Perception---you have that power.

There is purpose in design. There is information in a setting. There is truth in your environment. Fake or real, it's there.

All images are copyrighted by Heidi Hoffer unless otherwise indicated. Your courtesy in using my photographs must include crediting me as the photographer. You must tell me when and where you've used them and send the link to me showing your use of them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

University of Johannesburg's Fantastic Theatre Part 4

Stage Lighting Positions and Work Areas
Theatre technicians get to work in the most interesting nooks and crannies of theatres. This theatre is no exception, however, the physical space requried for a technician to perform his or her work has been considered, and working in this theatre would be a pleasure.
The lighting trees have rear wheels with a cantilevered  post for weights and coiled cables.
Lighting ladders are widely used for high sidelighting positions. A close up view of this image will show you that safety cables are being used to insure the security of the instruments on the ladder.
The lighting pipes have been flown in for a close trim to the set. The setting is for the TV show PROESSTRAAT.
In this image you can see the three basic Front of House (FOH) lighting positions. The curved balcony lighting pipe is somewhat difficult to reach due to the glass railing. Not recommended.
This is a view from the corner of the last FOH position. Notice the ceiling just above the instruments and the acoustical squares across the way on the opposite wall of the theatre.

This apron cove lighting position is reached from the ladder up to the fly gallery. There is a small platform for the technician to stand on while working on the lighting instruments.

Continuing up the ladder to the fly gallery you come to the first level above the stage. Across the way you can see the dimmers and above the dimmers on the left you can see the slatted exhaust panel. Above that you can see the ceiling of the grid with its underhung sheaves.

Here is a close-up of the sheaves taken from the 3rd level or loading platform. The sheaves have easy and safe catwalk access for maintenance and repair.
In the trap room we found the lighting and sound desks. Normally these controls would be located in the booth, but for the TV show, the director wanted control from under the stage. The trap room includes underneath the orchestra pit. There's enough height down here to include a future lift system for the apron.

The University of Johannesburg runs it's theatre lighting system from a GrandMA lighting console.

University of Johannesburg's Fantastic Theatre Part 3

Backstage Areas
 Continuing with our exploration of the University of Johannesburg Theatre's facilities, we visit the backstage areas.
Off of the Greenroom is the entrance to the scenery storage hall. The laundry room is just to the right from the middle of this hall. This storage hall features natural light coming from the recessed skylights up left.
This is a better view of the skylight. The height of this storage hall can accomodate opera-sized scenery storage.
The loading door into the storage hall may look small, but it is larger than the opening of a truck, and that's all that matters.
Denis Hutchinson (Theatre Consultant, Lighting and Scene Designer) points out some of the details required in a single-purchase fly system.

This is a close-up of the type of rope-lock typically installed in theatres. This theatre uses real hemp rope. The humidity factor is not so large here to consider using a synthetic rope.

This is a close-up of the weights in a fly arbor. The weights are safely locked into position using the thumbscrew sets. The weights are also cast with the initials of the University of Johannesburg Arts Center on them. (UJAC). Notice how they dovetail into each other on each of the stacks.

Backstage is the usual accumulation of theater materials, including this bright yellow spiral staircase. Beyond the yellow staircase are the ropes of the fly system.
The ladder to the fly gallery's loading rail has a stop at the first and second floors. This stop shows how well-lit with blue running lights the technician access areas are.
The middle level catwalk of the fly gallery shows both the working (white)  and the runing lights (blue) being used. The loading rail is one more flight up.
The previous post covers the public, administrative and performer areas. The next post will cover the lighting areas. The UJ Theatre architectural tour was very thorough.

University of Johannesburg's Fanstastic Theatre Part 2

Public, Rehearsal and Greenroom Areas
The administrative offices have a small lobby with good natural light, and a swish decor. Notice the black and white Nguni skin rug on the floor compliments the art deco style furniture and the black and white photographs on the wall.
Just off the office lobby, employees have a great office kitchen area.
Here's a better view of the countertop with sink and good storage.

The greenroom is central to all of the stage entrances, the private dressing rooms, and the chorus dressing rooms. It features natural light from the skylight up left in the photo.

