Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Designing Sound for Into the Woods

By Robert Dagit, Sound Designer, Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Photo by Jon Gardiner

If a bookcase falls in the theatre, do we hear it?

34,237 feet of Microphone Cable, 516 Sound Cues, 80 Board Scenes, 51 Speakers, 34 Amps, 19 Actors, 6 Musicians, 2 Keyboards, and 1 Mixing Console…. Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

This will be the third time I’ve worked for Into the Woods. As with all shows, it starts with the question of “what is the story that this production wants to tell?” It was very early on that we decided that we wanted a more intimate and in some ways exposed show. While most productions emphasize the big and the fun that a musical naturally embodies, we wanted to emphasize the realness of these make believe characters.

Garrett Long as the Baker's Wife. Photo by Jon Gardiner

Luckily for Playmakers Repertory Company, we have Mark Hartman working again on this show as Music Supervisor. He has worked with us on Cabaret and Assassins. It was in discussions with him that we talked about having a smaller orchestra very early in the process to help emphasize the intimacy of the music. Personally, I love this condensed orchestra as every part is almost a solo and shines it it’s own unique way.

After the first meetings: there’s a partial split on the design process with Sound Designers. On the one side there’s the engineering aspect of the system and on the other is the sound effects side.

On the Engineering side, there’s a large amount of system setup that’s done to ensure the best sound for every seat in the house given the equipment available. This includes charting out speaker placement, amp matching, dispersion angles, and timing the system out for the space. In addition, there’s mapping out the thousands of feet of cable, charting out the stage box hookup locations, and the very tricky wireless. The wireless was made a bit more of a challenge as there’s not only the 22 channels used in Woods which presents its own challenge, but also an additional 20 channels of mixed frequency in the Kenan theatre for Johnny Johnson that must stay clear with each other during the run that must be coordinated.

Lisa Brescia as the Witch and the Ensemble. Photo by Jon Gardiner

On the Sound effects side, one of the key elements I wanted to read was the realness of the Giant. In most productions, the Giant is looked as an evil force coming into the world and is often played in a comic or stereotypical light. While she does possess the destructive force of a tank, she’s not destroying the neighborhood without reason. She befriended Jack (Jorge Donoso) who paid her back by killing her Husband at the end of Act 1. We’re very lucky to have Kathy Williams to volunteer her voice for the Giant. I’m hoping that while the giant does give a destructive presence, the choices we made on vocalization does help emphasize the fact that she is not an evil force by nature.

L to R: Garrett Long as the Baker's Wife, Jessica Sorgi as Red Ridinghood, Jeffrey Meanza as the Baker, Lenore Field as Cinderella's Stepmother, Katy Castaldi as Lucinda, and David Adamson as Cinderella's Father. Photo by Jon Gardiner

Given I’ve already been asked a few times how the Giant's footstep was done: there’s a combination of design and engineer elements that come together to create her larger than life walk. First, putting together the right combination of sound elements together for the cue itself. The footstep cue is a combination of a concert base drum, a sonic sweetener, a low frequency oscillator, and a few other parts to create a base sound effect. From that, a pitch shift was done to create four variations of footsteps as our footsteps naturally change pitch slightly with every step. For playback, the main system subs have been re-tuned for use for this show and Midsummer’s. In addition, an extra sub was installed below the center deck just south of the trap. Once the Giant comes into close quarters, the deck vibrates with each step. While testing the sub, it was interesting to find that the deck vibrates in different areas depending on the specific frequency played through the sub.

If you haven’t gone and seen it already, hurry up and buy your tickets for Into the Woods. It’s an intelligent and complex version of the show, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Becoming the Witch in Into the Woods

By Lisa Brescia, The Witch, Into the Woods

After appearing as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at PlayMakers, I was eager to return to work with Joe Haj again, as he is one of the finest directors I’ve ever worked with. When he invited me to come back and play the Witch in Into the Woods, I felt excited to collaborate with him again.

