Following my graduation from college, I had no idea who I was, where I was going, or what I was doing.
One trait I had developed, especially my senior year of school, was being a rebel without a clue. Hated authority. My faculty advisor told me at my exit interview he did not see me as a Technical Director but very happy as a master carpenter or shop foreman someday. I immediately launched a nationwide job search exclusively for a Technical Director position.
My love/hate relationship with the performing arts had begun. I took a Technical Director position with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. Founded by former students of acting guru Alvina Krause, the premise of the troupe was that theater should permeate the American landscape. The lofty goal that farmers should be discussing Shakespeare. To help launch this arts revolution, approximately a dozen actors acquired an art deco style theatre in Norman Rockwellesque Bloomsburg PA. cleaned it, renovated it, and transformed it into a proscenium arch theater.
Being part of that was exciting.
The money sucked.
It was my introduction to the harsh reality of showbiz: The fun creative stuff does not pay enough to finance a running car. Nor does it keep the Guaranteed Student Loan people at bay. As for a roof over your head, hope you like roommates! If you pursue money in theatre, say Broadway's latest smash hit Hamilton, your part in that enormous machine is so small, your specific role is no different than, say, fulfilling the same role on the crew of Broadway disaster Spider Man. You are not part of a creative process, you are a small cog in a big machine.
Working on engineering and constructing a brick wall for a dynamic smash-hit like Hamilton,
is exactly the same as creating a brick wall for a blight on Broadway's history like Spider Man.
Many of my classmates got this during school, really liked their vocations, and are doing incredibly well. I was in it for a love of the art form and, more specifically, the quality of the two hour experience being created for the audience. Like so many recent graduates of college, I was disillusioned and burned out in less than a year at my chosen profession. I did not yet realize I was an artist.
At the close of the first season at my first professional Technical Director job, my girlfriend at the time had a sister in LaPorte Indiana who was having a baby. When she asked me to move there with her for the adventure of living in a different state and trying different things...sure! Why not? The creditors were closing in and changing my address seemed a sound financial move.
It was at this point I realized that all the helpful advice, with a generous dose of guilt, I had gotten from family and friends my entire life, was complete and utter bullsh*t. Mainly the society-perpetuated myth that getting a college degree is the best thing to do as soon as you graduate high school.
Me putting tens of thousands of dollars worth of education to good use.User comments
Thanks for the great advice everybody!
In Indiana I learned that the job skills I had acquired in college translated in the real world to a diversified trade school. Metalworking, woodworking, plastics, drafting, engineering, color and design all at 101 beginner level caliber. I scrambled to figure out how to pay rent with this less than specialized skill set.
I started by calling Kelly temp agency. They started me out at American Rubber making rubber parts for automobiles. I was the only guy in that department. The crew was the toughest group of women I have ever seen. It was a whole factory floor of Ellen Ripleys from Alien.
My memory of my co-workers at American Rubber
And so the job hopping began. Wanting to try more of a trade instead of factory production work, I went to a plant called Kingsley Furniture to build solid wood French Provincial couches and chairs.
For those unfamiliar with furniture styles, French Provincial is very fancy and elaborate.
Think woodworking for Liberace or President Donald Trump.
Kingsley furniture was having financial problems. I could not afford to miss a day of the week, much less a paycheck, so I went to The House of Fara.
Putting together little pieces of solid wood moulding at my own
perfectionist pace. Why I left this job that paid for a house rental in
the country and had good benefits? Young? Reckless? I got nothing.
At first, I was in charge of the 'Block Shop' where I supervised a small factory of, roughly, a dozen employees. I was not ambitious (my interpretation='mean') enough to manage that crew. So, I was given my own warehouse, one assistant, and all the materials and equipment I wanted to make solid wood displays to show off how wonderful the House of Fara line of moulding and casework product were. Meanwhile, in a rented house by a little flowing river, out in the woods of Indiana, I sporadically continued my work on the fantasy fiction epic I had begun writing my senior year in college instead of going to class, Alga Mor.
The Crystal Ball of Alga Mor concept artPrince of the Shoal Artwork by K.C. Solano
Because I would much rather spend time with the imaginary race of underwater
elves I was creating than going to some boring class about theater management.
It was my first experience being some semblance of an adult.
I was "poor" when I started out in LaPorte. Meaning, one paycheck away from disaster. My 1984 little red Ford Escort broke down while I was driving somewhere across nowhere Indiana. I should have been terrified. Not only did I have no way of repairing the car, it was before the time of cell phones. It was me alone in an ocean of corn stalks swaying in the breeze for miles in every direction. I was pretty screwed, but it was amazing. It would later inspire what I wanted to create as an artist.
