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Broadway Bullet Interview: Tony Nominee Anna Louizos

We talk to Anna Louizos, Tony nominee for best set design for High Fidelity.

On Broadway, Anna has worked on Curtains; High Fidelity; Avenue Q (2004 Tony Award, Best Musical), also Las Vegas and London productions; Steel Magnolias; Golda's Balcony. National: Irving Berlin's White Christmas (SF, Boston, L.A., St. Paul, Detroit, Seattle), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (TUTS, Paper Mill), Disney Live: Winnie the Pooh (U.S. and world tours). Off Broadway: In the Heights (37 Arts); Altar Boyz (prem. and U.S. tour); tick, tick… BOOM! (prem. and U.S. tour); MTC; Second Stage; Roundabout Theatre. Regional: The Baker's Wife (Paper Mill); Much Ado About Nothing, Beyond Therapy (Old Globe); Me and My Girl (Goodspeed). Also: Berkshire TF, Alley, Merrimack Rep, Charlotte Rep, George St., Williamstown TF. Art direction, film/TV: "Sex and the City" (HBO). Feature film: The Secret Lives of Dentists.

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Broadway Bullet Interview: Tony-Nominated Set Designer Anna Louizos

Broadway Bullet: Anna Louizos has had quite a year designing sets on Broadway and  Off Broadway, designing, In The Heights, Curtains, and she is the sole Tony Nominee, designing the set, for High Fidelity, which you've probably heard us mention on the show several times. The set stole the show, in what was actually a good show. So, how are you doing today, Anna?

Anna Louizos: Great, great, it's nice to be here.

BB: Is this your first Tony Nomination?

AL: Yes it is!

BB: How does that feel?

AL: When I think of where I came from and where I've ended up, it's pretty surprising. I've been an assistant for many years, more than I care to admit – at least 15. So I've gotten to know the crew, and I just know how to treat people with respect. And also, I think it helps to know what you're talking about, and I do. I feel like over the years I just – all the experience I've had as an assistant, making scenery, figuring out how scenery moves -- has been a real learning experience for me, and I've learned to be practica,l but also when I can push to get my vision across.

BB: You certainly figured out how scenery moves because your set design for High Fidelity was practically a ballet -- not only a technical impressive feat, but it was very artistically successful in helping further the story, I thought.

AL: Thank you!

BB: What is it like, getting all those pieces, literally moving, constantly around the stage? What kind of track work is going on?

AL: The automation was pretty superb, I must say. The shops did an incredible job, and when Walter Bobbie and I first sat down and talked about the show, he gave me a list of what his requirements were for the show, and one was: he didn't want any blackouts in the show; he wanted the scenery to move a vista, which means in front of the audience, without any curtains coming down, or anything. And he wanted the scenery to dance, and he wanted the scenery to be funny. And he also said that he wanted the set to look like it was put together by these guys, these slacker guys – a bunch of smart slacker guys – he wanted it to look like they built it. It had to have character; it had to look authentic to these characters. I like efficiency -- it's something that I love to do. Even with Avenue Q, everything was very compact, and things popped open and things came out and  -- it's something I like to do. I like to try to figure out how to make things be very efficient. I figured out how to have the minimal amount of pieces on stage that could just shift and transform, rotate, track on and off in as many possible combinations that I could come up with.

BB: Is it a little like, you know, those square little puzzles? Where it's a traffic jam -- the cars? The square little thing where you've got the cars and you try to move them—

AL: Yeah, in a way, it's like that, and some of them flip around, too. Because there was this -- there was a scene where we were in the bedroom, we were in Rob's bedroom for a moment -- No, we were in Ian's bedroom, which was the guy who had the Shiva on his wall and the Buddhas and all the Indian gods, and then we had to instantly transform from that scene, where Rob says, "I hate this guy," and suddenly he throws himself on the bed, and it transforms to Rob's bed.

BB: It was—

AL: That was pretty cool; I love that scene.

BB: It was impressive.

AL: And then the only way I could come up with [how to change the bed] was: these vertical blind ideas that flipped around and, of course, we had the bed that was a bed on top of a bed, because Rob needed to, kind of, collapse on top of Ian and Laura, who were descending into hell in his fantasy. It was a lot of fun; it took a lot of meetings. We met many, many, many times; I had model pieces – my poor assistants kept building new versions of model pieces, and we kept bringing – shlepping everything to the producing office, and sitting in the conference room with Walter, and moving little pieces around, and talking through every scene: how we could get from one scene to the next, what would be the most interesting way to do it. We talked through everything, and then when we went to Boston, where we did our out-of-town tryout. There were a number of times when Walter said: "You know, I'm not quite sure how we're going to get to this scene, and I might want to change it, but I know I have enough of the toys to play with that we can try something different," and he was very creative about it. We changed a few things from what we came up with in the work process in the studio, and it all worked still. It was great – it was wonderful to discover those things -- once we had the toys, the real toys to go onstage. The programming was – it's all computer programmed. All those moves had to be set up in tech. We had two shops building those, the set. We had Hudson Scenic up in Yonkers, they did all of the scenery that moved on top, and then Showmotion from Norwalk, Connecticut, built all the tracking pieces. You wouldn't have believed the basement – the basement was -- it was like a space shuttle launchpad down there. It was fun to watch the people come down from the bed when you're down in the basement, when they were descending. It was really cool to look at. Kind of scary, too.