Photo by Jenny Graham
The chance to play two sides of the same character was very intriguing to me. Before her transformation in Into the Woods (spoiler alert here), the Witch is a decrepit, old crone with supernatural powers who was robbed of her youth and beauty due to someone else’s deceit and thievery. Like all fairy tale characters, she has a wish. She longs for her former body back, and sets in motion the plot which can grant her wish. But, like all wishes which come true, these things can sometimes backfire. Sondheim and Lapine have written a brilliant show which asks the question: is there really “happily ever after?” And at what cost?

Photo by Jon Gardiner
The costume and mask/wig designers deserve a standing ovation for their work on the Witch (along with every other character in the show). Looking at my reflection before making my first entrance in Into the Woods, I no longer see Lisa at all…the image looking back at me makes me laugh, and breaks my heart, which is exactly where I like to live most as an artist.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Working with Puppets

By Donovan Zimmerman, Puppeteer, Into the Woods

Here is Milky White at my studio in Saxapahaw in early stages. I started with the sculpting of the head over a clay mold then papier mache’. While the mache’ dried I wove reeds into a body shape to later be wrapped in cloth.

I wanted to make her look under fed and somewhat woebegone so I made rib and hip shapes more pronounced.

Later, I added eyelashes, paint and other details to bring Milky to life.

This is the Chicken that lays the golden egg nearing completion at my studio.The body is a a stuffed cloth shape then covered in feathers. The head is newspaper and tape with cloth attached to a stick which the Jack controls. The beak is made of leather and the eye is glass to give it a reflective quality. It later got a pupil to help it look more life like as well.

The crows came together from pieces shown here. Head, wings, feet all made separately then attached with a mixture of sewing and gluing. This is a view of the slightly chaotic and very messy business o puppet making.

Donovan working with the Black Bird Puppet

To see more of Donovan's work, check out Paperhand Puppet Intervention.

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream at PlayMakers thru December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PlayMakers adds Nov. 29 performance of ‘Into the Woods’

Photo by Jon Gardiner

PlayMakers Repertory Company announces that due to popular demand the theater has added a holiday performance to the schedule of its hit production “Into the Woods.” The Thanksgiving Weekend performance will be on Saturday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

The Stephen Sondheim musical has received audience and critical acclaim calling the PlayMakers’ production “oh-so-right” “outshines the original” (The News & Observer), “fantastical, fabulous and foreboding fun” (Triangle Arts & Entertainment), “a wonder” (The Daily Tar Heel) and “in a word, enchanting” (The Five Points Star).

Into the Woods” is a multiple Tony Award-winning musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The show was originally directed on Broadway by James Lapine with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.

Beginning with a childless couple, a witch and a curse, “Into the Woods” reveals the shadow side of classic fairytales by the Brothers Grimm in a funny and poignant exploration of the wishes we make, and what happens when they really do come true.

Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj directs. He has directed some of PlayMakers’ most popular entertainments including musicals “Cabaret” and “Big River.”

Into the Woods” is presented through Dec. 7 in rotating repertory with William Shakespeare’s beloved romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Tickets are still available to both shows individually or as part of PlayMakers’ 2014/15 subscription packages. For a complete schedule, more information and to purchase tickets, call the PlayMakers Box Office at (919) 962-PLAY (7529) or visit www.playmakersrep.org.

Performances are in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Department for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road, Chapel Hill. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vegetation Creation for the Witch in "Into the Woods": Part 2

By Rachel E. Pollock, Costume Crafts Artisan, PlayMakers Repertory Company

Today I'm talking about vegetation, part two! Recall from my last post that we're working on Into the Woods, and that our Witch's first look is quite vegetable-covered, which has meant a lot of fascinating craft projects for me and my two colleagues on Team Witch, Denise Chukhina and Sam Kate Toney.

For reference, the design rendering by designer Bill Brewer. Note the beans and the fiddleheads on her!

Here's a close-up research image of the type of fern we're trying to replicate for the costume.

Sam Kate took millinery wire and various silk flowers which might be made to look like the fiddlehead. She zigged the wire down the center of the leaves...

