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Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record

A performance of Othello at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas is just one of many offerings unique to the 2008 Annual Conference & Stage Expo in March 2008.

Photo/Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau


Othello, Workshops Highlight
Houston's Regional Flavor

Janet Harreld
Houston Promotions Coordinator

What to do, what to do? There are so many choices that your head will spin, so Nick Philips and I would like to shed a little more light on how you might spend your "free time" in Houston in and around the 2008 USITT Conference & Stage Expo in March.

Othello, directed by Alley Theatre Associate Artist Scott Schwartz, will be opening just about the time everyone arrives in Houston. (Tickets are available for the Tuesday evening performance which will include a talkback and transportation for USITT folks). Just in case you aren't familiar with Mr. Schwartz' work, he directed that wonderfully weird and wacky play, Bat Boy: the Musical, off-Broadway several years ago, and The Foreigner, starring Matthew Broderick for Roundabout Theatre Company. He just opened a one woman show, Curvy Widow, starring Cybil Sheppard at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. This will be Mr. Schwartz' second Shakespeare for the Alley. His production last season of Much Ado About Nothing was hailed by critics as a wonderfully inventive, gorgeous, multi-faceted production. Othello promises to be nothing less.

Mr. Schwartz is working again with set designer Walt Spangler, who was responsible for the playful atmosphere of Much Ado About Nothing. Mr. Spangler is renowned for his ingenious approach in productions such as Center Stage's Pajama Game set of a giant sewing machine. He has designed across the United States for companies such as the Goodman and the Long Wharf as well as for domestic and overseas opera companies.

Othello promises to be not just another production of the dark, tragic tale of love and jealousy. It should provide an opportunity to experience theatrical artistry at its very best. The Alley's new production facilities in the office building just behind the theatres must be seen to be appreciated. No longer are the shops and production offices banned to the dark, and often dank, underground (thank you Tropical Storm Allison!).

The five-story scene shop is in the center of the building where a skylight floods the space with natural daylight. The costume shop takes up most of one side of the building and has windows facing downtown, providing the bonus of a spectacular view. Properties and wigs fared well in their spaces, too. Participants in the Painting with Pneumatic Sprayers Professional Development Workshop will be able to encounter the Alley's scene shop first hand.

Ever wonder what the chemicals you work with in the shop are really doing to your system or those of your students? What about the air quality in the paint or dye room? Is your HVAC system really extracting all the particulates from your work area, and what will those particulates do to your lungs or other organs? Have you gotten a run-around from your administration about your health and safety concerns in your department? Have you thought about using lasers in production? EHS Academy for Live Performance is a Professional Development Workshop designed to provide environmental health and safety information and methods for education theatres of all sizes and at all levels. Dr. Robert Emery, associate vice president for research and executive director for environmental health and safety at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, will lead a small group of instructors who are specialists in their disciplines.

Rigging is always an issue for most theatres and the one thing that absolutely, positively must be done right. Jay Glerum, author of Stage Rigging Handbook, will offer a two-day PDW. The course covers the physics of rigging, hardware design and selection, operation and procedures, and inspections and maintenance practices. Mr. Glerum will offer ETCP credit for those wanting or needing those hours.

Costume designers and shop managers/drapers continue the march into technology with CAD applications in the PDW Computer Costume Pattern Making. Designers and costume techs will have the benefit of using large-scale production capabilities to generate commercial quality patterns that don't have to be kept in envelopes. One less item to physically store in the costume shop is a good thing!

And, of course, you must make time after all of the fabulous sessions to go to the Museum of Fine Art, ride the carousel at the zoo, have barbecue at Goode's, sort through the dusty treasures and cowboy boots at Texas Junk, delight in the fabulous fabrics at High Fashion, and learn to dance salsa on Thursday night at Scott Gertner's Sky Bar.

Although this is an attempt to be helpful, it may have just made things more difficult for those trying to make impossible choices. Perhaps that just means you'll have to spend a few more days in the Bayou City!

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