This is one of the chorus dressing rooms. It has good air ventilation, good counterspace, and two sinks and a shower.
This is the other chorus dressing room as viewed through the doorway. It also has sinks and a shower.
On the mirror above the sinks I saw this poster. These are the 5 golden rles for the performers in the TV show being filmed on the U. J. stage: PROESSTRAAT. Translated from the Afrikaans, here's the rules:
1. Accept other actor's offerings and develop it by responding.
2. Help with story ideas by actively listening. Look for one another especially in words and do not draw double focus problems.
3. Re-incorporate earlier ideas themselves.
4. Justify everything you do and say.
5. Play fair and have fun.
The University of Johannesburg choir rehearsal room.
This is one of the two dance rehearsal rooms. Both rooms feature one wall of windows and natural light coming from a skylight on the inner wall.
This is the second dance rehearsal room. Both rooms have extra long mirrors to accomodate viewing of high body lifts and jumps. Aesthetically, the mirrors are the same height as the windows.
The dance barre that runs along the windows would be a great place to dream of wonderful choreography. The bottom windows open for ventillation. The exterior overhang prevents direct sunlight from drying out the dance floor.
Look for the next post which will describe the backstage areas, and the post after that which will describe the lighting areas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

University of Johannesburg's Fantastic Theatre Part 1

The 436 seat proscenium theatre at the University of Johannesburg's Kingsway Campus theatre also features a recent lighting console upgrade to a GrandMA Ultra-Light. More and more theatres and lighting designers in South Africa are specifying this GrandMA console for their venues.
     South African Theatre constulant, Scenic and Lighting Designer Denis Hutchinson made it possible for me to tour the University of Johannesburg Theatre with his architects and clients for a future project of his. We were looking at architectural elements specific to a venue complex the new project might use.
     As I am involved in my own discussions with architects for the new performing arts center at Oklahoma State University, I found this hands-on examination very successful and very useful.
          The UJ Theatre boasts a full balcony rail for a low FOH position, and two higher FOH positions as well. There is a full height platform at the last position with a removable railing specifically designed to accomodate  the long snout of two followspots.

In this photo you can see one of the followspots pointed down at the stage. The lighting pipe has been removed so as to not interfere with the arc of the followspot nor the light beam. It is a clear straight shot to the stage. The flat balcony floor on which its rests has good head clearance, and room for technicians to safely move around one another.
     The two FOH positions are very electrician - friendly. ( I pretended to adjust the focus and shutters on one conventional to see how easy that would be from the catwalk position) The instruments are on pipes right at your feet or your waist, and there is another lighting pipe available right at your head height.
     The UJ Theatre also has a pipe over the apron for sound equipment, and another pipe over the apron for lighting equipment. Both of these are on winches. The remainder of the fly system is a traditional single-purchase fly system.

Here's the tour group full of clients, architects, consultant and the UJ technician.
  More information about this theatre will be in an upcoming blogpost.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Cairo Job Part 2

Production Photo Just in From Cairo!
The Three Sisters Act 1 produced by the American University in Cairo.
Photo by Carolyn Forrester courtesy of Stancil Campbell.
Director- Frank Bradley
Scenery - Bill Forrester
Costumes - Jeanne Arnold and Nadeen Lotayef
Lighting - Stancil Campbell
Master Electrician Samy Shawky
Technical Director- David Wlodarski
Master Carpenter - Kamal Ali Hussein
Charge Artist - Heidi Hoffer
Scenic Artist - Nic Mayer
Scenic Artist and Carpenter - Abd'elNabi
And many, many AUC staff and students.

Abd'elNabi did a nice job on the floor, hey!

Friday, December 3, 2010

15 South African Scenic Artists Experience Rosco Supersats

Scene Painting Workshop Held at Wits Theatre

The task:
This images shows the step by step process of painting stage draperies.

The results:
Everyone's painting was fantastic.
It was important for everyone in the workshop to experience paints from the international leader in scenic paint for the entertainment industry. They deserved to experience the best. I worked with Oliver Hauser from Congo Blue of Johannesburg, Ron Knell of Rosco UK, Jenny Knott of Rosco USA and the Nic Mayer from the Wits Theatre and Jenni-Lee Crewe from the Wits Drama Department to produce a professional Scene Painting workshop featuring Rosco Off Broadway and Rosco Supersaturated paints.

