CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 23, 2016

Roots and All

TheaterJones: If you saw Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Texas Christian University in June, and Lyric Stage’s full-orchestra revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot at the Irving Arts Center in September, you might have noticed a major similarity in their set design: a visually stunning tree with myriad roots and branches twisting in every direction.

It was, in fact, the same tree in both productions, designed by busy designer Bob Lavallee, the scenic designer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is made with a wood structure with different sizes of Sonotube, a form for concrete, used for the coiling effect around the roots, trunk and branches.


Lia Jennings said...

This is always hot topic when designs look very similar and sometimes the same. What each person designs is wholeheartedly theirs and if someone takes what they have made and uses it for something else there should be compensation and a conversation about it. No one has the right to copy someone else’s work. It is like plagiarism, so why do it? It just brings about a heap of trouble and heartache. And a lot of money is wasted. It just sickens me when people think they have the right to take from others. Now from this article it seems that there was just a lot of miscommunication but I would think that they would have some sort of contract written up to talk about what they are using because of this sort of reason. It just seems lazy to lend out your work and to borrow from someone else without making it very clear what you are lending to them.

Rebecca Meckler said...

People always need to be careful when using someone else's work, regardless of the medium. However, the line between what is original and what is someone else's idea is more easily blurred in regards to design and art than in other fields. In literature and writing, a person can check back to who wrote the article first or cite the source in a proper fashion. But, in theater people need to be even more careful to avoid situations like this. The Irving Art Center probably believed that they were doing nothing wrong; they asked and received for permission as well as referencing the original designer in the playbill. However, Bob Lavallee believed that his work was stolen from him and that the Irving Center for the Arts was taking advantage of his work. I can’t say who is right, but the issue brings up a dilemma. We need to understand where using with permission becomes taking advantage and where good intention borrowing becomes stealing. In general, I think people should always try to credit and ask permission to avoid these types of problems because everyone leaves believing the other was wrong. When everyone leaves mad, it hurts everyone because people become more closed off when sharing ideas which prevents people from growing as artists.

Jamie Phanekham said...

GUESS WHAT EVERYONE- I worked on THIS SHOW this summer as a paint/scenic intern and low and behold, I helped build this tree and painting the rest of the set! So much hard work went into building the tree by the TD mentioned in the article, Phil Zielke, Will Turbyne and many others. It took an incredible amount of design work and ingenuity to make a massive steel and wooden tree look both magical and be able to be climbed upon and underneath. So the fact that Lyric has taken Lavalee's design with improper credit needs to be amended by Lyric.
I remember the day before strike, I learned that Lyric had bought the set. I asked the ATD how the credit would work, and he stated that the credit would go to Bob. It was an incredible relief on the tired summer stock staff, and the environment to give the entire set to Lyric as opposed to throwing it away. However, to use the entirety of a set, only changing paint details without giving due credit is a disgrace to the designer. Especially if the designer credited isn't even a real person! Why go through using a pseudonym rather than simply giving credit where credit is due. In this circumstance its not about the money- I'm sure Trinity was properly compensated. It's not taking credit for someone else's work. And as someone who really knows these people- they should get credit!

Jasmine Lesane said...

I’m a bit confused about how this is getting press since at the end of this article Lavallee the original designer said that he doesn’t even want to be credited as the scenic designer for the pieces that ere taken because he doesn’t like the adjustments he made. So to that I’m like then what’s the deal dude? But at the same time it was wrong of Jones to not give credit where its due, it’s just that last comment makes me wonder if Lyric did ask Lavallee if he should cite it, and when Lavallee heard about the changes they were making he said no, only to change his mind once reviews were good. The use of a pseudonym throws a wrench into this theory because that DOES make it seem like a malicious attempt to hide who the real designer was.
My question is if they took the scenic design, and made changes that the original scenic designer didn’t like so much so that he didn’t WANT his name attached then what are they SUPPOSED to do? Jones shouldn’t have taken more of the set than was agreed to, but I don’t know what he SHOULD have done.

William Lowe said...

I think there is a major ethical issue which is brought up in this article, and I completely agree with the stance that Lavallee has taken. If the producer has taken on more than just that, it should be mentioned in the program. If the producer feels bad about the fact that they also pulled set-pieces from another company, then they shouldn’t do it at all. It is a greater issue that Jones tried to cover up what he did with a fake set-designer. I think the other issue here is how more was taken of Lavallee’s design than negotiated and credited. If more than just the tree was taken from his design then he should be credited with more than just designing the tree. I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about the tree being reused and I think that I’m completely ok with that, mainly because of Lavallee’s stance on the issue and how otherwise it would have just been trash and this gives the piece a new life, which I think is very cool. I think it would have been better if the tree was slightly altered so that it wasn’t identical, but I think that is far from the main purpose of this article and is honestly a very slight and minor thing.

Evan Smith said...

So is this the point in time where sharing scenery becomes confusing? You give a theatre flat to someone else and no one bats an eye to perhaps say a thank you in the program to whomever donated time or in this case scenery to a particular show. A tree on the other hand. That’s a little more recognizable than a flat. Flats can be built however you want, but they are usually a standard size. A tree that was given with the stipulation that the designer be mentioned, and there is complete disregard for someone else’s work just spells trouble. Also I guess being aware of your own pseudonym for the designer that was used years ago is still a way of giving credit, just not in the way you’d expect. To try to go behind someone’s back is a cruel nature of doing things, especially without the permissions. If it were me, I would give credit where it is due, because I know I wasn’t the one that built that tree.