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Scot Augustson

I (double big heart) designers.
I honestly think that aspiring playwrights on their way to college would be better served studying design/tech than writing.

Lyam White

This is so lovely and thought-provoking that I hate to ruin it with too many spinning, still-forming...erm, provoked thoughts. So I'll just toss in a couple of the ones that are really trying to jump out:

In generative theater, the early involvement of designers is all but mandatory, since its practitioners are lucky if there's even a script finished by opening. Aesthetics matter when your process yields a dozen or so pages of mythopoetic fantasia in a sea of physical comedy and acrobatics; design almost serves the same function that script does in more "traditional" forms. The designers' dramaturgical skills (well-noted, Matthew) are useful because all anyone really has at that stage of the game is dramaturgy.

I also enjoyed Gary Smoot's cogent defense of proscenium, but I'm inclined--and I fully cop to this just being a personal obsession of mine--to dismiss the caution with which theater artists approach novelty. Demotic music only survives because it slits its own throat from time to time, because iconoclasts bend traditional form over and spank it with a cricket bat, without necessarily holding out any plans for what's supposed to come next. I can respect the desire to isolate the parts of a production that should sing, but if there's one thing we can learn from music, it's that a younger, bolder audience can find much edification in watching art scream and flail.

That said, I think that doing away with the proscenium is just as limiting as its being the only option. And interestingly enough, at least a few of those people who rarely go to theater, whose faces we would like to see more, appreciate the proscenium for precisely the reason I'm suspicious of it: It's reassuringly like a movie, and people who are intimidated by theater really appreciate that reassurance.

Scot Augustson

Oh, to chime in on the Proscenium (a word that to me always looks misspelled):
Sometimes you want that oldy-tymey feel. Sometimes you want to be false and arch and affected. Sometimes you want to put up that wall. Sometimes you want to be artificial.
That said, my favorite configuration is a sort of modified thrust ala Theater Off Jackson. I've just never fallen in love with in-the-round.
But, if you are building a new space: A nice big black box can always be fitted with a false-proscenium.

S.P. Miskowski

I agree with what Scot said regarding playwrights starting college, or returning for a master's degree. I would never advise them to go for a writing degree, and I can say that with authority because I have an MFA. In my program we had to study design, acting and directing, and we had to stage manage. So it wasn't too limiting, but I regret spending so much time talking about scripts.

Etta created such a brilliant set for my play The Red Room. (The production was directed by Leslie Swackhamer.) In the early production meetings Etta asked about inspirations for the play and I showed her a book about Francis Bacon with several paintings I loved. They were quite horrific. Etta seemed delighted with them. Weeks later I saw the set, with its dirt floor upstage and a dentist's chair where the sisters strapped in their male victims, and--best of all--hanging sheets of plastic that reflected the faces of the actors when they approached. Their faces were distorted so that they looked very much like the Francis Bacon paintings. Wonderful!

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Etta’s set is innovative.

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