BB: So in developing your career, how did you get started? Where did you go to school, and how did you take being, like, a neophyte into being a Tony-nominated set designer? I'm sure there's some tech people out there wanting to know how.

AL: I grew up in California and I went to – I wanted to be an actress way back when. I went to college thinking that I was going to be an actress/performer. I went to Mills College in Oakland, California for two years, and then decided I needed to come to New York, so I transferred to NYU and their undergrad acting program at Tisch. And then after I graduated I thought to myself: Hmm, I don't think I want to be an actress, I think I wanna do something else. But throughout the time I was -- in college I always loved  helping hang the lights, and I was really interested in doing all of the backstage stuff. And I always could draw, I was always interested in more than just being onstage, anyway. And also, just the sense of control of, you know, your future, your destiny -- it just seemed better suited backstage than onstage, because there's so many actors out there – it's not my cup of tea, ultimately. I started thinking about designing, and so I started assisting because I had the aptitude, I could draw and draft and build models. So I did that for five years, and then I decided to go back to school to get my master's at NYU.  So I – it was a gradual learning process for me. You know what, even as a kid I loved building things, and my father was very, very helpful,and very encouraging for me, and so I think, I always had an interest in that. When I got out to NYU I worked on television shows and did a whole lot of things, really. I mean, it wasn't just one clear path, it was – I supported myself by working in the restaurant business; that's how I made money. And then once I got out of college, I was able to get into the union and get better paying assisting jobs, a lot of assisting jobs. And the only design work I got was little Off Broadway shows, and Music Theater Festival type stuff. Digging in dumpsters for props and—

BB: Having five dollars to put together –

AL: Yeah, exactly, a hundred dollars or -- if you got five hundred dollars,, you ended up spending it on props, and your friends to help you, and paying your friends to help paint the scenery, and all that kind of stuff. It was just a long, slow process and somehow – it's crazy how you end up lucking out with just one show, and suddenly it helps transform your career.

BB: What was the one show for you?

AL: I think the first show I did that got me some recognition was tick… tick… BOOM!, which was at the Jane Street theater.  And I was finally working with producers that had some cachE and legitimacy. [tick...tick...BOOM!] got a lot of press, and I formed an association with a wonderful director, Scott Schwartz, and then we ended up doing several shows together; we've done, like seven or eight shows now together over the years. I did another show with him at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater called The Castle, which got a lot of really good publicity and good reviews, and then a year later we did another show at M.E.T. called Golda's Balcony. That same year I ended up doing Avenue Q at the Vineyard Theater and I'd say that Avenue Q certainly was the one show that really changed my trajectory. And that same year, I ended up working as art sirector on Sex and the City, I got that job at around the same time.  So I was doing Golda's Balcony, Avenue Q and Sex and the City all around the same time, and then when they decided to move Avenue Q uptown, and then two months later Golda's Balcony moved uptown as well; I had two Broadway shows. And I had to leave Sex and the City because, you know, suddenly I had two Broadway shows, and it was like: Oh my God, suddenly it's like a dream come true for me. That's what changed things. And that was only four or five years ago.

BB: I think out of all the shows that you've designed that I've seen, I think the biggest thing that I'd have to say is [that] I don't see a style. You suit the storytelling very well.

AL: I try!

BB: -- of the individual show. I mean, Curtains was a very different beast than High Fidelity.

AL: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's true. And I remember, I worked for Tony Walton for a number of years, and he was a wonderful mentor and example of being a good person and being a talented person at the same time. He said, "Don't worry about a style," he always said that. He said, "Your style will evolve, and you won't even realize it' you won't even be aware of it."  For me, the most important thing is to talk to the director, and understand how to tell the story of the play, and whatever shape or form that takes, I'm willing to go in whatever direction that is. It's fun, you know, you get to try all kinds of different things and – it's like being an actor, really, when you think about it. Actors, , they embody the character that they're reading for.Sso I think it gives them versatility, and that's the fun part, really.

BB: Well I understand that, just as another quick plug, a friend of ours, David Kirshenbaum, who's been on the show a couple of times – I understand you're slated to work on his show, Vanities.

AL: Yeah, I'm really excited about that. I saw a little closed reading of it a couple of weeks ag, and they were singing the songs from the show, and I just think the music is fantastic and – I remember seeing that show when it was a play, years ago, at the West Side Arts Theater here in New York, right down the street actually from here. It ran forever; it was one of those Off Broadway phenomenons that just wouldn't stop running. And reviving it as a musical is just a brilliant idea, I think, and it just infuses it with a whole other life, especially because now Jack Heifner has added another section to the story, so for those of us who had seen it the first time around, it will have a whole new perspective on the show.

BB: And I understand you have a very interesting Blind Item --

AL: Yes, sometime in the future, I'm very excited to be looking forward to a musical version of Tales of the City. But that's all I'm going to say.

BB: The Armistead Maupin books for those who –

AL: Yes.

BB: Well, I thank you so much for stopping down here, and coming down on another rainy day here in New York.

AL: It Feels good! It feels good to be here, and it's very exciting to be here, and I really appreciate your asking me.

BB: And I wish you the best of luck on June 10th. I'm personally rooting for you!

AL: Aww, thank you! Thanks.

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You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol 118. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

 or MP3 Feed with XML



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