Category Archives: Design Stuff

My design work for theatre and other venues

Starting the new year.

Another revolution around the sun, which for Euro centric countries, focusses on January 1st. While of course any day that you see something you want to change change it. I am focusing on doing something creative everyday. On new year’s I started a painters elevation for James & the Giant Peach. Instagram pic:


A post shared by Owen Collins (@owenscenic) on

That is this year, checking a box for every day I am doing something creative. Not focussing on the hashtags or the likes. but just putting the work down on paper or pixels. I will eventually gather this somehow together. Ugh. That probably means tagging them somehow.

A look into my Daily Practice

I began this year with a resolution. I usually don’t do New Years resolutions. I believe that if you want to change something, you should just do it and not wait for a certain date to begin.

But this year I began with a goal, one that have not been able to keep up with. But the goal was to draw every day. I kept up with it for a week. Once I started up on campus, my daily sketch dropped away.

But I have been trying to weave daily practice back into my routine. There are two of them below.



I think drawing is an important part of looking at the world around you. And the only way to improve a skill is to use it constantly. And drawing is a skill I want to get better at. Lately I have been drawing with a pen rather than a pencil. I do this to break out of the usual habits. I usually sketch in pencil. But that always looks the same. How do I change that? How do I come to the same page with fresh eyes? My answer is using a different tool. It has been a change too. Not being able to erase, having a limited range value to draw with has made me think more before setting the pen to the page. Which is good.

Now the hard part is to keep doing it everyday.

Thinking about Theater in Terms of Negotiated Agency

As I was skimming thru the Internet I came across this blog post and thought it was very interesting. Of course because of who I am, I looked at what she was saying thru the lens of theater. It is by Nina Simon, who runs the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

She quotes the creator of Sim City who said: “Game players have a negotiated agency that is determined by how the game is designed.”  The term negotiated agency means a set of rules that decides how much freedom of choice they have to engage the game. Which immediately brought to mind the idea of theatrical conventions and the ‘rules of the game’ for theater performances. She goes on to say:

In other words, the more constrained the game environment, the less agency the player has. The more open, the more agency. Think about the difference between Pacman and Grand Theft Auto. Both games have a “gamespace” in which they are played. Both games have rules. But Grand Theft Auto invites the player to determine their own way of using the space and engaging with the rules. The player’s agency is not total, but it is significant.

A lot of games now give a lot of leeway or freedom for the player (audience of the game) to choose their way. As a result, younger generations are expecting a different set of rules to engage experiences. This is also reinforced by the rest of the world people are living in now. Think about the entertainment options that are available now as opposed to the 30-some years ago. By that I mean the younger generations have had a lot more interactive experiences on the web actively choosing and searching for their entertainment, as opposed to having the 4 broadcast TV channels I grew up with. There is a different attitude, of being connected to friends thru social networks and sharing their real life experiences with the online community. All of that contributes to younger generations expecting a different way of interacting with the world. Makers of theater today have to understand this when creating work. If you want to engage a diverse audience, this includes younger members, how can you revisit traditional notions of negotiated agency(conventions of theater) to spark the interest of that younger audience? Can that new negotiated agency create a form of theater that would be different than other entertainment? And would that form of theater bring in an audience that can get a passive audience experience through other modes of entertainment? Time will tell. Or perhaps I need to get out there and make something like that…

Newly Printing

I got a new 3d Printer recently, and looking back it was really time. I bought the Makerbot in April of 2009. Thinking the average lifespan of a computer is 4-6 years, it shouldn’t be too far off to have a 3d printer be a 4 year lifespan. It basically is a blend of computing and mechanics. And lately the Makerbot has been out of commission more than it has been printing.

The new machine is by Afinia and it was rated by Make Magazine as one of the most reliable and a great initial user experience. I have to agree with them. Everything was just like it said in the user manual, easy and straightforward.


It has been easy to print multiple pieces. The picture above is a copy of a sculpture of the face of Alexander the Great. Only a couple more pieces to print and then I will be trying to give it a faux finish and patina more like the original.

Fun times again!

Mary Zimmerman

I was looking for a copy of the script for Mary Zimmerman’s The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. I am looking for a script for a project next year. I was bummed to find out that she isn’t releasing the script for publication, and by extension performance.

Just a few years ago, Zimmerman would probably have said that she didn’t really write scripts so much as sculpt productions with a particular group of actors.

“I think when we first started out as kids just out of Northwestern, it was unthinkable on an emotional level for us to consider replacing cast members,” Zimmerman said.

But after “Metamorphoses” went all the way from Lookingglass to Broadway in 2001, Zimmerman began to see that actors could replace other actors and other directors could bring their own take to her adaptations.

Zimmerman says there will always be one exception: “The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci.” “I won’t publish that piece,” she said. “It still feels like all of its meaning came from that particular staging.”

I can totally respect that position, I was privileged to see it on stage at the Seattle Repertory theater in 1997. It was a beautiful production. I have found a picture from it and included it at the top of this post.

There was another bit from the same interview really struck me:

“Great love springs from great knowledge.”

That is brief quote from an interview of Mary Zimmerman by Bill Moyers.