The people of Indiana are very nice. I was rescued by a farmer in a pickup truck. My confused life went on.
One night my girlfriend announced she was not in love with me any more. Vacation to real life over, it was back to theatre! I have no good explanation for this decision.
I was Technical Director for a small summer stock company called the Chautauqua Theatre Company, had nothing lined up for the winter so I worked on the assembly line at a company in nearby Jamestown called American Locker.
To this day, I could still knock out about 10 of these units in half an hour.
Did part of another summer at Chautauqua Theatre Company after another winter at American Locker, and got serious with my search for a 'grown up' theatre job and career. I ended up at the Delaware Theatre Company where I met Jennifer.
Just another throwaway theatre romance...that has lasted two decades so far...
The Delaware Theatre Company is where I peaked as Technical Director. I had an amazing crew, a just as amazing supervisor, and was working in a fantastic facility. It was a 'lorte "B" theatre' which, for me, meant just far enough away from Broadway to avoid the corporate bulls**t, but close enough to work with the best designers and performers in the theatre world. Being a chain smoker, I maintained my office as the only smoking area in the entire building. That meant famous actors hung out in there between scenes telling old theater stories and great dirty jokes.
You Can't Take it With YouStarring Louie Zorich and Directed by Apollo Dukakis, established names and rising stars were commonly found working on Delaware Theatre Companie's productions.
You Can't Take it With You
Delaware Theatre Company
Why am I not still there? The rest of the story.
To both organize a large amount of information that goes in to building any set, and to be able to be in the scene shop and a production meeting at the same time, I would draft elaborate working drawings from the designer's artistic renderings of the set. They were explicit instructions on how I wanted everything built. So detailed, it was as if I was there myself.
Blue Line Detail of Renfield's CellJCC Uncommoners Dracula
This was before the days Computer Aided Design (CAD) was affordable for, well, anyone outside of NASA or major architecture firms. I did it all with mechanical pencils, a drafting table, and quick shop math in my head. I was an awesome draftsman. Not by any innate talent, but by sheer force of will and doing it on average for eight hours a day. A technical director needs to do a complete other job on top of drafting. (S)he needs to attend rehearsals, meetings, and make sure the entire technical production staff has the materials, tools and information necessary to perform their jobs and serve as liaison between the artistic and technical, plus, manage financial, aspects of a theatre production.
Open ChargeAn original play produced by the Delaware Theater Company for the first time. That meant starting my day by having blue lines made of the previous night's draftings, arrive at the shop about 9:30 to hand out new information to the staff, work in my office and go to meetings all day, watch tech rehearsals in the evening, and go back to the apartment to draft more until two to three in the morning. It was not a "hard" job per-se. It was a lot of fun and I had a great staff and the support of upper management and, indirectly, the theatre board. I also instituted opening night shop parties for the entire cast and crew. Plus, there were lots of parties and a great social life with amazing guest artists and the theater staff. But it's all I did. When I got engaged to the Wardrobe Master at the company. I had only one thought.
Engagement Announcement PhotoMe and my wife, Jennifer thought it would be pretty to have our engagement picture taken outside in our favorite park. Delaware winters are cold.
It's f****ng cold out here
God! There has got to be something more to life. There just has to be.
Artwork by Ed NolanA going away gift from one of my great crew who often did black and white caricatures of the staff depicting biting commentary and inside jokes of our personalities. This, of course, depicts me and Jennifer charging into our new Florida life.
Jennifer received an offer to work on an ice skating show at Busch Gardens in Florida. I was assured by Busch Garden's recruitment team that there was lots of theatre in Florida. They lied. So, after a couple of months of doing everything from digging ditches, cleaning warehouses, and putting together office furniture working through various temp agencies, I did the only thing I was really qualified at to make a living in rural Tampa. So began my two year career of being a stage technician for Busch Garden's Hollywood Live on Ice!
Ice skaters are crazy. It was a blast with an incredibly funny group of people. It was also eight hours a day and I didn't make very much money. But I did begin to seriously write. I had two story ideas going. Including Crystal Ball of Alga Mor. Another one featured Florida and was an urban fiction thing. But, really, I was flailing on borrowed time. Living paycheck to paycheck with no clear life goals or plans and my credit rating going down by the week. After two years, we left Tampa for Orlando. I thought I might be happy creating imaginary worlds with complete immersion. I wanted to build sets for theme parks.
