Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thought it was time for me to share.

In our meeting Clay, you said that you and Isaac wanted to do something different, so I have been trying to ignore the stage directions (thinking of them as suggestions, not absolutes), and this is where I am right now:

My main concept is the fragile nature of beauty, that something can look beautiful and in reality be something horrific. The idea of the beautiful painted tapestries for the sets, which are the fuel for the pyre, the gorgeous theatre which was built so poorly that it became the coffin for 72 people that night.

I would like the victims of the fire to show they were victims – I would like them to be burnt. Makeup distorting their appearances, nothing too graphic or haunted house cheesy, a light hand will be needed to create a subtle but terrifying image. This is a fine line I realize, I definitely don’t want to “hit the audience over the head” with this, I just don’t want them to forget that these people were burned alive.

In our meeting Clay, you mentioned you wanted the audience to be aware of themselves and their environment, to re-evaluate their surroundings, wonder about and question their safety and security. I think the way I can do this is by showing the effects the fire and smoke would’ve had on the clothing and the bodies.

I like the idea that Clay mentioned, that this is the story the ghosts tell to themselves when everyone else goes home and I would like the clothing to reflect this. This means period clothing for everyone, and they should all show signs of wear, especially for the victims.
I love the idea that the clothing looks like it is dry rotting on the actors, it would be a challenge to create this look without the clothing actually falling apart – I realize it does have to last the run of the show. :)

The fabric used in this period really lends itself to the phantasmic and spectral aspects of the show. It was mostly lightweight muslins and linens, with layers of semi-sheer fabrics. I want the dresses to be lightweight and ethereal, cobweb like. I dont want them to be heavy or too costumey.

I have a few logistical questions. Knowing these will really help me in fleshing everything out. Will we see the parents, or are they just voices off stage? I also would like to know if we have an actor for the role of carpenter, since no one was cast for it, also, are children in the show (there should be 3) or are the roles of the children played by the actors? I also have questions about the bleeding nun, how is that going to be staged?? I would also like to know if there is an intermission planned.

Here are a few of the images that I’ve collected:

I love the melty - burning feeling of this painting by Leonor Fini.
Here are two burned/melted faces, the first is from Frances Bacon Head and the second didnt have the artist listed. They are obviously too dramatic - but both are compelling.

This photo of a clematis by Joyce Tenneson really evokes the "cobweb like" feeling i would like to achieve. The second photo is also by Joyce Tenneson and the ethereal feeling is so strong, and i love the way the gauze wrap is so delicate and also shows what i mean by "cobweb like".Thats all for now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

first model pics

hey all
heres my model, damn near anything on it is negotiable as far as colors concerning lights costumes and of course the directors. just throwing this out there, id love to hear comments and concerns. my dead line is incredibly close though, so please let me know some time soon, the long er i hold up tim the more pouty he will be. and rightfully so

Friday, June 29, 2007

hey issac, im really sorry i havent gotten back to you, my phone is completley trashed. i will have to find eric and see if he has your number, if not is there a way that you could more securely transfer that information. sorry for this confusion, i promise i have not just been ignoring you


Monday, June 18, 2007

a random thought

i dont know EXACTLY how well this willl work but i have an interesting idea. using a fog machine (not haze) placed underneath the deck, and a rosco image-projector, i beleive that we could project an image onto a plume of smoke. this would give the effect that an apparition is seemingly appearing out of nowhere.

inspiration came from Richter's "perfect medium" in which he captures spirits unseen by the naked eye on film. you can see a compilation of pictures above

any thoughts on when this plan could be best executed within the script Isaac? i could take a picture of one of the actors in a costume, then edit the photo on my computer, print a slide of it and project the image in its exact form onto the plume of fog. what do you think? this would need to be planned in advance. unfortunatly i can not garantee sucess in the project, yet i do feel optimistic.

above is the actual projector. it slides directly into a lighting instrument similar to a gobo (therefore is very versitle in location thoughout the theatre).

Monday, June 11, 2007


Apologies for the rare posts.

