Interview: Lighting Designer Sarah Resch

What do you do when not working with this production for UCI?

In an ideal world, I love to be outside. Hiking or being at the beach or in a hammock reading at the park. Pretty much the opposite of sitting in a dark theatre. In a Lightingmore real world I’m doing homework or design work for the next show and overall wrapping up my last year of grad school.

How would you describe your design philosophy?

I always approach a design story first. I’m really interested in figuring out the emotional arc of the story and mapping how those emotions change. That really helps me know how to support that story through lighting. In Mrs. Packard, for example, the show starts very cold and clinical and by the end there is a lot of hope and warmth.

What does the role of collaboration play in the design for this show?

Collaboration has been huge for this show. Travis and I have worked closely together on how the lighting and the set worked together in the space. We have done a bunch of tests for the material backing the windows in order to achieve the desired effect and are actually on option number six now – it’s been a process. Then there’s always the collaboration with the director and this process with Melissa, has been great. We’ve had an open communication about ideas and how to integrate both our ideas and visions into the design of the show.

You have mentioned the architectural nature of light in this production. What does that look like on stage? How do you achieve it? 

To me it looks like you’re creating the ‘room’ onstage and isolating a part of the set through lighting so that the whole thing isn’t lit up all the time – because just having the whole stage illuminated the whole time can get boring. I’ve achieved this by starting with a pool of light that defines the space of the room and then building that up to both illuminate faces and create the dimensionality in the scene. I’ve also worked to create sources in each room, either from the windows or from above as though light were pushing down into the room.

CourtroomWhat excites you about Lighting design?

Everything. I love lighting – it’s this thing that is intangible and magical and so hard to describe. I love how much you can affect the mood and atmosphere onstage simply by changing color or angle. Lighting is also a perfect mix of creativity and technical. You have all these ideas of how you want to light a show and then you have to sit down and plot out how you’ll actually achieve that by picking the right angles and instrument types and color. And in the room you just get to play and see what works and the design is always changing and growing.

Interview: Sound Designer Ning Guo

What do you do when not working with this production for UCI?

Mostly homework or projects from classes. Cooking food for myself has also become a

hobby these days and a great stress reliever. Sometimes I take the time to go for a long run around Mason Park for some fresh air.

How would you describe your design philosophy?

I think my design tends to be an emotional reaction to the text or action onstage. I relate what I want to hear to what I feel after reading or seeing a scene being played out. Nothing is too out of the way and nothing is too much, but it has to serve the STORY. A piece or music or sound has to serve a function, either to create mood, to contradict action, or make commentary. But it must not overtake the story. A stunning display of sound and lights would serve nothing if it becomes a distraction.

What does the role of collaboration play in the design for this show?

Collaboration is a huge part in this production. Melissa is a very open and amiable director. She is very receptive to new ideas and thoughts, which is a wonderful part of this process. I think especially for a theme that needs to be talked about, and a script that transcends time and space, it helps that we are not bound to stage the play in a traditional or rigid manner. Collaboration builds trust and helps everyone in the team to be free to contribute their best ideas.

You’ve been exploring with atmospheric sounds, how has that influenced your process designing this show?

I feel this show has been a test on how can I create new sounds from familiar sounds we already know. The bowing of a string instrument or the room tone of a prison can be transformed into something we don’t recognize anymore. The buzz of a fluorescent light can be transformed to an abstract tone to create tension. These are processes I don’t usually go through, but it has been great fun needing to start from actual recorded sounds.

What excites you about sound and music?

I feel music and sound always helps to create another dimension closer to our emotions compared to the visuals we see from scenic and lighting. We are allowed to comment on the story in a dimension that no other visual aspect can. We can manipulate the audience in more ways than we think.

Brutal Accounts Of Torture In Old Insane Asylums

From: Elizabeth Yetter MAY 25, 2016

Reports from the 1800s and early 1900s about the abuse of patients in insane asylums are enough to make the strongest person want to vomit. The patients were often kept in the most horrendous conditions and, in some cases, were treated far worse than any mistreated farm animal.

Even worse, the asylums fought back against the charges, claiming that none of the accusations against them should be believed because the patients were already insane. Newspapers took sides on the issues, with some papers reporting on investigations into horrendous forms of abuse and other papers saying that it was all just slander. Of course, the institutions wanted to protect themselves, but they did it at the cost of human suffering and, in many cases, committed murder.

Wooden Cages

CageImagine being poor and labeled insane in the 1800s. What were your chances of being treated with dignity and offered real help? Pretty much zilch. In 1874, The Carbon Advocate, a newspaper published in Pennsylvania, reported that the insane poor were severely mistreated “in certain county almshouses.”

There were no sanitary measures (bathrooms), and people who were deemed insane were kept in wooden cages. In one case, there was “an agricultural laborer, clad in rags.” He was described as a quiet man who did not have violent outbursts. Yet he was locked up in a wooden cage for 18 months with straw strewn on the floor, probably for bedding. Some of the other inmates had little to no clothing, and many were too weak to move, having been kept crouched in a cage.

In a final description, the reporter told of a 20-year-old woman who had been kept in a little cage for six years. He described her as wearing only a piece of bedticking and said that “she is so weak from lying that she can neither move her limbs, rise, nor walk.”

