Posted by: Anya Martin | September 24, 2008

Arming the Festival for Awesomeness: Part I

The Men of Clear Story Creative: Part I

I’m sitting down with the men of Clear Story Creative, Rob Long and Doug McDermott, at the Ellis School Armory at Penn Avenue and Putnam Street. Clear Story Creative is a local Pittsburgh company specializing in theatrical and event productions, and it’s up to them to basically manage the production of the $1.4 million Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts on the part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

So why are we at the Ellis School Armory? And why in the heck does a premier private girls school in Shadyside have an “armory” in the first place? Long and McDermott are working to prepare the Ellis School Armory for performances of Teatro De Los Sentidos or Theatre of the Senses’ production of Echo of a Shadow. The armory is a former 1940’s government building used by the military up until the past ten years. The Ellis School recently purchased the building in hopes of turning it into a performance venue. (With enough layers of solid concrete to support a tank and an underground fall out shelter complete with bathroom and firing pit, the space should convert easily to a theatre — able to support large scenery, and difficult actors.)

So while the Clear Story Creative team is not arming young schoolgirls for battle, they are arming the festival for awesomeness. For this bravery they could achieve cult hero status for production management and technical direction. Technical directors and production managers are often the unsung heroes in the arts. Their jobs are to take artistic ideas put forth by directors, designers, and choreographers and actually realize them in the real world. You know like in the real world where you have budgets, schedules, unions, gravity, and difficult actors to deal with. (Darn the real world.)

When Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies director Zhang Yimou said something like, ” You know…I’m thinking like 15,000 actors, with wrap around projection screens, dancers running counter to gravity on a giant sphere…and maybe fireworks…no wait lots of fireworks! What do you think? Do you love it? I love it!” The production managers and technical directors were the nuts and bolts visionaries who made the dream possible. (And in the case of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies to stunning results.)

I begin with an Olympic size question for anyone about to take on such a Herculean task, or should we say “Phelps-ean” in this day an age, “Where do you begin?” McDermott is quick to answer with a wry smile. “Sub divide, contract out, make them legally responsible.” And then there’s the production management trifecta.

“You want it good. You want it cheap. You want it fast. You can only pick two.” Says Long. (For those of you not so practiced in trifectas, such as myself, this means, you can have your production good and cheap, but it won’t be fast, or you can have it fast and good, but it won’t be cheap.  See how this works?) Clear Story Creative has been working with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in planning since November of 2007, so according to the trifecta we should be looking forward to very good shows, though there is still plenty of work to be done.

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