Thank you for all of the inspiration buddy! i really enjoy looking at the work of Gerhard Richter and "the perfect medium" and his blurred photo paintings. as the LD i do beleive that i can begin to capture some of this effect with some sort of diffused haze and tight "cool/bright" specials encased in a warm "bubble". a key element in getting this effect comes with the actual tone of the actor or costume. if you notice in the above painting by richter the character is very pale and in so illuminating more so. is there a way to make an actor reflective is this regard, yet still dull and dead?

my hope is to have the haze exhaust from under the prososed planking allowing the aura to build around the actor out, rather than from the instrument out. does this make sense? the sepia-tone should be no problem to acheive with gel. maybe a tea-stained-like style could be applied to other mediums.

in order to capture the feel of theatre in this era i hope to have gas-colored footlighting. this color with possible mixing could really add interesting angles.

a thought i had is to project through the planking of the set or with the footlights the shadows of the actors onto the back wall. i think this effect with give the actor a greater pressence in the space. a pressence not possible by a mortal but maybe by a spirit or ghost.

please excuse the lack of clarity i thought i should purge ideas onto the blog after a long day. response more than welcomed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nice to Get Started

Hey everyone,

It's nice to see you all posting away. Just one quick blog maintenance thing... Don't post your personal info on the blog, anyone can read it. Eric, I took your phone number off your post, just so's you know... anyway... on with the play itself.

I'm glad, Brian, that Anselm Kiefer really spoke to you. The more I read about him + his fascinations with texture and mysticism the more right-on I think he is. The other artists I've been looking at are Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter. I've also been reading/looking at the book The Perfect Medium a catalogue and analysis of 19th Century Spirit Photography.

I want to try to draw some links between these different things. First, the Francis Bacon. I think with Francis Bacon, what I'm drawn to is the attitude behind the art rather than specific images vis-a-vis this play. Bacon said of his own work that "I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of a human prsence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime". J.G. Ballard (who wrote Empire of the Sun amongst others) said of Bacon (whom he was friends with) something along the lines of Bacon's paintings are like the dead trying to draw what they looked like when they were alive. This quote speaks to me of what the characters themselves are doing in this play.

Kiefer I think speaks for itself. The rough textures, the mystical symbols, the way it draws on the more occultish ends of Judaism etc. Also, the moments of beauty. There's a painting of his that has his trademark rough-hewn textures all over the canvas, and then at the top, one lone white feather. This play is full of those moments.

The Richter and the spirit photography speak to a very specific thing to me, and trying to find the theatrical equivolent is gonna be tough, but I think is part of our jobs... it's the blurryness of it. When ghosts appear on photos, they're orbs of light. When they appear in the spirit photos, they're bits of ecoplasm, or sometimes super-imposed images. Here-yet-not-here. The same sensibility invades blurred photo paintings">the Richter blurred photos as well. You get the sense of a person, yet they're not really there. How do we do this on stage? (Besides using Pepper's Ghost, of course). Also, the sepia color of the old photographs really speaks to me. Is there any way to make these people somehow old photographs of themselves but come to life?

Anyway... check out these artists and let me know what you guys think.

Also... any visuals that I should be looking at?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


hello all,
please excuse the long wait on my reply to this blog but i have not been able to find any internet connections down here in daytona untill now. i am very excited that this blog is in existance (though i am not an avid blogger myself) i think it is a great way for us to keep in contact. i am really happy to see all the direction that has already occured. thank you issac for your regurgitation of the script. brian, as you know i was feeling the same about shining up through the cracks...especially in the scene with the actor wherein he speaks about the creaks (sp?) in the floor. i really like the back wall idea too...with a lot of textures i assume?
some of my thoughts with this show include a different angles than most of us are used to at VCU. i am feeling very low sides ...maybe even from onstage?...footlights with period gas color aswell as some LEDs maybe to incorporate some pretty color mixing in the more abstract moments. possible some moments with pointalism and color mixing to acheive the many tones of fire. as you are aware, the lines in the show could be roughly gathered into 5-10 different levels of "lucidity". one of my main concepts so far is to portray what the actor is seeing, feeling, and thinking in reference to the text. the key is delicacy. think of it as the stages of a dream in which you are barely asleep and can sense the "real world" all the way into full lucid dream in which you are completely aware that you are dreaming yet you wouldnt be able to tell the difference between "real life" and "what you are living"....does this make any sense??? me if it doesnt ....anywho....i think there is a lot of potential for this show and very little boundries. let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