...and then spiraled them up! Each fiddlehead has a triangular wire base so that we can stitch it to the gown and control its orientation with respect to the silhouette of the costume.

And here's our pile of magic beans! These are just segments of Mardi Gras parade throws, merrowed up into bits of synthetic fabric and blasted with a heat gun to shrivel them up all natural-looking.

To hear more from Rachel, check out her blog labricoleuse.livejournal.com

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream at PlayMakers thru December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Vegetation Creation for the Witch in "Into the Woods": Part 1

By Rachel E. Pollock, Costume Crafts Artisan, PlayMakers Repertory Company
Rachel E. Pollock

We're currently in production on our repertory shows this year, Into the Woods and Midsummer Night's Dream. Today, I've got a behind-the-scene peek into one of the many cool special effects we're doing in the costume crafts world to create these two huge, magical shows.

Our costume designer for Into the Woods is Bill Brewer, of UNC-School of the Arts. I've been aware of Bill's work for years and met him many times at conferences and symposia, but we'd never worked together. Really excited to have the chance on this great show!

For his concept of the Witch's first costume, he envisioned a dress covered with actual vegetation from her garden, in which Jack's magic beans grow.

Costume design rendering by Bill Brewer

See those cabbages and twigs? That's what today's entry is about! Basically, we're casting them in latex.

Here you see draper and craftsperson Denise Dietrich working on casts of several leaves. Our makeup designer, Caitlin Molloy, cast three actual leaves for us--a collard and two cabbages! We tint the liquid latex with acrylic paints, brush it into the molds in layers. We put in a layer of tulle for stability between coats 3 and 4, and when we peel them out, they look like real vegetable leaves! Then Denise can place them on the garment.

A collard cast ready for demolding. See the rectangle of white tulle in it?

We're also making the twiggy trim along her skirt hem from latex. We paint it out in layers onto these ceramic tiles, then roll it up around strips of muslin into sticklike forms like you see above.

Pretty cool, eh?

To hear more from Rachel, check out her blog labricoleuse.livejournal.com

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream at PlayMakers thru December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bill Brewer's Sketches for "Into the Woods"

Here are a few more of Bill's sketches for Into the Woods.

The Baker's Wife


The Baker's Wife

Beautiful Witch


Mysterious Man


Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream at PlayMakers thru December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bill Brewer on Designing Costumes for "Into the Woods"

By Bill Brewer, Costume Designer, Into the Woods 

We all know the fairytales we grew up with. Cinderella and Prince Charming, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Sondheim and Lapine have challenged everything we think we know about these fairytales. Into The Woods gives us a happily ever after that isn’t. I wanted to find a way for the characters to move beyond their iconography and become relatable as human beings.

The Wolf
I grew up with these tales during the 1950’s, an idyllic respite in the American story. It was a time between wars and a time when the American Dream reigned supreme. Everyone wanted the perfect life and family; a fairytale existence was yours for the taking if you worked hard and lived right. However history tells us that idealism was short lived. 

The Witch
Viewing the characters through a 1950’s lens allows us a relationship not offered with the removed “once upon a time” approach. In my mind, the woods represent the world; it can be a scary place once we leave the safety of our homes. The world can also be full of adventure! But adventure involves risk and the potential of life altering events. Once we experience the world our lives may never be the same but it is a risk most of us are willing to take.

Red Riding Hood
Want to see more of Bill's sketches? Check back in later this week!

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream at PlayMakers thru December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Scenic Design for the Rep

Marion Williams at work. Photo by Laura Pates.

Marion Williams is the scenic designer for Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream. She was last at PlayMakers for Cabaret, when she brought 1930's Berlin and The Kit Kat Klub to life. For the Rep, Marion was tasked with creating designs that captured director Joe Haj's vision for Into the Woods and director Shana Cooper's vision for A Midsummer Night's Dream. These have been brought together in designs that mix forest and library, and will captures the sense of imagination that permeates these productions.

Here are a few of Marion's design models for the Rep:

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night's Dream at PlayMakers November 1 - December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.