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For the Record

Richard K. Thomas, left, was honored twice at the USITT 2008 Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Houston, Texas. Van Phillips, right, presented both the Joel E. Rubin Founder's Award and the USITT Fellows certificate. Mr. Philips' introductory remarks from both presentations are reproduced here.

Photo/Casey Kearns


Thomas Honored - Twice!

Van Phillips
USITT Fellow

Richard Thomas received two honors at the 2008 USITT Annual Conference in Houston. Both the USITT Joel E. Rubin Founder's Award and the names of new USITT Fellows are kept secret until they are presented. Van Phillips presented both awards. His remarks, noting the special nature of the remarkable double awards, follow.

Joel E. Rubin Founder's Award

Good morning! I was excited to be selected to introduce this year's recipient of the 2008 Joel E. Rubin Founder's Award.

I did not realize until I heard Kevin Rigdon's Keynote address a few moments ago, that he considered himself a drummer without rhythm and, therefore, took up lighting design instead of music. I say this because I have always held that scenic designers, such as myself, deal in space and mass, and costume designers in personal space and form. Sound and lighting designers are the only ones able to reveal what the scenic and costume designers create in time, therefore basing their work in rhythm.

I was pleased when I heard that the Houston 2008 Conference & Stage Expo was featuring sound design and sound designers. It is nice to be able to focus on those artists who can work magic by playing with the element of time, a difficult element to display outside of the production itself.

Almost 40 years ago, after I had completed my academic degree at the University of Texas (by the way, before you had to add the post script "at Austin"), I arrived in New York with the express intent to become a Broadway designer. As an assistant to Jo Mielziner, I was asked by one of the first people I met, "Are you talented or are you from Yale?"

The comment had almost nothing to do with the talents of the Yale graduates and everything to do with the network Yale had established of former graduates helping new graduates get started in the industry. I think you will see why I reference this networking ability as I tell you more about this year's honoree.

Thirty-four years ago, in 1974, I was asked to put together Purdue University's master of fine arts degree program in theatre design and technology. That program was approved by the state of Indiana in 1976. I was recruiting what was to be the first class of students for that MFA program at the University Resident Theatre Association auditions (U/RTA) when I first met our newest Founder.

For those of you who think you know U/RTA -- back in the late '60s and early '70s it was nothing like what you know today. Oh, there were lots of actors auditioning and lots of directors viewing, but over on the design and technology side it was a handful of us like "Zee" Weisfeld from Michigan, Gary Gaiser from Indiana, Herb Shore from Florida, and Frank Rutledge from Michigan State. We were a small but very tight group back then.

At any rate, in 1976 I met the recipient of the 2008 Founder's Award at a U/RTA audition and was very impressed. Wow, a person who talked about sound as design and not just as effects. Frank Rutledge pulled me aside and said, "I'd be careful about taking on that young man! He is never satisfied and always wants new technology -- and it is really expensive stuff!" I took the "never satisfied" as always striving for success and the wanting "new expensive technology" as a desire to be on the leading edge. So, in spite of Frank's warnings, I recruited this individual for the MFA program and, boy, were my instincts ever proven right!

Just listen to a brief overview of his accomplishments!

2008 represents his 30th year as a USITT Member (I recommended he join USITT when he was a student in the Purdue MFA program). In those 30 years, he has chaired 30 sessions and three Professional Workshops at national Conferences -- his first in 1979 with Harold S. (Dr. Snodgrass) Burris-Meyer. How intimidating is that?

He claims his favorite workshop was BloodBath of the Living Dead in 3D at the USITT 1990 Conference & Stage Expo in Milwaukee. I remember that conference very well as I happened to mention at the banquet that I would stand any current or former Purdue Theatre faculty or student a drink at the bar after dinner. You wouldn't believe how a free drink brings people out of the woodwork! And, remember my comment about the Yale "network"? About half of those at the bar were the sound designers taught by the now "Professor" Rick Thomas. It cost me over $1,000 for the bar tab, but it was worth it!

Our newest Founder has served as the USITT Sound Commissioner, Co-Commissioner and Vice-Commissioner. He also has published 11 articles in TD&T, including "The Function of the Soundscape" in 2002, for which he won a Herbert D. Greggs Award. He served as the official USITT delegate to the OISTAT Scenography Commission from 1999 to 2001.

