The Making of… (Some of My Design Work)

As a kid I liked to sit in my front yard and draw pictures because it was an easy way for me to interact with the other kids on the street. It was something I enjoyed that I was good at and they liked to watch me draw crazy creatures.  When I was a young teenager I would perform at the community theater a couple of towns over. I would have to take a bus to get there and the only bus I could take left at 6am. So I would spend the whole day, into the evening in the theater’s shops, helping to make props and sets for the plays. In college, I worked in the scene shop, making props for the main stage productions. I was really good at making fake food. When I can find the time I still like to build the specialty props that appear in performances I make. Sometimes I make costume pieces, too.


For the interactive museum exhibit, The Oracle, I built a box to house the skull and ghostly floating head of Iris Lee, which answered questions posed by the audience. The box and table created the illusion provided by a computer program I wrote to route the correct answer to a miniature video projector that reflected upward into the box. The trick is based on a stage illusion called Pepper’s Ghost, developed in the 1860’s. The time from which the box is purported to have existed.


I designed this character puppet for the play, Van Driver, which I build out of foam, acrylic and fake fur. The Harry Meatbahl is a puppet later appeared in The Garden of Forked Tongues. A tee-shirt was also made featuring this character, which I am proud to say I saw worn by a woman in Midtown Manhattan in 2016, seven years after the tee-shirts were printed and sold. (Photo of Meatbahl and Elizabeth Barker as Persephone, by Daniella Sessa)


For the play Transatlantica, which calls for the appearance of death at the front door, I chose a primitive skull-like fish to represent death. I felt that a more abstracted, but still natural version of death is more unsettling than the conventional grim reaper. The eyes also rotated to be able to look around the room.


These heads were devices designed for a private encounter during the performance, Untitled Consciousness Project. They are sound-proofed masks, which housed speakers that played directions for the wearer. The heads each have three faces. Using the software Autodesk 123D-Create / 123D-Make and Adobe Illustrator, a 3D model was designed and the plans were output to a laser printer, which sliced a cardboard frame that fit together like a puzzle. After sound-proof foam and layers of paper maché were added, the heads were attached to a counterweighted pulley system for ease of use. Air tubing and fans were also added to each to provide a comfortable environment inside.


For the Untitled Consciousness Project, in order to provide an altered sense of time in the meditative event. I built a device with a video projector, mirror and clock, to display an enlarged glowing moon, circumnavigating the perimeter of the 5000 square foot  space once per hour during the 4.5 hour performance. Video footage, provided courtesy of NASA, showed the actual phases of the moon during the year that the performance took place.


As part of the performance event, Raise The Dead, I designed an installation in the gallery’s entrance hall. Audience members needed to walk along a plank traversing a pool of water in order to enter the space. The body of a woman lay at the bottom of the pool. At first she appeared to be dead or a mannequin, but she would blink her eyes and her gaze followed the action above her. She never came up for a breath of air. This was an illusion that I devised, by placing a sheet of plexiglas over the body, on which a thin layer of water appeared to fill the pool.



For Andrew Dinwiddie’s Farewell Tour, a solo dance performance inspired by KISS and ceremonial funeral dances of the Dogon people of Mali, I designed and built a ritualistic shaman’s costume including make-up worthy of any rock god. 


For The Present Perfect, a play about an obsessive interior designer in love with her crystalline art collection, I designed an built 15 candy glass vessels (pictured). Each night a vase was shattered onstage and the lead actress / writer would compulsively chew the shards. (Photos by Nathan Miner feature Kourtney Rutherford)


I design posters and promotional details for my events, because they important as part of the overall experience. A performance begins when you first encounter an invitation to participate. So every aspect of the journey that leads to the audience entering the performance space should inform, entertain or give pause. These are some items that I’ve designed. Additionally, I designed all of the poster images featured on this website.