The Fulbright experience works both directions; 15 South African scenic artists got to experience the pleasure of Rosco brand paints. I got to share with them my knowledge of using these special paints. I use Rosco products in my work at Oklahoma State University as well as in my professional work.

The first step is the shadows. Here I have shown the use of Payne's Grey and Van Dyke Brown as effective shadow colours.
Barati experiences the success of darker shadows.
Rosco Supersats are meant to be greatly diluted. This was the main learning curve for everyone involved. (That, and learning to paint with your brush tied to the end of an extension stick!)

Courtney is ready to apply colour.
 Rosco paints are water-based acrylic paints. The participants were amazed that the paints diluted so nicely (great color even at 10 water to 1 paint). They were pleased that this represents a significant savings, too.

Adriano kneels to get a bit of fine detail accomplished.
The participants first laid in water creating the shape of their shadow area. They made sure the water’s edge was sharp where the shadow needed to be sharp, and abundant where the shadow needed to be soft. Then they brushed in washes of shadow using Payne’s Grey Rosco Off Broadway paint.

Abie begins to add the blue colour
We ate lunch whie the shadow layer dried, and when we returned, we layered on the diluted blue or red and proceded with the paper pounce of the rope and tassels next. The bottom fringe was an exercise in dots for highlights.

Wilhelm adds detail to the bottom fringe.

From front to back, Jenni-Lee, Wilhelm and Klara deepen their red drapery.

Roger pauses to let his red drapery dry.

Oliver of Congo Blue provided Roger's Door prize win - a case of Rosco Vivid FX Ultraviolet reactive paint.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Cairo Job

Taking the Fulbright to Egypt for 10 days

Chekov’s Three Sisters: Recreating Russian Birch Trees in the Desert

As a Fulbrighter, I realized that persons from Oklahoma State University, The University of the Witwatersrand, and the American University in Cairo were joining together in producing this piece of theatre.
The Three Sisters Play poster shows how important birch trees are to the environment of the play

I was able to extend the reach of my Fulbright experience into Egypt when I invited Nic Mayer, the Technical Director from Wits Theatre to participate in the production process of the American University in Cairo’s production of Chekov’s Three Sisters designed by Bill Forrester. This would allow a South African theatre professional to experience a somewhat American theatre organization in a totally different country. AUC, while it has an American TD and several other Americans on their faculty, is distinctly non-American in the scene shop and costume shop and lighting area. The product is still the same, though, same as it is here at Wits: a show. Nic will take the knowledge and experience he has gained back to his students at Wits and disseminate it for years to come.

Dave Wlodarski, AUC’s Technical Director, forwarded me by email all of Bill’s paint elevations and Photoshop models of each act, including some of the early versions so I could understand the design team’s concept. Several days before our departure we began making tests with materials and experimenting with painting techniques for the birch trees and the wooden floors. The wallpapered walls, with spatter and ageing would happen once we landed in Cairo.

I photographed the results of our tests and sent them the design team by email. I also Skyped the American designer Bill Forrester and the AUC Technical Director Dave Wlodarski in order to discuss the techniques and establish a timeline consensus. My position was that of Charge Artist for the production.

Bill Forrester sent several images of birch tree forests so we could see how skinny and pole-like the trees were. We noticed, too, the bushy undergrowth which would also need to be reproduced.

This is a Photoshopped model Bill Forrester did of his ideas for Act 4 of the Three Sisters.

The environment for Three Sisters is usually surrounded by a birch tree forest. The designer sent several images of a birch tree forest such as the one above. We needed to examine what actually made the dark marks on the white bark, and how the peeling bark cast shadows. The set designer and lighting designer (Stancil Campbell) both wanted trees with texture so lighting could change to quality of light in the forest. I found several more images which helped explain how the bark works.

Peelng bark and dark "spatter and drag" on a real tree. Both photos are from this website

Another example of bark curls on a real birch tree.