But, our first "Sound Designer" Founder has said he is most proud of his many "firsts" at USITT. I would like to highlight briefly just a few of those:

  • The first public demonstration of the use of synthesis techniques in the theatre at the Cleveland 1981 Conference & Stage Expo
  • The first public exhibition of a theatre sound score at the Orlando 1984 Conference & Stage Expo
  • The first public demonstration of the use of digital samplers in theatrical productions at the Minneapolis 1987 Conference & Stage Expo
  • Publication of the first article focusing on the subject of unionization of sound designers in TD&T in 1987
  • Publication of the first article to draw attention to the issue of the fair and legal use of copyrighted sounds in the theatre in 1988
  • The first public demonstration of the "all digital" theatre sound playback system at the Milwaukee 1990 Conference & Stage Expo
  • And, he will offer, as author, the first book on eminent sound designers of the 20th century, The Designs of Abe Jacob, which is being released here at the Houston 2008 Conference & Stage Expo.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming my former student, now outstanding academic and professional colleague, and the touchstone for anyone remotely connected with sound design, Mr. Richard "Rick" Thomas as the 2008 Joel E. Rubin Founder's Award recipient.

(Because of travel delays, Mr. Thomas was not able to be on hand for these remarks. He was present at the Fellows Address the next day.)

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New USITT Fellow

As many of you, who have heard me speak at previous Fellows Receptions know, I firmly believe that being named a USITT Fellow is the highest award the Institute offers! I believe this because we have USITT service recognition in the form of the Founder's Award and industry professional recognition in the form of the USITT Awards -- but only Fellows membership requires outstanding achievement in both.

The new USITT Fellow I am about to introduce epitomizes outstanding achievement in the professional theatre, theatre education, and service to the USITT.

I was told to keep this introduction brief, and because I had the good fortune to introduce this individual as the 2008 USITT Founder's Award winner yesterday morning, all of you who were present have heard about his service in over 30 years of membership to the USITT. Therefore, this evening I want to focus on this individual's achievement as a professional theatre designer and artist and stellar educator.

I have had the pleasure of knowing this individual first as a student and then as an outstanding academic and professional colleague. He reminded me recently that I took him aside when he was a student and said, "I don't normally believe that a student should stay at a program where they have gotten their academic degree. But, I also believe that sound design will be the next major area in theatre, and I think you are the one who, using Purdue's array of resources, could build a program in sound!" He did exactly that!

His undergraduate chair at Michigan State, Frank Rutledge, had warned me that he was not easily satisfied and liked expensive toys. I had never thought of this new Fellow as a surfer, but like a surfer he has always ridden the front edge of the technology wave. In 1979, I got Purdue to purchase a new Charlie Richmond (another USITT Fellow) sound board for our theatre. Judged against the new sound and recording lab at Purdue today it was Model T equipment. But, at that time it was an Indy 500 tool, especially for those thinking sound was thunder sheets, cricket effects, and a reel-to-reel Wollensak tape machine.

Out of that beginning and the other resources at Purdue, our new Fellow built a Sound Design and Audio Technology program that is known by everyone in the field. Today Sound Design and Audio Technology students represent Purdue world wide, and they are at the forefront of the fastest evolving design profession in our industry.

With all of that focus on professionally trained students, it is interesting that last year this Fellow won first the College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award and was then selected for the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award for all of Purdue University.

I was once asked by Donald Oenslager what I wanted to do after I graduated with my MFA. I immediately said, "I want to go to New York and become a professional designer." He then asked if I had ever considered teaching. I said, "No sir, I don't think you can do both!" He could probably see the little wheels turn in my head as I realized to whom I had just made that comment. There was only a slight smile on his lips as he replied, "Yes, it is hard to do both, but it can be done!" As hard as combining a teaching and professional career can be, our new Fellow has followed Mr. Oenslager's path.

While serving generations of new sound designers, this new Fellow has worked to put his many talents on stage in the professional arena. Let me give you just a few examples! He has:

  • Over 80 theatre sound score compositions and designs.
  • Over 30 broadcast, industrial and multi-media compositions and designs including:

- the first international sound score and music composition at the 2003 Prague Quadrennial,

- The Argosy Casino Sound Design for the Riverside Pavilion and,

- The Road To Indy, Countdown to Indy, and Great Indy Moments.

  • Been playwright, director and designer for over 15 new performance works recently including:

- Labcoats on Clouds as co-director for an invited performance at the 2007 Prague Quadrennial and,

- Laptop connections director for an invited performance at the Masarykovo Train Station, Prague, Czech Republic, June 18, 2007

  • Fifteen publications including The Designs of Abe Jacob, the newest addition to USITT's Monograph Series highlighting the work of eminent living, released at this Conference.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming (and, he is actually in the room this time and not flight delayed by storms) Mr. Rick Thomas as a 2008 USITT Fellow.

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USITT Fellows elected six new members who were announced at the 2008 Annual Conference. The introductions of, Pete Happe, and Deb Krajec also appear in this issue. The introductions of Joe Aldridge, Jerry Gorrell, and Bobbi Owen appeared in the April issue.

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