A season of sets

Set design is a many splendid thing. If you noticed this season at BAT the sets got 21920413675_373b246512_k 21920412265_d0ef5dd2a2_k 21733541359_04d7df8a0a_kprogressively smaller. This was, I suppose, planned in that the shows got progressively smaller.

Set design follows the needs of the show. But within the confides of the number of exits needed (exits are the location where the acts come on and off stage), and the number of locations where the show takes place, there is much room for creativity.

Each set designer brings his or her own vision to the show. This is part of why no two productions of the same show look alike.

This season, BAT’s resident set designer, Albie Clamenti, designed the first thee sets of the season; The Addams Family the Musical, Christmas Twist, and In the Next Room or the vibrator play. Maggie Larrick, BAT’s own 23375783936_f65dee903c_kmanaging director, designed the set for BAT’s final show of the season, The Letters. Over the course of the season, I got a chance to talk to both about how they design.

Each designer starts by reading the script and getting their vision of what the show needs and how they see each location in the show. For a period piece, that is one set in a 23106347100_f6b158d27f_kspecific time, research is done to see what that time and place looked like. For The Addams Family, time was spent watching old television shows. Even though The Addams Family was not located in the TV house, we still wanted the “Addams” feel.

Set designers try to bring the audience into the show. While theater can, and sometimes, is done without a set, the set’s role is to enhance the theater goer’s experience. Over time, I have discovered it is the little things, often barely noticed that distinguishes a great set from an adequate set. For example, snow on the windows in the winter; plugging the vibrators into to the light sconce because in 1889 there were no wall outlets; or getting the wall treatment to look like it would have at that time.25201768576_a0c5d82ade_k 25228052395_137d277d11_k

Of course, key to any set design is to come in within budget. At BAT our budgets are small. What you see has much more to do with the creativity of the designers than money. One key way to keep the budget low is to use stock pieces as much as possible. Re-use, recycle is the way of good design. If you have been watching closely, some set pieces have been in every show. They are repainted and altered as needed.

Albie told me a story of another designer who was saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice to build everything new for every show?” Of course not. There is not enough time or money in the budget to build new. To Albie and Maggie that designer’s comment was a 25201773386_ae251e9112_zsign that the designer did not fully understand the needs of small theater.

Some sets are huge. The Addams Family spanned the entire front wall of the theater. While The Letters takes up less than the full proscenium. While A Christmas Twist used the stage to create a number of locations, The Letters put the set off to one side of the stage to let the audience know something was off center in the show. Location and design help take you to new places.

Once the set is designed, the design is presented to the director for approval. The set is to 25709779083_2dd3dde520_ksupport the directors vision of the show, after all. Sometimes the set designer brings detailed drawings. At BAT, Sketchup seems to be the drawing program of choice. But at times, the drawings as still by hand on paper, on occasionally the drawings are on one of BAT’s chalkboards.

Once the director signs off on the design, it is shown the the actors, so they can get an idea of the world the will be living in while on stage.

Looking at the season’s sets, which one(s) do you like the best? Which one help move the story forward the best?

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The Letters is a play for our time

An except of an interview with John W. Lowell:

BK: Why do you think a play about 1930’s Russia is still relevant to today?Letters-web-art

John W. Lowell: For one simple, disturbing reason: they did stuff like that; we still do stuff like that. the young sailor who’s in prison, Bradley Manning, is going
to become an unperson because he provided the material for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. For the rest of his life he will be behind bars because he shared information that may or may not have been “classified.” But what I find incredibly troubling is that he has no recourse. There will be no public trial; there will be no chance to have his day in court. And then there is Guantanamo Bay, filled with unpeople. In short, though, The Letters takes place in the soviet union, it is not about the soviet union. It is about what happened this morning and what may happen tomorrow.

This is definitely a show to see – Get your tickets now!

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The Letters – Artistic Director’s note

The Letters is about a time, much like our own. Then, as now, history was being edited toLetters-web-art fit a new narrative.

