– James Kronzer is a multiple Helen Hayes Award recipient, with, by our count, 20 nominations since 1990, and taking home 7. –
I am in theatre because of the importance of storytelling. That is the timeless part of theatre, and the reason we keep coming back to Shakespeare and the Greeks. We see common experiences in the characters in front of us, and we want to root for their rise or demise.
It’s interesting right now, to be hearing from other people what they believe the focus of theatre is. You learn more every time you do a show. And it’s also the unknown factor when you come to a new production of a play you’ve done before, this question of how new people are going to approach the same text, the same story.
When I go to see other plays I almost become like a cheerleader. I don’t enter into a show with an overly critical eye. I think it’s important to leave your designer hat at home when you go out as an audience member. You try to just go and have the experience. I look to be almost childlike in my responses sometimes, seeing the world through an innocent lens.
I think the amazing thing about Washington is its growth over the past fifteen or twenty years. I also love Washington’s generosity, within theatre companies but also in how theatres treat each other and treat new people. When you see visiting artists who aren’t from DC get up and give acceptance speeches at awards show like Helen Hayes, they always say how invited in they’ve felt. I think that’s genuine. I’ve been to awards shows in other cities where the visiting artists still seem like they feel that they’re outsiders. Not so here.
Even within the city there’s such fluidity. We’re moving all over the place as artists, working with different people in different venues. And I think the Helen Hayes Awards brings that to light. It’s a very public forum to witness and hear about that generosity.
Sometimes people lose track of the fact that the Helen Hayes Awards is a tool to raise awareness of Washington theatre. That’s the real focus. I wish my friends and colleagues all the best this year. And it’s always a fun night. You get to see people you haven’t seen in years sometimes.
I think we are lucky to have a collection of really talented and gifted designers here in town. I love working with long-time collaborators. There is something very comforting about being in the room with friends. You develop a shorthand with people. Then, the challenge is to fight off the familiar in the art — to ward off complacency, to not rest on what is already known.
There are so few designers in this town. We all know each other. Sometimes Tony Cisek and Dan Conway and myself are all in one room together. I’m a big fan of my fellow designers. I think we’re kind of like actors in that each of us is better at some things than others. I have a certain style, like Tony does, and like Dan does. So it’s fun to try and get outside of those expectations and play with things that are outside our comfort zone.
Washington theatres provide a very safe environment where you can take risks. I think that’s so important. It comes down to the depth of the friendships. You only risk when it feels safe in the rehearsal room, or in the room with other designers. When you feel unsafe, you play it safe. And I think that’s why we grow such good theatre. And also why we have actors like Rick Foucheaux and Holly Twyford, who risk it every day.
I’m excited about 2012. We’re going to get two new artistic directors, one at Olney and one at Round House. The sand continues to shift. I’m excited to see how Olney lands on an identity that works for its demographic and its location, and also to see what’s next for the strong legacy that past artistic directors Jerry Whiddon and Blake Robison have brought to Round House. I’ll also say that the addition of the new artistic director at Center Stage in Baltimore, playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, is really great news.
I think young people are going to get more worthwhile opportunities here than in Chicago or New York, to be frank. A chance to develop not just a career but an identity. Over the years I’ve established an identity that is unique, but only by virtue of being actually able to do the work. I came into my own here in Washington, after being given opportunities as a young designer. I’ve had a connection with Jim Petosa at Olney Theatre for over thirty years. And I’ve been helped a great deal by Joy Zinoman at Studio and Howard Shalwitz at Woolly Mammoth.
When I came to Washington I stage managed and floor managed at Studio Theatre, cleaning up stage blood during Joy’s production of The Bacchae. Then I designed a show very early on for Studio 2ndStage. So my design career is very much based here. And having people like Joy take a chance on me as a young person was really important.
The size of a theatre space dictates design to a certain degree. But that pushes small-space theatres to be all the more creative. It seems the Helen Hayes Awards is wise enough to recognize good work when it sees it. It doesn’t automatically equate resources with excellence. It’s great to see Rorschach Theatre and Adventure Theatre and others in the mix with Shakespeare Theatre. And it’s encouraging for young designers to see they can be rewarded for hard work regardless of the resources.
When I won a Helen Hayes award for the first time, I think everyone started assuming I knew what I was doing. I got hired a lot right away, and I had to learn really quickly. I think that spirit still exists in Washington. We want up-and-coming artists to succeed. That’s part of why I love the Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company award. Washington continues to breed new talent. People need to make the theatre they want.
I’d also like to see more established designers working with new and up and coming theater companies. We need to all cross-pollinate more. I know we all need to make a living. But with the right project in front of me, I’ll do it for a fraction of the pay. We need to seek a more conscious mix-up. I think a lot of the time young theatre companies and young directors are afraid of approaching established designers with ideas, or work. They shouldn’t be afraid.
Guess who'll receive the Helen Hayes Award for Set Design
- Collin Ranney for A Year with Frog and Toad (53%, 1,025 Votes)
- Lee Savage for Much Ado About Nothing (47%, 904 Votes)
- Misha Kachman for A Bright New Boise (0%, 7 Votes)
- Daniel Conway for Cyrano (0%, 4 Votes)
- Phil Charlwood for King Lear (0%, 3 Votes)
- David Ghatan for Voices Underwater (0%, 1 Votes)
- James Noone for The Habit of Art (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,934