Friday, November 28, 2014

NBC's video on Peter Pan Live Set Design

Friday, November 14, 2014

See sketches for Derek McLane's Designs for NBC's PETER PAN LIVE

'Peter Pan Live!' Sketch: Neverland Map

AMERICAN THEATRE'S ARTICLE "Inside the Exploded Piano of Fiasco Theater’s ‘Into the Woods’"

From left, Patrick Mulryan, Emily Young and Alison Cimmet in Fiasco Theater's "Into the Woods" at the Old Globe (photo by Jim Cox)
Read the full article

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Emmy for Art Direction for the 2014 Oscars
Derek McLane, Production Designer
Joe Celli and Gloria Lamb, Art Directors

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Creating a 'Beautiful' World

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creating a 'Beautiful' World

Check out my interview in Lighting Sound America & Projection Lighting and Staging News!

Inside Theatre
Creating a 'Beautiful' world

The lively musical Beautiful captures the musical essence of Carole King while chronicling the life events and artistic evolution that led up to her landmark solo album,Tapestry. “She’s an amazing songwriter,” declares the show’s scenic designer Derek McLane. “Most of us are familiar with Tapestry and with the stuff that she wrote for other people, but we don’t associate [all of] it with her and don’t necessarily know that she wrote it. What surprised me when I first read it was that she wrote ‘The Loco-Motion.’”
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan MarcusFast Transitions, 50 Scenes
Beautiful is part of the recent wave of biographical modern musicals, including Jersey Boys and Motown, that only feature songs during performances and allow the book scenes to play out without spontaneous singing distracting from the exposition. Jessie Mueller has garnered acclaim for her portrayal of King, not only matching her vocals but convincing people that she is playing any keyboard she touches. (Conductor Jason Howland is actually performing in the pit and synchs up fluidly with her through the use of video monitoring.) McLane’s striking scenic work incorporates smooth, fast-paced transitions to keep the show charging forward through approximately 50 scenes.
The musical has many quick scene changes through numerous locations, from living spaces to musical spaces, dressed with backdrops and a minimal amount of props to give just enough information to show what is there. But an important element that hangs over everything are the two omnipresent, multi-story structures with catwalks stocked with vintage-looking analog recording equipment, framed in front of a wall of the soundproofing material found at music studios everywhere. This upstage area represents the musical world in which King, her husband Gerry Goffin, and their friends and songwriting competitors Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil immersed themselves in.
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus“They’re staggered, so that first structure that moves and opens and closes and slides back and forth is two stories,” explains McLane, “and then behind it are some other levels that don’t line up with the downstage levels, so it creates an illusion of three or four stories back there. They’re not stacked one on top of the other, they’re stack behind each other. It’s just the downstage one that opens and closes.”
“It’s really meant as a three-dimensional cyc, as a way of creating the world in which this music was created,” continues McLane. “It’s not really meant to be a recording studio, it’s really meant to be the world of the Brill Building at 1650 Broadway, which is a combination of music studios, offices, recording studios, practice rooms and executive’s offices. They were all crammed next to each other, and all that was inspired by a line that Carole King has quite early in the show where she’s with her mom in Brooklyn and says, ‘Ma, it’s just like a factory but they make songs.’ The inspiration for the set was try to imagine and make up a version of that factory where they make songs, because it’s not a real factory, of course. That image really appealed to me.”
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan MarcusBrill Building Backdrop
A big challenge for the show was keeping the pace moving and not getting bogged down in the transitions, as there are many short scenes in the mix. Thus the Brill Building backdrop solved much of that problem by serving as a symbolic structure. Naturally, many set pieces and backdrops fly in and out to keep things moving — including light-up panels for some performance numbers including The Drifters, a swag curtain for the Shirelles number, a light bulb hanger for the song “On Broadway,” a fluorescent light fixture for the scene in Queens College, theater lights for the Carnegie Hall performance, windows for King’s suburban house, and a blackout drop for blocking off the upstage structure a couple of times — but also many things are tracked on and off.
“I tried to make a lot of things go sideways, because I thought it would be more interesting than watching things fly in and out,” says McLane. “I wanted as much lateral movement as possible, because I think it helps keep your eye on the actors as they’re moving from scene to scene. The sliding panels are a tapestry of fabrics that are based on [guitar] speaker grille cloth from the 1960s, so I combined a variety of those to make plaid panels. And then the upstage wall functions as a cyc behind the structure [behind which is] another tapestry or collage of sound proofing material. It’s lit orange but is actually a very light gray. It can be lit all different colors, but it’s different textures. We had all that made because [with] the real textures, the scale was too small and didn’t look like anything. All that stuff was made especially for the show, and all the textures are scaled up so that they have a little more presence.”