If your children meet Buzz Lightyear at Walt Disney World, look behind you.
That spaceship? I helped build it.
I can not share my photographs of my work life for theme parks. Confidentiality agreements are strict. But if you have been to Universal Studios Florida, or Walt Disney World, you have seen my work. Fiberglass, wood, plastic, metal. I've done a little bit of everything.
Rocket Ship for a Corporate ShowI have done a lot of "creative building" over the years. In this instance, I was handed a large length of sonotube, a big block of white foam, and told to build a rocket ship in the carpentry shop.
Constructing a Rocket Ship for Corporate Theatre
I also found a lot of work in corporate theatre and the convention industry. It was a tug of war for a long time. The convention industry is a lot of money with the best materials and meticulous craftsmanship. Theme park work is not always as steady but it is building the "cool, fun, creative" stuff.
The International Builder's Show Entrance UnitThis production lasts less than a week, but costs more to produce than most American mid-size corporations make in a year.
$$$ Pure Money $$$
This "day job" part of the story has a happy ending. I currently work for a scenic company that does both the fine craftsmanship elements for the big theme parks in Orlando and around the world, along with set elements for television spots. Not a lot of highbrow stuff, but these people are a lot of fun and keep my energy up. A certain British television crew I worked with recently was awesome.
But what I really wanted to do with my life, was be a genuine artist. My opportunity came when a friend from where it all began, when he played Captain Hook in the very first theater production I had ever worked on, called me up and asked if I would be interested in being the guest designer for his first production at his new job as Director for the JCC Uncommoners all the way back in my childhood home town. Working with Bob Schlick is always an awesome proposition anyway. The only thing that could make it better, was the show he wanted to do.
DraculaDesigned by yours truly for the Jcc Uncommoners
Dracula was a huge project.
Dracula Ground PlanA ground Plan is an aerial view of the set. This one illustrates the movement of various set pieces to transform the set from a full stage castle to Renfield's padded cell to Mina Harker's bedroom...and the list goes on.
With a total of 18 scene changes including a full stage castle, It was ambitious to do onstage without resorting to minimalism. But, my love of everything fantasy and medieval had me going overboard. I wanted to build a full size castle.
JCC's DraculaOne solution, like this "safe" hospital room scene for the heroine, was to have the castle always be an ominous presence in the background and architectural elements in the foreground reflecting it. The white unit also makes a kind of Batman face.
I have never had more fun working in theatre. I unleashed my creativity on the velum. Blue lined it, and shipped it off to Upstate New York where the students began building it.
Iron Torches Drafting DetailTo be made out of wood and painted like wrought iron, each one held a tiki torch canister so that they could be practical (actually work) during the show with real fire. Completed TorchBuilt, Painted and ready to light! I was supposed to go up there to inspire the students and volunteers.
Milling the Window FrameA JCC Uncommoner But, the truth is, they inspired me. Renfield Paints a Tomb in Faux Marble Their work and enthusiasm energized me.
Rock Goop SaturdayThat's a lot of rocks that needed to be faux finished on that set. We held what I dubbed "Rock Goop Saturday" Posted posters around campus and mixed plastic garbage pails full of gray goop that volunteers plastered all over the set. Reminded me why I do what I do.
Dracula Lurks in the Window in Wolf Form
The results were awesome.
In the spring, we did Jesus Christ Superstar with similar success.
Jesus Christ SuperstarWe did a contemporary version of the show with Israel and Rome being sort of industrial.
I wanted an industrial looking set with the Priest's area being elevated on the right to represent the church, the cross as a sort of radio tower in the background in the center, and government represented as sort of the bottom of the pyramid found on a $1 bill. The symbolism driven home when Pontius Pilate's red flags were lowered with the famous "eye" above the pyramid sitting centered over the platform. Heady stuff. I loved creating and loved the energy.
Pontius PilateI think I worked as hard making those flags as I did on the rest of the set.
It was a dream gig. Jamestown Community College put me up in the Sheldon House as a guest artist. It is a mansion in Jamestown NY donated to the college by, I believe, the granddaughter of a famous inventor for Kodak Film. The curator of the house took great care of me and made amazing coffee. So I lived in a mansion and created with great people. A dream come true. Except, I still had a day job waiting for me back in Florida. I would work all day and draft all night in Florida to help get construction going, then show up a week or two before opening to help finish up the set and rehearse the scenic elements for the show.