It stems from Ms. Zimmerman talking about how a love for something grows out of learning about it. That the striving to learn more about a subject increases the love of the subject. I really find this true. For parenting, my work in theater, in so many ways. That the more I know about something, the more I appreciate it, love it and want to learn even more about it. It just resonates.

Brian Eno: The Revenge of the Intuitive

Brian Eno wrote a great piece for Wired magazine. In it he discusses the use of technology in the creation of art.

The limitations of a certain piece of technology or of a certain medium is not bad, just its signature. He points to the Marshall Amp and how it leads to distortion of the audio signal. In my hands it would sound awful, in Jimi Hendrix’s it is way better. Here is one paragraph I love:

Since so much of our experience is mediated in some way or another, we have deep sensitivities to the signatures of different media. Artists play with these sensitivities, digesting the new and shifting the old. In the end, the characteristic forms of a tools or mediums distortion, of its weakness and limitations, become sources of emotional meaning and intimacy.

Of course as a Theater professor I relate this to Theater, and it really resonates. the role of the artist is to make art out of the new and old, and to bring an emotional meaning to your work.

Luis Valdez, USITT and Theater

Luis Valdez, founder of El Teatro Campesino (The Farm Workers Theater), who has been called “the founder of modern Chicano theatre and film”, gave the USITT Keynote this year at the conference in Long Beach. At first I thought it was concerned it might be another “you guys are great talk” from a director/actor. At the 50th anniversary of USITT, the keynote speaker was Suzanne Summers. And perhaps at this time i should clarify that USITT stands for United States Institute for Theatre Technology. So the room is a group of designers and technicians. Of course the majority of us, I hope, consider ourselves theater people/storytellers that tell stories using technological elements. Suzanne Summers’ speech was just rehashing “you guys are so great and I don’t know how any of that stuff works” over and over again. I would rather hear some inspiring talk about theater or a personal connection to art, than someone onstage flipping her hair back and saying “oh my god I am so glad you do that to I don’t have to.”

In Mr. Valdez’s beginning comments he said “You’re the other half of theater”, which could be seen as inclusionary, but we are still the ‘other’ which didn’t sit well with me. But as he continued, he told about his connection to art, theater and how he began his work with Teatro Campesino. And proved to be a very engaging and inspiring speaker.

Theater, he said, “is what goes on in the audience, not on stage.” That the act of theater was the journey the audience takes with their imagination during the performance, and that the work of everyone leads up to that. That is his essential idea about theater, that is this a collaboration between the audience and the storytellers. Theater, to Mr. Valdez, is a balance between the masculine and the feminine, the rational and the intuitive. He referred to it as “his search engine” that theater was what he used to explore life, its contradictions, foibles, and issues. It also is what he uses to articulate his thoughts about life as well.

His speech was totally engaging, with his story about beginning as a child of migrant workers. He was introduced to theater when his grade school teacher took his paper lunch bag, that he had to bring home to bring tomorrow’s lunch in, and ripped it up. He didn’t understand why she would do that. then she showed him how she was paper macheing a mask for the school play. He helped with the paper mache and also got cast in the show. Then his family left town to work somewhere else before it opened. His 30 days at that one grade school, and the one teacher, changed the course of his life forever.

He referred to a term tele-dramatics, it is his way of trying to encapsulate the intersection of theater, film, tv, and Internet video. That they are all aspects of the same impulse. Whether performed live or recored and played back thru various media it is all part of the same continuum of storytelling. And that in order to train in one you must be preparing students in the others. Because the students of today at not going to do just one thing. Look at the Pina Bausch film. It is a beautiful intersection of theater dance and film. I wish I could have seen it in 3d, Valdez, must have seen it in 3d. He saw a future for theater works in 3d film. When 3d is no longer a gimmick and creating a world to be a part of, can it begin to replicate the theater experience? By necessity and theater experience without community but a theater experience nonetheless. But would it give further life to the creations on a stage? That is definitely something to pursue, both as a way to further document the ephemera but also as a way to train our students in other media. Mr. Valdez paraphrased Lope de Vega saying “Give me a plank and a passion and I give you a play.” I wonder what Lope de Vega would say now, would it be: “give me a camera and a passion and I’ll give you a play.” It is hard to imagine what theater and performance will be like when my kids are grown up. The nature of what theater is is changing, and you don’t’ feel that more than in LA/Long Beach. TV and Film are present and vibrant in the culture. That’s what people are talking about. Theater trains you how to tell a story, but it can’t just stay the same.

I feel I have to end as Mr Valdez did “To whom does the future belong? To those who can imagine it.”

The Power of Theater

I’ve seen this shared from a couple of people over the past weeks. Below a scenic artist shared it on her blog.

Yesterday a friend shared the performance report from the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. I had been having a pretty rough day, and this account of the performance changed my entire attitude. I was awe-struck.

If you can't read the above text, here's what it says:

It was generally agreed by all that the show was “kind of rough” (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show – at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up – he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon.

This. This. This is why art matters. Art reaches into those hidden places places inside of us. Art speaks in a language that doesn't even have words. Art touches the unknowable. Art inspires dialog. Art creates something, when at times people thought there was nothing at all.

via How’s Robb?: The Power of Art (This will make you cry, unless you have a heart of stone.).

It is a truly amazing story. I hope that what I do can touch people and make meaningful change happen.