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan MarcusA Minimalistic Approach
Given the brief nature of many of the scenes — some are simultaneously occurring, while others are quick moments that melt into others — McLane maintained a sparse feeling to many of the locations. When asked about the most challenging set piece to design, he replies, “It was actually not any one particular piece, it was really how to create those offices and get from one to another very quickly. Another thing about those offices is that if you approach them realistically, they don’t look like anything. The place where Kirshner worked was very, very bland.”
The designer actually stripped things back onstage from the real life offices. “A lot of them did not have windows, and a lot of them just had sheetrock walls. So I got rid of the walls and tried to deliver just the essential things like a door, desk, and piano, whatever was essential for the scene, and just let the environment of the recording studios of the Brill Building surround it because, to me, that has more romance and more interest to it. It has more history and texture. I tried to put as much texture into this as I possibly could.”
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan MarcusA good example of this effective minimalism is the scene where King goes to the apartment of Marilyn Wald, a singer and amorous competitor, and finds her husband there. She simply walks up to a door at stage left that is nestled next to a small wall, which masks the actors so the audience does not know they are there until they open the door. “We never see the inside of the apartment,” notes McLane. “The important thing is that she knocks on the door and discovers Gerry there, then confronts him. That’s really all that is. It doesn’t need any more, and doesn’t want any more, because that scene is maybe 90 seconds long. Then we go right back to her in their house.”
McLane avoided the used of LED lights on Beautiful. During the song, “On Broadway,” a wall of colored light bulbs appears behind the performers. “They are actually colored light bulbs,” he stresses. “I tried to avoid LED. There are some LEDs that light things up in the set. But it doesn’t feel period when you just see an LED lamp, so you never see a raw, unadorned LED lamp in the show.”
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan MarcusPianos Share the Stage
Naturally, no musical about Carole King could be complete without an ever-present piano. Two of them are used in the show, along with a Korg keyboard for one club scene. The grand piano appears at the beginning of the show as well as at the end, when King plays Carnegie Hall. The smaller spinet piano is used everywhere else, including her apartment in Brooklyn and her house in New Jersey, her office in the Brill building, Barry and Cynthia’s adjacent office, and Donny Kirshner’s office. Early on, McLane realized that if he tried to bring in different pianos for different scenes, the show would have been slowed down and the transitions would not have worked. The simplest solution was to utilize the spinet, which works very well when the scene moves between Carole’s office and Barry and Cynthia’s next door. All the piano has to do is turn 180 degrees and act as the “wall” between the offices. The spinet is set on a track and has a motorized set-up that allows it to turn to various positions throughout the show.
“There’s one track that is dedicated to that turning piano,” says McLane. “There are two tracks just for bringing furniture on upstage from that, for example, Barry and Cynthia’s sofa. We also bring that recording booth in with the glass. Then, downstage of the piano, there is a track that brings things on, like the TV for Carole’s office or her apartment. Then there are a couple of tracks upstage — tracks for those doors and also tracks for the suburban house stuff, like the door and the window. Then the big two-story structure that opens and closes has tracks in it.”
With regards to the wing space at the Sondheim Theatre in New York, McLane says, “It’s tight, but it’s not bad. It’s not as tight as some Broadway theatres, and not as big as some others. There is some wing space, but it gets full quickly. Once they get off stage, a lot of the units have to be flown in the wings to make room for other units. If you go backstage and walk around in the wings, you’ll see a lot of stuff stored hanging in the air. It requires a huge amount of coordination [from the crew].” He estimates the stage depth at between 28 and 30 feet and the wing space on either side of the proscenium at 15 feet.
'Beautiful' on Broadway. Photo by Joan MarcusBeautiful Collaborators
McLane is very happy with how Beautiful turned out, and believes it was a great collaboration with director Marc Bruni, book writer Doug McGrath, and lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski, with whom he combined forces early on to tackle a complicated story. “I really had a great time working with all of them,” he declares. “I learned a lot about the recording business from that era and about Carole King’s life and her songs which I didn’t know before. I think it’s the first time where I’ve done a show with so many complex scene changes and figured out how to make them feel seamless. I’m really happy with how that turned out because I feel like the transitions are fun to watch and don’t slow the show down.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


A Scenic Designer’s West Village Home

Danny Ghitis for The New York Times
What I Love | Derek McLane: The Tony Award-winning set designer decorated his West Village apartment from scratch.

