Block 366: March 8, 2014



I heart you!


Date: March 8, 2014

Crane: 366

Days Spent on Project: 384

Location: Apartment, Washington Heights, NYC

Person I would have sent it to: James B.

James was the dean of the Yale School of Drama when I was a student there; he still is, in fact. He was also a directing student there, having graduated just a few years before I arrived there.

In my time there, he would also direct one of the shows at the Yale Rep each season. During the summer before a design student’s third year, the department would decide if you, as a designer, were ready to take on one of the Rep’s shows. My third year, I was given an awesome opportunity. I was asked to design the next year’s Shakespeare production, All’s Well That Ends Well, to be directed by James Bundy.

That’s exciting, isn’t it? The Shakespeare productions were, in my opinion, a vote of confidence; the casts were usually large (maybe in the mid-20s) and the budgets were larger (extra money was allocated to the production as it was an Educational Outreach program to various Connecticut schools). You had the chance to do a bit more, and I loved that I had the chance to design it.

James, for his part, wanted to take this tricky play (really, it is; who do you side with in that show?) and update it a bit, to make it resonate more with modern audiences. I think he wanted to push it contemporary and insert pop songs. It’s a fun idea, and I tried to push the romanticism in the play (sure, sure, there is some kind of romanticism there…) by using the movies of Douglas Sirk as an inspiration. So, the clothes were from the 1950s, and I spent a lot of time looking at Parisian fashion and Dior to make a fairy tale connection. I kept the color palette extremely tight (dark and cool) until the action moved to Italy when some warmer autumnal tones popped in. The final scene got a shock of color, with Helen’s final outfit being pink and white. I think it worked.

I’m not sure what James ever thought of it though. During our tech period, he was struck with some really severe health problems, was rushed to the hospital, and had to sit the rest of the process out to recuperate… which he did. A new director was flown in overnight, who oversaw the rest of the rehearsals and previews. I got the sense that the new director did NOT like my work though. He was pretty vocal about it.

I learned you can’t please everyone, so you really need to stick to your guns and make your choices and know why you’re making those choices and realize them as best you can. It’s really hard to redirect a river right before it hits the ocean, you know?

Music I listened to while sewing: I’ve got Arcade Fire on this morning. I feel so hip!

Thoughts/Feelings behind the block: Have I posted this before? It’s a quote from Ira Glass, and I’ve thought about it frequently this past week.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I’m fairly certain I’ve shared that before.

I’ve been reminded this week that I’m still in the beginning phase of my career. I am aware that I do have a kind of taste (I like to think it’s good, but who really knows…), and that I am frequently disappointed that what I’ve chosen and drawn or built or so on doesn’t live up to all the potential. But, I have to remind myself that I’m working with limitations still. Do I have a reasonable budget? Do I have support? Do I have the time to work on this 24 hours a day? Do I have the right resources? Do I have the right knowledge yet? Do I have the right answers? Do I have the right questions?

I’m still working with somewhat of a handicap, the level I’m at in New York with design and theater and life. And as much as I’d like to push myself out of that level, in the next and then the next and so on, I can’t force it. I want it to happen. I want it to happen soon. But I have to be both patient, and have an unflagging (some would say delusional) belief that it WILL happen.

I have to keep at it.

It’s been a daily reminder this week, as I’ve been starting to weigh options and figure out what’s going on with my life. I need more work. I need help. I need some opportunity. The most severe choice I can make is to run away and give it up and never think about it again, but what good will that do?

I do also wonder if Mr. Glass’s quote applies to theater. Sure, I can keep at it and work on things as best I can. I’m trying to draw for an hour a day. I’m trying to read more plays and think about plays and look at design work. I could design hypothetical productions at my desk, but is that practicing theater?

I have to keep at it. I do.

I hope.

I have my fingers crossed most all the time these days.

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