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Meet the 2017 Richard E. Sherwood Award Finalists


(L-R) Pablo Santiago, Jenny Foldenauer, and Keith Skretch are the finalists for Center Theatre Group’s 2017 Richard E. Sherwood Award.

Photo by Ryan Miller.

The Sherwood Award for emerging theatre artists is awarded each year to an innovative and adventurous Los Angeles-based theatre artist of promise. This year’s finalists are costume designer Jenny Foldenauer, lighting designer Pablo Santiago, and video designer Keith Skretch. All three are exceptional designers known for pushing boundaries and improving their fields. We asked them a few questions about how they innovate and what’s led them here. Learn more about the Sherwood Award and read the finalists’ bios on our website.

Tell me about your latest project
A Beautiful Day on the Banks of the Greatest of Great Lakes by Kate Benson, directed by Laramie Dennis at Theatre of NOTE. It's the West Coast premiere of a new take on a family’s a Thanksgiving holiday in the Midwest, which is told in the form of a funny sports broadcast with no particular time period, no props, and no actual set. However, the costumes themselves will be fully realized and represent full family members. It's a challenge since the production will put a great deal of focus and attention on costumes to tell story, but there are also over 20 characters with only 10 actors who cannot leave stage or change.
Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacarias, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela (a co-production between South Coast Rep and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago). I get to work with an amazing ensemble to create an unapologetic telenovela—to play with operatic bold gestures and more twists and turns than one could think possible. Two words: heighten and authentic. I get to tap into the basic human needs of pleasure, both in the personal but perhaps more importantly, the shared experience one has with the rest of the audience. I think there are enough Brechtian moments in the show that the constant game of manipulation versus alienation becomes its own pleasure, system of meaning, and portal into political commentary.
A few weeks ago, I was at REDCAT engineering The Source, a new music-theatre work, with production/video designer Jim Findlay. Jim and I have worked closely over the past year and a half developing Mallory Catlett’s William Burroughs exploration Decoder 2017, in which Jim is performing and I’m designing video, so it’s a nice change of pace to shuffle roles. Up next I’ll be working with Zoe Moore and Marissa Chibas at The Bootleg, and getting ready to bring Phantom Limb Company’s Memory Rings to BAM, following a successful run at CAP UCLA this past April.
Who are your influences?
One influence for me has always been Frida Kahlo, as she found new ways to transform her world and physical pain though her art, which helped me to do the same. I read a book about her life when I was I was eight years old, and discovering that her culture identity was also similar to mine brought me comfort and acceptance of my own mixed background. My mother has also been a great influence in my life. Although she passed away when I was 18, her perseverance to come to America and have a better life for herself and for her family always amazed me and instilled in me a strong work ethic and desire to accomplish my dreams. Other influences are costume designers such as Eiko Ishioka, Denitsa Bliznakova, and Kara Harmon. Overall, Culture Clash, El Teatro Campesino, and the playwright Josefina López have been major inspirations and influences.
My influences change constantly as I learn more about other people’s work in different disciplines of art and life itself. In any case, I often return to an early influence in my lighting life. While working in the film industry, the simplicity and boldness of cinematographer Harris Savides made a big impression on me. He used to tell me, “I don’t light actors, I light emotional environments that the actors can inhibit.” I always take the whole stage into account, not just where the actor is standing. Everything the audience can see is an opportunity to communicate meaning or a visceral experience.
While working in New York’s downtown theatre scene, I definitely picked up a performance and design vocabulary from companies like Radiohole, Elevator Repair Service, and Big Dance Theater. I count video designer Tal Yarden as a mentor. For inspiration I always go back to the well of cinema, and to video artists like Nam June Paik and Gary Hill.
What excites you most about working in L.A.?
Despite the Hollywood film/TV-work-only misconception of this city, in the theatre community, we are a family no matter what. We have less ego than any other city I have worked in, which truly allows for genuine art making. I believe everyone is striving to make art here and they are not just out for themselves. Everywhere from the small 99-seat companies like Son of Semele and Theatre of NOTE to bigger houses like Center Theatre Group and the Geffen Playhouse, I am always met with artists first and foremost, including the production managers, front-of-house managers, company managers, ushers… Everyone in every capacity believes in the art being made and places a lot of heart into their work.
The diversity of people and projects that one gets to participate with/on. Such a range enables me to push my own boundaries and to learn from so many other artists.
I love the cross-pollination of disciplines here. Film and television are huge, of course, and there’s a real overlap between the gallery scene, theatre, dance, and music worlds. It makes for an audience that’s really open to brand-new experiences, and the intersection of commercial and independent worlds makes an arts career relatively sustainable here.
Tell me about the first theatre peice you ever worked on.
It was in sixth grade for a class assignment. At the time I did not know much about theatre. My group wrote a skit about a pet shop with exotic animals, and at first we stuck to real animals we knew about, but our teacher pointed out we could make up our own animals because in theatre anything could happen. This excited me and my group, so we created mystical animals. I made a whole fire water dragon body suit (with the help of my mom, of course). My dragon could blow fire under water; this involved a spray bottle of food-coloring-dyed water that sprayed out at the audience, which in the end a lot parents weren’t happy with because kids went home with dyed splattered clothes. But my classmates loved it, and that’s all that mattered. I think my teacher took a point off our grade because of that.
In elementary school in Teopisca, Chiapas, Mexico, I was the only blond kid in school. I am not sure if it was the first piece I ever worked on, but [each year,] I would be asked to participate in the re-enactment of the battle of 5 de Mayo in which the Mexican army defeated the French. Obviously I was part of the French army. I remember thinking that I just wanted the French to win one year because I was tired of losing.
Growing up I always acted in school plays, but I first tried on a design hat in undergrad, dabbling in lighting and sound. My first video design was for an Edgar Allan Poe project (directed by Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death), that I also sound designed. It featured live projections of silent 16mm films that I shot on a Bolex. It was exciting to make the image into a dimensional and performative act, taking up the air of a small black box theatre with the rattle of the projector. It harkened back to audience experiences at the very first film exhibitions—an experience of something ghastly and wondrous and technological—a world Poe envisioned but never beheld.
What are the first three questions you ask a new collaborator?
I usually ask first what music they listen to and what music feels close to the show in question. This helps me establish a mood because I think music communicates more than what a person can exactly point to.
The second question is about where the world is set. Is it based in reality or is it surreal/minimal? This will inform me how much attention will be placed on costumes and how much I need to think about scaling back so that they harmonize with the entire design of the show. I also find out if the show has been done before, and if so, what the new challenge and angle is.
A third question I ask is how many actors will be cast and whether or not roles are double cast. Sometimes I am surprised to find that even with the right number of actors, there are times when multiple actors are still playing one character at the same time (such as a recent version of The Tempest that I designed where Ariel was played by three girls).
The questions change with different people but questions I like to ask are…
What happened to the last lighting designer? Why are you looking for one?
Is there an image or a photo that you find as inspiration for the piece? (This helps me see where they are aesthetically, so I know how to proceed.)
Often directors will tell me that they want the look to be "out there," cool, dynamic, or weird. Then I’ll ask, “What does weird mean to you?” First, because I am interested in that word and second, because I want to know how far into experimentation we can go. Sometimes the answer is white top light.
Of directors…
Why this piece/why now?
Can the show still work without video? (I love talking directors out of using video if it’s not essential.)
What do you want the audience to walk away with?
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