This picture shows the stronger horizontal patterns created by failed branches. This image is from here. It is picture #52.
One of our experiments was to make samples of the trees before arriving in Cairo. Using a cut-out trunk shape of thin plywood or masonite, we settled on a wrinkled newspaper method after experimenting with several other materials including cheesecloth, burlap or hessian, and lightweight muslin or calico.


The newspaper sample was the clear winner. The burlap was too soft and fuzzy, the cheesecloth was too limpid and flat, and the calico didn’t create sharp enough bark peelings. Below is our second newspaper birch tree sample, which everyone liked.

This is the second sample we did of the newspaper birch trees. There is black tule in between the trunks which will act as a projection surface for autumn leaves.

These images above show the process of pinching a pleat into the newspaper to become one of the horizontal bark elements then another layer of paint is put on to keep the pleats stiff and to blot out the headlines on the newsprint.

When we arrived we had 56, 7 meter tall birch trees to make. The AUC students helped quite a bit. They learned the process including using paint as the glue for the wrinkled newspaper, applying highlight and shadow, and spatter and drag.

Here’s most of the birch trees laid out in the AUC parking lot, with a few trees in the middle having had their first spatter and drag pass and a few knotholes enhanced. Several AUC students helped texture and paint the trees.
For the wooden floors, I determined the viewing distance and the viewing angle to help me decide how bold the floor boards needed to be. During the experiments, we fine-tuned the paint to water ratios, and determined whether the spatter and drag step should be done with a warm or a cold color.

Here’s our samples, which the designer felt could go even darker.

This sample is done on a sheet of already many-times-painted Masonite. It includes several wood-grain styles. My favourite it the top left which shows the saw marks. And my next favourite is the heartwood on the bottom and second one up. We were thinking of pine floors, not having any particular direction in that area.

This curved wagon above is just a small portion of all of the wood-grained rolling units we did. The overall value is darker, and the wood color is slightly warmer. It has a blue spatter on top to aid in the cool-toned scenes.

This image shows one of the settings nearly completed. Although there is rehearsal furniture on it, you can see the darker tones in the wood floor. Notice, too, the ageing applied to the columns and cornice header. The striped wallpaper and stencil work on the upstage wall is all paint.

Below is one of Bill Forrester's paint elevations for the upstage wall. Basically, once we got to Cairo, Bill said make everything darker than the elevations. Pitiful pale prints were what I had to work with until I could get my hands on the originals, and subsequent research information encouraged Bill to take everything darker and richer.
Bill Forrester's paint elevation for the Three Sisters Act 1 upstage wall.

Above is the stencil pattern used on the upstage wall. We painted the green stripe first, then laid the stencil down and painted back the wall color. The entire wall was spattered in 3 colors, so the lighting designer could warm or cool the scene at will. One student in particular helped do the stencil on these walls.  The reverse side of the upstage wall gets a dark aged wood clapboarding – all in paint. 


This exterior dark wood above is missing its secondary highlight for the curved part of this unusual wooden siding. It almost looks like chinked logs in the research. Bill decided it was a shiplap of some sort. It is also missing its spatter and drag, and its silver blue color wash to tone down the highlights and grey-out whatever warm there is in the base.


This detail of the exterior siding has its final paint: spatter and drag, secondary highlight, and blue wash.

One of the pictures from the English Russian Wooden House website we used for reference.

This is a close-up of the cornice and pillars. AUC carpenters are famous for their attention to detail.

Above is a section of the wallpaper, largely done by Bill Forrester himself, for the bedrooms. We first painted the background stripes, the striped those with a contrasting softer stripe, then Bill applied the stencils ( a labor of love) and then we streaked a bit of watery Van Dyke Brown age on top. This photo is just before streaking the VDB.

This photo shows the wainscot getting scumbled in and aged.

This image below shows the scene shop complete with dust collectors for each power tool. Very nice.

AUC's Scene Shop. Kamal, Abd'el Nabi and other wonderful technicians work there!

And since there’s no final view of the finished set yet, this image below  should let you know what the stage space is like; the seating is steeply raked, and the apron has a dedicated lighting pipe over it! How lucky.

The Malak Gabr Arts Theatre at the American University in Cairo with some of the Three Sisters scenery on it.