Klyph Stanford is a triple threat production designer because he designs scenery, lighting, and projections. He is currently represented with scenery and projection at MetroStage with his work on Josephine Tonight. Some past credits include After The Fall, Imagining Madoff, and Return to Haifa at Theater J, The Baby Dance and Crimes of The Heart for Maryland Theatre Ensemble, The Woman Who Amuses Herself and The Bread of Winter for Theatre Alliance, Henry VIII at Folger Theatre, and Gem of The Ocean for Hangar Theatre.
Most designers concentrate on one thing and do that one thing well. Klyph does multiple things on productions and does all of them well. I worked with him on Return To Haifa and that show had him dealing with 900 slides because of the surtitles – and at the same time – he was lighting the show. An amazing multi-talented designer.
Where did you study design, and who are some of your mentors?
My path of study has never really been a straight one, and the people who have been most influential for me have been as much mentors as instructors. Design sort of found me, since I did not start off with a clear idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had enjoyed working backstage on shows in high school, but it had not occurred to me that was something I could pursue as a career. I had sort of been bouncing around doing odd jobs and was taking courses at the local community college when they opened a new fine arts wing and hired a man named Jerry Marconi to run the theatre department. I started taking classes in stagecraft and working in the scene shop. As I seemed to have some aptitude for design, Jerry started offering me opportunities to do so.
It was Jerry who encouraged me to pursue design as a career and pointed me towards North Carolina School of the Arts. I enrolled there as a Lighting Design major in the Fall of ’91, but had to leave in the middle of my junior year to return to the DC area and resolve some family issues. After my ex-wife and I split up I decided to return to NCSA, where I studied Lighting Design with Norman Coates, and Scene Design with Howard Jones and Franco Colavecchia. After graduation, I returned to the DC area to take a nine-month fellowship at The Kennedy Center. Early on I was paired up with Dan Covey and spent most of that nine months assisting him on shows around DC – an experience that was incredibly useful because it allowed me to observe first hand another designer’s process through a series of projects. My own design process is now an amalgamation of my formal education and my time spent with Dan.
Most designers concentrate on one design department in theatre – either scenic or lighting. How did you end up in both departments?
What excites me as a designer is the use of the visual elements to aid in the storytelling, (part of the reason why theatre is far more interesting to me than dance) and so to me Scenery and Lighting are two sides of the same coin. I am far more comfortable designing Lighting when I am not the Scene Designer than I am the other way around, although it has been several seasons since I have done both on the same show and I have enjoyed immensely some of the collaborations I have had with the Lighting Designers I have worked with, especially Dan Covey.
Designers who did both, or even Scenery, Lighting and Costumes for productions were once far more prevalent. The middle of the 20th Century saw many, the most obvious example being Jo Mielziner who designed the original productions of Death Of A Salesman, South Pacific and The Glass Menagerie, among many others. I think the growing use of various technologies, as well as the increased pace of those technology’s development has been a part of the specialization in the various design disciplines. My ultimate goal would be to design Scenery, Lighting and Projections on a single project, but I am not sure how practical that would ever be unless we were working under a more Eastern European model of production.
When you do a projection design for a show, how do you come up with the overall concept of the design and does the director come in with any images he/she might want to use?
I base the idea of the design on what part of the storytelling we are attempting to accomplish with the Projections. For instance in Imagining Madoff at Theater J – we wanted to use the projections to help indicate where we were in the timeline, with the prison bars helping to place Bernie in his cell in the present as he is speaking with the unseen biographer. But in After The Fall, also at Theater J, we were hoping to make the sequences that were entirely in Quentin’s memory clear to the audience while at the same time providing a background that was more about the emotional content of the scene than it was about any real sense of a place. In most cases I have been the one to come in with specific images, even if the director has a clear idea of what the content should reflect. But the surfaces we are projecting on will have a large impact on what we can actually use as a projected image.
What is your most challenging venue in the DC area to design either sets or lighting for?
I think the real challenge with any space is the venue vs the material being produced. Intimate shows can get dwarfed by their surroundings in larger theatres (imagine staging Waiting For Godot at Sydney Harman Hall), while more epic shows can feel ridiculous in a small black box (imagine staging Henry V at CHAW). Bridging those scale differences can be challenging no matter what the space. That said, low ceilings are always challenging for both scenery and lighting. It is difficult to give a sense of vastness if the audience has a view to the ends of your scenery, and it is next to impossible for them to ignore the machinery of production if they had to duck under lighting units to get to their seats. But again it is really more about choosing material that is appropriate to the space where it will be presented.
What is the most satisfying thing about your job as a designer?
Working with the other members of the production team and the cast. I have some colleagues who think I am nuts, but I love tech. It is by far my favorite part of the process. I view designing a play as trying to solve a puzzle in four dimensions, and tech is the time you get to bring your parts of the puzzle together with everyone else’s and try to solve it in a way that will carry the audience. When it is going well, and everything is clicking, there really is no feeling like it.
Klyph Stanford’s website.