But this is not a story about great world events. It is a story about two people and the power each has, or does not have, over the other, as the world around them shifts in ways they cannot control.

I am reminded of the end of Casablanca, “[I]t doesn’t take much to see that the problems of [two] little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Yet the universal struggle of those little people gives us a glimpse into their time and into what makes us human in a world on verge of cataclysmic change.

The Letters is set in 1931 Russia, in the days leading up the Great Purge or the Great Terror: a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938. The paranoia that would scar the Russian psyche had already taken root in the Ministry where Anna Borisovna and the Director work.

The Letters would be little more than letters on a page but for the hard work of the director, actors, designers, crew, and volunteers that shared their skills with us. Thanks to all of them, and thanks to everyone in the audience for sharing in this thriller with BAT.


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It’s a show

There is a time in every production when, despite the amount of work left to be done, the Letters-web-artsolid feeling among the designers that this is a show and it has, or will very soon, come together. In some shows, that feeling does not occur until sometime during tech week, With The Letters that feeling occurred last night.

There still is a lot to do, but from now on it is cosmetic. BAT is happy The Letters will go on, and it will be a very good show. It is very good feeling when that moment of knowing it has all come together occurs, maybe even a little better because this is last show of the 2015-16 season. There is no reason to wait getting your ticket, HERE. You will be entertained!

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Allan plays The Letters

Letters-web-artBAT has had the joy of working with Allan Loucks, a composer extraordinaire. If you have been coming to BAT shows, you have heard Allan’s work. For The Letters Allan in back. Not only did he compose and record the incidental music for The Letters.  (including a chorus), but Allan and a IMG_0673drummer are playing the pre-show and intermission music live. (A feat they have done for other shows at BAT.)

This time they will be playing back stage with this view.

BAT first meet Allan when he composed a full score for Dracula. A show BAT produced in 2007. Since, Allan has scored and composed music for many shows at BAT. Allan also wrote BAT’s musical logo

To say Allan is talented is an enormous understatement. BAT is pleased to work with Allan again on The Letters. He is longtime member of the BAT family.

Come hear Allan’s work. Get your tickets to The Letters HERE.

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The Letters – Press Release

Psychological thriller The Letters

creates suspense at Burien Actors Theatre

(March 30, 2016 – Burien, WA) – Burien Actors Theatre’s next production, the psychological thriller The Letters, performs April 8 through May 1.Letters-web-art

The Burien Actors Theatre production features live music performed pre-show and at intermission, specialty drinks themed to the show and free on-site parking, plus an opening night party.


In The Letters, written by John W. Lowell, a Ministry Director calls Anna, a bureaucrat, into his office for a meeting. It is 1931 in the Soviet Union and things aren’t what they seem. The interview becomes a suspenseful game of cat and mouse in which being the last to flinch may mean the difference between life and death. Based on Soviet efforts to edit composer Tchaikovsky’s letters, this taut thriller is a vivid slice of paranoid life under Stalin.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at Burien Actors Theatre, 14501 4th Ave. S.W. in Burien.

Ticket prices range from $7 to $20. Student tickets are just $10. For tickets, special deals or other information, go to www.burienactorstheatre.org or call 206-242-5180.

The Letters is sponsored by the City of Burien, 4Culture and the Mark Restaurant & Bar.


Beau M.K. Prichard is directing a talented cast, together with assistant director Barbara Cawley: Devin Rodger (Anna) and Michael Mendonsa (Director). Incidental music was composed specifically for this production by Allan Loucks and performed by The Crown Hill Chorale under Loucks’ direction. Designers for the show are: Maggie Larrick, set; Craig Orsinger, lighting; Cyndi Baumgardner, props; Helen Roundhill, costume; and Tony Cochran, sound. Live music will be performed preshow by Allan Loucks and Dan Seese.

