Associate Professor Leonard Curtis Shares Thoughts on Monday's Urinetown Activities

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Although I derive great satisfaction from designing for the department’s main stage season, I also love to experience the process from the safe and relatively objective perspective of a spectator.  This has been the case with our production of Urinetown, directed by Jay Edelnant, designed by Mark Parrott, Carol Colburn, and Pip Gordon, for I have no official role on the production team (Additional members of this stellar team are Music Director Joel Waggoner and Choreographer Daniel Wells.).  This situation has allowed me to float from studio to studio, helping with scenery construction, props, and paint, contributing assistance where needed and taking opportunities to work with our students in a more relaxing way than that of a supervising designer.  Thus, my production experience in this situation more closely resembles that of a student volunteer from Theatrical Arts and Society.  It is one where I get to help out and learn and observe the growth of a production with wonderment and admiration, without the endless decision-making required for the realization of a design in “the big house”, the Strayer-Wood Theatre.  It is very useful to step back occasionally and experience this process from a student view-point. 

Two additional pleasures attend my sideline participation in Urinetown:  working for the first time with Chris Winneman (Associate Lighting Designer), and working again with my good friend Pip Gordon (Lighting Designer).  I first met Pip at the University of Iowa during the fall semester of 1987.  We were both graduate students in Theatre Arts, she with a crusading vision of what extraordinary theatre should and can be (not much has changed there!), me a jaded and skeptical dropout from Florida State University’s MFA program.  From our work together at University Theatres, including a couple of great summers with Eric Forsythe’s Iowa Summer Repertory Theatre, then to her outstanding teaching at Grinnell College and lighting design work at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, she has returned to Iowa to serve as the Director of the Orpheum Theater Center in Marshalltown, Iowa.  Lucky Marshalltown!  Lucky us!  As I write this, she and Chris are in the South Lobby of the Strayer-Wood Theatre writing cues for Urinetown.  I wish all of our audiences could have watched the show that took place in the Strayer-Wood Theatre on Saturday.  Beginning at 9:00am, Pip, Chris, Master Electrician Tony Lempares, and a large crew of Iowa Valley Community College students (Marshalltown) and UNI students worked persistently and diligently to focus the more than 250 fixtures that make up the Urinetown plot (This is a large hang for the SWT, facilitated in part by the participation of two college programs, the first in a hopefully long ongoing collaboration with Iowa Valley Community College.).  They finished the work on Sunday afternoon.  I watched a little bit of Pip’s initial playing with groups of fixtures producing specific color washes and patterns.  There are some exciting looks and I look forward to seeing her work come together with the work of the other designers and the directors and actors in the next two weeks.

Designer Mark Parrott, his assistant Alex Westrum, a TAS student named Jody and myself began the process of applying the final paint treatment on Friday night so that “Team Lighting” (i.e. Pip and crew) would have a homogenous paint value upon which to begin the focus on Saturday.  Today Ron engineered the moving of the piano from the floor to a platform 10 feet above the stage floor, and Props Master Allison Smith, put some finishing touches on more of the colorful props used in this production.  So far, my experiences have been limited to activities in the scenery studio and onstage, but today I checked out the costume studio and guess what?  Things are humming down there as well! More to come later…

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