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There is nothing remotely funny about Derek McLane’s West Village apartment. Still, the first time Mr. McLane’s three children walked into his elegant living room, they burst out laughing.
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Hey, what’s the joke, Dad wanted to know.
“And they said, ‘it looks like one of your sets,’ ” recalled Mr. McLane, 55, a scenic designer whose résumé includes the Broadway shows “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “I Am My Own Wife” as well as “The Heiress,” “Anything Goes,” “Gore Vidal’s the Best Man,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Follies.”
“It looks like one of your sets” was also the reaction of a number of Mr. McLane’s director friends to the large assemblage of vintage industrial lamps arranged in compartments around the fireplace and to the vintage typewriters lined up on a counter in the kitchen.
“I have a real fascination with repeating objects,” Mr. McLane said.
When he and his wife split up two and a half years ago and Mr. McLane moved out of the family’s Gramercy Park apartment, he looked at dozens of rentals, all with one thing in common: they were depressing. Stumbling on the brownstone, he was immediately captivated by the high ceilings, the well-laid-out kitchen, the beautifully proportioned rooms and the tall elegant windows overlooking the street.
The bookshelves that flanked the living room fireplace? Actually, those he could have done without.
“I didn’t have any books with me, and I’m not particularly fond of books as a main design feature in a living room unless you happen to have an extraordinarily beautiful collection of gorgeous-looking books,” said Mr. McLane, who’s up for an Emmy — the broadcast is Sept. 22 — thanks to his set design for this year’s Oscars ceremony. Suffice it to say lots of repeating objects were involved.
“I thought, ‘you know what? Forget it. I’m not going to put any books up. Why don’t I do something from some sets I designed that I really like?’ ” A major inspiration was “33 Variations,” a play that unfolds in the Beethoven archives in Bonn. Mr. McLane conjured a Tony Award-winning mise-en-scène that featured masses of cardboard boxes in varying shades of gray.
“They were in very neat little stacks — it was Germany, after all,” he said with a laugh. “Then we put a tiny lamp under each grouping and were able to light them in different ways. I looked at the shelves in my living room and thought I would love it if I could make them a light source, too.
“I had a couple of kind of cool old task lamps, factory lamps that they put on sewing machines and architecture tables,” Mr. McLane said. “Some were just office lamps, but they all had goosenecks or articulated arms. And I found a bunch more on eBay to sort of fill in the collection.”
He took out most of the shelving, fashioned discrete chambers backed with antiqued mirrors, then arranged the lamps within, all facing the same direction. “They’re on a dimmer switch,” he added, “so they can be lit at this incredibly low level and they provide this warm kind of romantic glow.”
The change in his domestic circumstances, and the move downtown with barely a stick of furniture have forced Mr. McLane into a role he’s never played before: designer of his own space. No proscenium involved and no curtain, unless you want to count the white gauze ones that frame the trio of windows in the living room and pool around the oak floor.
“Twenty years ago, I was concerned with other things — my young children,” he said. “I thought ‘now I’m going to create a set for my new life.’ ”
But offstage as well as on, certain facts require facing, chief among them the sketchbook has to make nice with the checkbook. “The work that I did on the apartment was minimal because I didn’t want to waste money doing structural things, even repainting,” said Mr. McLane, who originally signed a two-year lease, then a two-year extension. “I geared the stuff that I did toward things that were portable or dismantle-able.”
So he has wallpaper that would fit nicely into a production of “Gaslight” and can be easily peeled away, no need for a paint touch-up. The portable category includes a pair of wingback chairs. Mr. McLane bought the frames at a furniture store and had them covered in gray and vibrant pink damask.
“They were so deep and so giant, but I loved the ridiculous size of the wing,” he said. “Rather than get smaller chairs, I had the guy who upholstered them cut them down and splice them back together.”
The modestly priced (a pedestal table from Ethan Allen) comfortably shares quarters with items that were costly but irresistible (a steel coffee table with laser cutouts). The industrial (a 19th-century factory cart) nicely coexists with the refined — a white orchid. Mr. McLane’s present (represented by a quartet of framed posters for the rock group Jane’s Addiction, a gift from his girlfriend) meets his past halfway (a wooden carved head of Ganesh that Mr. McLane picked up on a trip to India more than three decades ago).
“After I bought it, I didn’t have enough money left to pay the departure tax and get to the airport, so I took to the streets of Old Delhi to sell my clothes,” he recalled. “I made enough to pay the tax and to buy a drink on the plane.”
Mr. McLane, who was born in London and grew up in Evanston, Ill., designed his first set for a production of “Guys and Dolls” during his sophomore year at Harvard. “At that point I became completely obsessed,” said Mr. McLane, who received an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama, then moved to New York, where he at first worked as an assistant to established scenic designers. This season he’ll be doing the set design for “Beautiful,” a Broadway bio of the singer-songwriter Carole King, and a live television production of “The Sound of Music.”
Bringing his work home has been a pleasure. “I feel like my apartment is really connected to my design aesthetic,” Mr. McLane said. “What I’m proud about is that I’ve put together a bunch of disparate objects, a lot of them suggesting the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th. I think the combination feels modern, but also warm and romantic. And I think it’s as richly textured as I’m able to do in a rental.”