Photographs and Cast Bios available upon request; please contact Maggie Larrick at 206-949-9554. Continue reading

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A Play Can Change Meaning Even While Its Words Don’t

BAT is blessed to work with so many talented people. BAT’s actors, directors, designers, running crews and volunteers are all so amazing, at times it takes my breath away. Occasionally, BAT also works with a writer who is both a joy and very giving.

BAT does not focus solely on new works, but BAT does its share of works that are Pacific Northwest premiers. And every odd year, in the Spring, BAT holds a playwrights festival for works of Washington playwrights that have never been previously produced, the Bill and Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival. During the Festival, BAT produces four new works, two one-acts and two full-length plays, over the course of four weeks.

BAT’s next production, The Letters by John W. Lowell, is having its Northwest Letters-web-artPremier at BAT from April 8 through May 1. This is my favorite script of the season, and BAT has done some outstanding theater this season. This season was the best of better live theater.

John W. Lowell is one of those very special people, who is also a playwright. BAT often gets manuscripts from author’s agents. I read them all. Some of the scripts I read are has produced. Of those, very once in a great while, BAT gets to work with a writer who makes personal contact with BAT, and takes an active interest in the production. Not in the micromanaging the production way, but in the being there to help the production succeed. Such is John W. Lowell.

I love The Letters. One of the reasons I like the play, beyond its excellent writing, is that is speaks to the re-writing of history, that I see so often. We delete the parts of our history that don’t fit the current narrative.

For example, yesterday I was talking to a props with a exhibit designer/builder for the Smithsonian in Washington DC. The Smithsonian is preparing an exhibit about slavery in America. We were talking about the exhibit and its section on the use of slaves to grow rice in South Carolina. The amazing cruelty of slavery, and the board use of slavery has been written out of much of US history. And during an election year, many politicians’ past records on issues are re-written to fit a new narrative. And it goes on and on. So, I asked John W. Lowell what event was he thinking about when he wrote The Letters? He kindly sent me this: Continue reading

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The Letters

A review from the Chicago production of The Letters.Letters-web-art

A review from the San Francisco production of The Letters.

In The Letters, written by John W. Lowell, a Ministry Director calls Anna, a bureaucrat, into his office for a meeting. It is 1931 in the Soviet Union and things aren’t what they seem. The interview becomes a suspenseful game of cat and mouse in which being the last to flinch may mean the difference between life and death. Based on Soviet efforts to edit composer Tchaikovsky’s letters, this taut thriller is a vivid slice of paranoid life under Stalin.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at Burien Actors Theatre, 14501 4th Ave. S.W. in Burien.


Tickets at the Box Office:

                                    General          Senior             Student
All Shows:                   $20.00             $17.00             $10.00

OPENING NIGHT: Only on April 8, enjoy the opening night party after the show—included in the price of all tickets.

HALF-PRICE NIGHT: Only on April 9, all tickets are half price.

SEVEN DOLLAR SUNDAY: Only on April 10 all tickets are just $7!  Remember, Sunday is a matinee performance only.

Dinner and a Show Package: This package includes a two-course meal at Mark Restaurant & Bar plus a ticket to the show; cost is $35 per person. Contact the Mark at 206-241-6275.

Get your tickets to BAT’s production of The Letters HERE!

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A patron’s thoughts about In the Next Room, or the vibrator play

BAT is putting In the Next Room, or the vibrator play to bed. By every measure, it was Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.comvery successful.

Today we received the following email, that BAT is sharing, with permission:


Hi Maggie & Rochelle, Eric, and BAT,

Congratulations on your latest production, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, by Sarah Ruhl.

I was very taken with this play, a comic meditation on love, longing and electricity, taking place in the waning years of nineteenth century America.

