“Professional stage design is in a kind of golden age in the U.S.”
That’s me I’m quoting, from an Editor’s Note in the Dec. ’05 edition of American Theatre, one of the many issues of the magazine that have zeroed in over the years on the accomplishments of American stage designers. Not everybody agreed with that “Golden Age” remark, but I thought then—and am still convinced—that (and I quote) “the training and the creative accomplishments of the scenic, lighting, costume and sound designers presently at work in our theatres are unparalleled, whether they’re working on the extravagant canvas of Broadway or in the low-budget, low-tech confines of a storefront performance space.”
That nine-year-old opinion was vouchsafed by one of my favorite cover images ever, a blue-hued image of David Korins’s set for Second Stage Theatre of New York’s production of Swimming in the Shallows, an Adam Bock play in which actor Logan Marshall-Green portrayed a shark swimming horizontally along the set’s backstage wall. Get ready: There’s a wealth of similarly gasp-inducing design images in our current issue—and happily, as it’s our annual oversized Season Preview issue, there’s abundant space to show off the featured designers’ handiwork.
This time, under the heading “The Designer’s Eye,” those artists include set specialist Mimi Lien, whose work often involves “blurring the line between art and life,” as arts reporter Jeremy M. Barker puts it. Award-winning costumer Ana Kuzmanic, profiled by fellow Chicagoan Kris Vire, has an intense commitment to researching “photographs, articles, anything that can give me insight into the world of the play.” Californian John Zalewski, the sound designer who shares his working process with arts reporter Steven Leigh Morris, has a holistic bent: “I look at sound design in terms of lighting design, texture and shadow constantly shifting with the piece,” Zalewski avows.
These headliners have plenty of backup—in the “Designer’s Choice” survey, running through our richly illustrated Season Preview special section, dozens of American designers of various stripes opine about irresistible offerings in the 2014–15 season.
There’s more to relish in these pages than the pyrotechnics of design. Controversy swirls through several of the issue’s varied back-of-book pieces, including “Hashtag Gender Parity,” managing editor Suzy Evans’s report on widespread new efforts, spurred by social media, to ensure equal representation for female playwrights on U.S. stages; “Building a Better Table,” assistant editor Diep Tran’s account of new organizational alliances for Latino, Asian-American and black theatre professionals; and “Unwelcome Hands on a Texas Hardbody,” arts reporter Isaac Butler’s examination of a musical-theatre controversy with commercial-versus-nonprofit implications.
This issue is also the first in AT’s 30-year history to be transformed into a full-scale online version. Innovative design, controversies, new media—it’s a formidable issue. Design your own journey through it.