hey all
were all finally getting settled in in daytona, eric will most likely be posting soon. anyway, i wanted to say that i am really excited also about the ghost story idea. another thing that really made me happy was seeing the blog about the nautical terms. persoanlly i would love to implement something to accentuate a nautical feeling. i was thinking about a planked raised deck. theatres use boards too but maybe varying sizes or sizes gradually getting bigger the further upstage. but most importantly i think it owuld be amazing to keep cracks between the boards so eric can do whatever he wants under that deck. anything from a fire effect, a water effect, smoke. i think to hear a wicked sound effect of a big fire, with an amazing fire effect through the cracks of boards would just be intense. none of this i really have my heart set on, just getting excited i guess. this picture of bricks and pinrail really interests me. it looks ababndoned and a little scary to me. i love it. maybe a back wall?

anyway one last thing, anselm keifer really interested me. isaac suggested him. very cool very textural. i'll try to find a picture of one of his works that is really scary.

Here come the COSTUMES!!!!

Hello, Heidi here, this will be my first ever blog attempt - any helpful suggestions are VERY welcome!!! I just wanted to say hello - sorry I couldnt get into town during auditions... Isaac, I look forward to meeting you in person.

Can I say I am really excited about the ghost story idea??? I have not seen most of the movies listed -but they are now at the top of my queue at netflix - how cool is it that my research is watching movies??

FYI my asst. designer is Caylin Anderson, a very cool/talented undergrad - I want her to get as much experience as possible with this project so hopefully alot of the ideas will come from her brain - and between the two of us we will have some kick-ass costumes!!


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hey there, guys...

Not being much of a blogger, myself -- I may stay a bit behind the curtain on this one, gang. But, in the spirit of contributing, I figured I'd say hello and welcome as well to this blog. My name's Clay McLeod Chapman... and I'm the writer of Volume of Smoke. I'll also be co-directing the show with Isaac down in Virginia. My main goal for this production will be to tackle character work with all the cast members, as well as figuring out how to fill the Hodges theatre with our intimate lil' play.

Beyond the list of ghost movies -- for the cast, I'd like to strongly encourage you all to pick up Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology" this summer and flip through. This may speak volumes about me -- but it's one of my favorite books and served as a guiding force for "Smoke." All of which will become abundantly clear with one simple perusal. Not to mention prove once and for all that I am in fact a complete dweeb.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ghost Movies

One thing Clay and I have been talking about is how we've never really fully explored the ghost-story aspect of volume of smoke. The entire play is, after all, a ghost story-- none of the various narrators are still alive, and they make no bones about telling us, the audience for that evening, their stories. Clay is also a horror movie lover par excellance (I'll even forgive his deep affection for Haute Tension)... So I asked Clay to send me a list of ghost movies he felt were essential.

I would second that seeing Session 9 is going to be essential to really delving into this production of the play. I think, anyway.

Here's the list:
Session 9
The Changeling
The Haunting (original: 1963 BW)
The Others
The Innocents (1961)
The Devil's Backbone

If you haven't's
Don't Look Now
The Shining
The Sixth Sense
The Ring (Japanese version)
Ju-on (Japanese version)
Dark Water (Japanese version)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Volume of Smoke Sounds

First of all, here is a link to the song Clay listened to while writing the play, The Decemberists Shanty for the Aretheusa.

Second, here's a list of all the sounds I could find in the text:

Fibers flexing under the backdrops weight
Twisting sound, "all high-pitched and leathery"

Actors speaking lines


Ear piercing screech
A cat on fire
Seat sqeaking and shrieking

Rustly of playbills
Murmer of the audience
Standing ovation
Cry of FIRE
Yelling and Screaming

Curls Crackling
Snap of riibs
Whinnying pony

Crying women
Women singing

Burning paper
Burning woodwind
Burning harp (+ strings)
Fire = music

Creaking floorboards
The sound of the stage
the sound of ghosts


Plummeting bodies + their impact
Kettle drum
Fire harmony

screaming, shouting
Distant screaming
shattering glass

Coughing, spitting
tissues crackling

Gummy words
The sound of a dead play ("Cobwebs connecting the sentences together")

