference. Speaking of money, both shows have tight budgets, but I'm able to do a lot with a little, because I'm building them at the same time, renting vans to buy for both shows, and using a shop that has been generously donated to me.