Judas Singing his Heart OutThe backdrop behind the white scrim upstage is actually an easter egg I put in the design. It is, loosely, the Orlando skyline.
When we did the third show together, I got sick. I was working 14 hour days at my day job in Orlando, and then still had to get together information after work to move production of the show forward in Upstate New York. By the time I arrived, I was fall-dead ill and didn't do my job like I should have. I never closed the gap enough to make the leap into designing full time.
Looking back, it's just as well. For one, I don't know if I ever wanted to be a set designer so much as I just wanted the experience of designing Dracula and Jesus Christ Superstar. Plus, not all directors are as fun to work with and creative as Bob Schlick. And not all theatre as uncompromising in quality or as dynamic as we were allowed to be at Jamestown Community College.
Eventually I found another passion.
Welcome to MegaConDelirium welcomes you, to MegaCon 2012
When my wife and I lived in 'the hood' in Orlando, there was a Coliseum of Comics just a few blocks away. The first X-Men movie came out, we started shopping there, got subscriptions, and were hooked. The idea occurred to me that, maybe, my ongoing pet project The Crystal Ball of Alga Mor was not a novel after all. Maybe it was a series of graphic novels. Maybe it was a monthly series of comic books.
Alga Mor MapThis map of Alga Mor continued to develop over the course of years. The Corel Draw file it became is long gone. But this world was so real to me, I pretty much have it memorized anyway. First I tried drawing myself. How hard could the transition be? I spent years drafting, set painting, a lot of elements it takes to create artwork.
Skeleton tied to a Ship's MastDetail from one of my design plates for J.C.C.'s Dracula.
As it turns out, pretty hard. Drawing something and having it be recognizable is one thing. Transitioning that to 22 pages of good looking art a month for an epic fantasy, that's something else altogether.
While searching for an artist, I embarked on researching how to best produce a story by meeting and talking to people at one of my favorite events: MegaCon.
At the PostOrlando MegaCon 2010Saturday, April 24thCool Kids First off, I love MegaCon. I wish I had gone as a teenager. It would have changed my life both as an artist, and a person. The creativity and work people put in to how they will dress at the event alone is amazing.
MegaCon BorgMegaton 2012
I like that it is for all ages.
Very Young ZoroMegaCon 2012 And, exciting for me, all the names in Comic Book Publishing were there and open to new talent.
Set in a sort of alternate history "mythic" Russia, it had innovative artwork that was a combination of Gosset's own hand drawn work scanned and then colored and enhanced using Photoshop.
When I approached the Red Star table the finance manager cheerfully told me Gossett was not available at the moment but would be back to talk with me shortly. I said, "actually I would like to talk to you." He seemed a bit taken aback. I doubt many people at a comic book convention want to talk to the money and accounting end of the comic book creation process. What followed was an extensive e mail correspondence and him introducing me to all the big names that could get my book published, and on comic book and bookstore shelves. It was so exciting.
Meanwhile, I wrote in earnest. I learned quickly that what my story had lacked all those years was narrative drive: Events that move the story forward. You can't have that when you are writing comic books. You shouldn't have that when writing a novel either. But there are plenty of FF books that have come and gone that could have stood some serious narrative drive. Anyway, when I began transcribing my story to a comic book script, the story took off at a rocket's pace.
Concept for Crystal Ball of Alga Mor CoverArtwork by KC Solano
As for the artwork itself, I went through several different artists on the premise that we would be like a rock band. Collaborating on the whole thing, sharing the royalties once it began to sell.
Shifara Character StudyThe Chrystal Ball of Alga Mor Artwork by KC Solano I learned the hard way you can't produce comic books like that.
Slaad The Crystal Ball of Alga Mor Artwork by KC solano
At least I couldn't.
Hall of Kings artwork by KC SolanoI wanted the entrance hall to the King of all Alga Mor to be unimaginably enormous and impressive. Starting with it being lined on either side by statues of former kings who, one of their big toes would be "as big as a draft horse.
And so, I had all but sold a series I could not produce. I was done with collaborative art. I wanted to do something on my own. I also, after decades of creating either in a dark theatre or staring into a computer screen wanted to do something that depicted and embraced the real world. At least, my interpretation of it.
That is why I chose photography.
But that is a story for next Sunday. Right here, at Real Florida Photo.
...Shuffling your memories dealing your doodles in margins
You scrawl out your poems across a beermat or two
And when you declare the point of grave creation
They turn round and ask you to tell them the story so far
This is the story so far
And you listen with a tear in your eye
To their hopes and betrayals and your only reply
Is Slainte Mhath