Clock striking midnight
Clok striking One AM

Children Whispering

Flies buzzing

Monday, May 7, 2007

A List Of Every Single Image I Could Find in volume of smoke

A monster seated in the heart
Bones of a carcass pecked clean of its meat

Purple sunsets
Skies painted with the whitest of clouds
Snow capped mountains
Rolling oceans
Old fashioned stage backdrops
Hemp ropes
Scarred hands
Splinters of rope
a curtain
Ocean of rolling heads

The sprit of Shakespeare
Possession by ghosts
Dousing a man on fire w/ water
Lines performed by 100s of actors
Burning theater
Burning Curtain

Chandelier (what kind did they use?)
Glow with stray flicker of light
Morning sky
Tapestry catching on fire
Flames rising
Litany of backdrops: skies, sunsets, daybreaks, rolling ocreans, streetfronts, mountains, houses, living rooms, chruches, clifftops, roof tops, starry skies, clouds, snow, lightning bolts, tidalwaves, temples, bedrooms, cityscapes
35 tapestries (Why are they called tapestries?)
Building flames Hiding
Panicked audience
standing ovations

A bent back
A hunchback
wood armrest, cast iron body
Movement of sitting person
Multiple people moving at once

"best" seats, front an dcenter
audience melting
blindfolded wife
removing a blindfold
oil lamps, falling to the floor
kerosene bursting
standing ovation
flames enveloping the proscenium
cattle being corralled
Stream of people
Sitting and watching fire
People racing, yelling + screaming
The view
Curtain dropped
Swelling bright light
"flames ate through"

Fresh air
piggy back
head in the clouds

Child @ mirror w/ mother behind
curling hair procedural
fire spreading over body
head burning
Child kicking chair
child laughing
child being punished
broken dam
drowning in people
being stepped on
bird flapping
pony whinnying up
a child too small for her dress

soft floor
climbing over people
women crying/singing
turning the tides
salmon swimming upstream

fire burning all musicians
people buried
kids spitting
sticky paper
sheet music bruning
fire eating
flames reading sheet music
fire burning muscial instruments
fire playing music

creaky floorboard
worn wood
actor alone, wandering stage
ghosts of actors
ghosts living in theater

desserts: chocolate mousse, coffee pudding, pecan tart, apple dumplings
escaping a building

burning hallway
people jumping
broken people
destroyed french horn

burning pigeons
smoke spiriting up
umbrella w/o webbing

slave ship
over a hundered slaves
pregnant woman
giving birth (in the ocean)
blue baby
jumping women
shattering glass
catching women
shackled to chosts

Bones of many different quantities
piles of bones
adam and eve

Mass of burned bodies
cold, stiff bodies
badly burned bodies

A narrow audience aisle
Unplastered roof
stars in the sky "framed in flames"
Flimsy staircase
Pile of people
monumental church

Unknown bones
mass grave
orchestra pit

stove pipes
burning lungs
cigarette smoking
our bodies are burning playhouses

dead play
the devil

a warrior
lady fair
old Ellinore
the bleeding nun (description of)

burning theater
stage blood
woman wandering desperately
"i dress in weeds"
the bleeding nun

hell on earth

Churches collapsing
the earth burning up

yellow fever
bibles as flies
cooling cinders

a person on fire
a person with the holy spirit
dancing (x 2)
people in mourning
bag of tricks
reverent as actor

raw materials
church running in circles
god in the flame

lots of theaters burning
people dying
beseeching the almighty
city burning down

So my thought is that other than fire imagery (which is pretty clearly going to be present in a play about fire) I notice a lot of nautical imagery, a lot of animal (particularly bird) imagery, and a lot of human anatomy imagery.

An Introduction

This blog is meant to be a public clearing house for information about plays I'm directing. The current project I am working on is volume of smoke, being performed at Virginia Commonwealth University this Fall. Over the next few months, the designers and I are going to post our research, lists etc. here on the blog. Hopefully, once rehearsals start, I'll also start posting some reflections on how the rehearsal process is going.

For the time being, the authors of this blog will be myself and the designers on volume of smoke. After VOS is done, it will be myself and the designers for... whatever the next show is. Assuming they want to participate, of course.

Hope you enjoy!