In this era, the wondrous power of electric current has been newly harnessed and is now available in a variety of applications: from brightly  lighting rooms which had Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.compreviously known only flickering gas lamps, to providing medical relief to women (and men) suffering from symptoms of listlessness and “hysteria”. With the benefit of smug enlightenment, modern audiences may recognize that the latter ailment, in particular, was a common diagnosis applied to most any female behavior which did not fit acceptable cultural norms of the time. But that same enlightenment can be blinding, a means of safely distancing ourselves from the characters and their perspectives.

24601246933_2e48f6d155_z(1)The whole cast did a wonderful job of bridging that distance, of getting us to see their characters’ various searches for fulfillment as our own. (I’ve always thought of the term “period piece” as only a superficial description of a story’s setting, anyway: no matter where we go, we’re who we are.) The well-rounded ensemble includes Jessica Robins as Catherine Givens, an exuberant woman longing for love and expression in a world of Victorian restriction; and Wade Hicks as her husband, a rigorous man of science, who has found a means to make other people feel better but doesn’t know to emotionally connect with his own wife.

Electricity is an overt metaphor for modernity throughout the play: at one point Dr. Givens and Catherine literally debate the merits of direct vs. alternating current. (She prefers direct, as in “heart-to-heart”, while he sees alternating, with its implication of back-and-forth instability, as more relevant to her.) But the advancement that the characters might find bright and empowering isn’t just a technological one. Before the play is done, they are moved to be open and unshielded with one another, in every sense.

25201787076_abc8cac0ae_zWith its mature themes and subject matter, I can certainly imagine that this production matter was not to everyone’s taste…just as most works of theatre will not please everyone. But I can say, as a longtime theatergoer and patron, that I don’t need to experience theater that pleases everyone: in fact, it doesn’t even need to completely please me. Ideally, there will be some element of challenge, to my perspective, assumptions and viewpoint…some aspect of the art that pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to see the world a bit differently, even as I recognize some part of myself in the people on stage.

I came away from In the Next Room with those feelings; and that’s why I thought it was a great show.


25201807476_48a5dbd3d2_zThis email and these two reviews B-Town Blog and WestSide Weekly are emblemmatic of the reception the production received.

In the midst of wonderful support and glowing emails, BAT did receive one email saying the play had no real story line, and the author of the email “knew everything that was to happen within the first 10 ten minutes of the play.” This view was a true outlier.

Considering the angst BAT went through deciding where or not to have nudity on its main 24860430919_ffbba168aa_zstage, nudity never came up in any of the written comments BAT received. (BAT has had nudity in Burlesque shows and some late-night performances, but not during a main stage show, in a very long time.) The audience support for In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, just goes to show that BAT’s patrons deserve much credit and are the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to theater goers! BAT’s audiences rock!

Thank you to all of those who worked on In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, and all of the patrons who saw, and became part of the show! Without each and everyone of you, BAT would go dark forever. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!


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See theater and learn (in a good way)

These are pictures taken of parts of the In the Next Room, or the vibrator play set. GET TICKETS HERE. In one a IMG_0650table lamp is plugged into a sconce. In the other IMG_0651room a vibrator is plugged into a sconce. Why?

In the early days of  electrification, for example 1881, when In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is set, the drive to electrify was for lighting. It seems appliances were an after thought. There were sconces, for lights, but no wall sockets.

0ACAThis is a picture of the White House in about 1881. If you look closely you’ll notice that the table lamp is “plugged into” the chandelier. Yes, even the White House did not have wall sockets. Odd, when you think about it from 2016, where so much is plugged in. (Charging your phone right now?)

0ACJHere is a closeup of an appliance “plugged into” a sconce using the device advertised to the right.

0ACH A thought: if your sconce had only one light bulb, you might be able to plug in an appliance into where the light bulb would typically go, but you’d have to use the appliance in the dark. You’ll note that the adapter in this ad from 1882 solves that problem. It is an adapter that screws into a light socket and has a place for a light bulb and an appliance cord for say a table lamp, iron or vibrator. Necessity is the mother of invention.

One last picture.0AC1 Times have changed.


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