Cold Showers

The year was 1903, and the Omaha Daily Bee had a story that was all too common in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthose times. Patients at the Lakeland Insane Asylum in Kentucky were being tortured by the attendants. An investigation was underway, and patients were testifying about the abuse.

Many of the patients claimed that they were too scared to reveal everything that was going on inside the asylum, fearing that the attendants would hurt them after their testimony. Others revealed that they were strangled, beaten with socks containing potatoes, and forced to take cold showers as punishment. One articles states that “the patients [were] being held while cold water was allowed to drip on them.”

Called hydrotherapy, both hot and cold water was used to change patients’ behavioral patterns. Very popular in the early 20th century, spray showers of cold water, ranging in temperature from 9 degrees Celsius (48 °F) to 21 degrees Celsius (70 °F), were meant as treatment for manic-depressive psychoses. The cold temperature would decrease the patient’s mental and physical activities and was never meant to be used as a form of punishment.


Chair Binding

ChairBeing bound to a chair is nothing new. You see the practice all the time on crime television shows. However, the difference between today’s restraint chairs and the chairs that were used over 100 years ago is alarming.

Reported in a newspaper article published in 1886, a woman was suffering from “nervous excitement” and was taken to a state insane asylum. While in the asylum’s care, she was intentionally tripped and injured her left leg. She went to lie on her bed to recover from her injury, not knowing that it was against the asylum’s rules, and was immediately grabbed by the attendants.

The report goes on to state:

[She was placed in a chair and bound] so tightly she could not move, and the strap that went around the waist was so tight as to stop circulation, and she was left strapped up in that torturous position from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM, and when she was unbound, her limb that was injured by falling was swollen to twice its natural size.

She also endured gagging and having a large amount of her hair pulled out by an attendant.

Simulated Drowning

Under the direction of the matron head of staff, attendants committed a form of torture Water Tortuecalled the “water cure” against “insane” women at the Topeka Asylum for the Insane in 1903. One of the attendants explained the water cure like this:

When a patient refused to obey the orders given by Miss Houston [head of staff], the attendants were ordered to throw a sheet over her head and draw her to the floor. While the attendants held the patient, Miss Houston poured water out of a pan into her face. The water was poured fast, and the pouring continued until the patient agreed to obey orders.

According to the testimony, this was not a once-and-done thing. Simulated drowning happened often under the matron head of staff, which is why a committee was formed to investigate the claims of torture brought against her.


Photo credit: George Shuklin

There are numerous short accounts of starvation in insane asylums in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One report out of Illinois stated, “Men were tortured to death and beaten unmercifully and in many instances starved to death.”

Women not eatingIn an account that came out of Boston in 1883, a witness testified that women and children were dying of starvation. Another report said:

[In] one instance, [a] woman was in a dirty cell in the attic; she was entirely without clothing and almost starved. The assistants said she was violently insane and would tear the clothes. She had only one meal daily, carried to her by an idiotic girl who had always taken care of the woman. She watched and found the girl threw the food away and came back with an empty plate, telling the woman had eaten all the food.


Flogged In A Straitjacket

As numerous reports of asylum abuse came out in the late 1800s, more people felt that it was safe to begin questioning what happened to them or their loved ones in the asylums. In 1901, a woman finally came forward about her husband’s treatment in Bellevue straight jacketHospital in 1898.

She believed that her husband had died due to the abuse and treatment at the asylum. In one instance, “[s]he says she saw him in a straitjacket and made to trot up and down a corridor in the Bellevue insane pavilion while an attendant flogged him with a long strap tipped with metal.”

Her husband was later taken to the Manhattan State Hospital and treated for several fractured ribs. It would be another 1.5 years of asylum torture before the poor man passed away. It boggles the mind how a supposedly educated doctor could think that having someone flogged while in restraintscould somehow help mental illness.

Scalded To Death

Warm baths, ranging in temperature from 33 degrees Celsius (92 °F) to 36 degrees Celsius (97 °F), were given to patients to help them relax. While we all can agree that there is nothing as therapeutic as a comfortable soak in the tub, there have been some cases where a warm soak has been abused.

icebath-treatmentSome patients were kept in a warm bath for several hours and up to several days. Even worse, some patients were placed in water so hot that it caused burns. In 1903, it was reported that an insane asylum in Kansas was being investigated for reported abuses. In one case, a patient “died from scalds received during a bath. The cause of his death was entered on the asylum records as ‘senility.’ ”

From all the accounts given, it appears as though none of the attendants or employees of the asylums could be bothered to do their jobs properly. At the very least, they should have checked the temperature of the water before placing a patient into it.

Beaten For Not Working

Some insane asylums put their patients to work in much the same way as some penitentiaries work their inmates. The only difference was that the people at the asylum were placed there for assumed mental illness and not because of an actual crime.

In 1910, a case of abuse was reported in which a car clerk witnessed an attendant Beatingbeating a patient. According to the car clerk:

I was making my rounds and was standing near a boxcar. Several patients from the asylum were shoveling coal from the car under the supervision of an attendant. He was a man of about 40, I should imagine. One of the patients quit shoveling coal. The attendant ordered him to continue, but the latter refused. Then the attendant struck him, knocked him down, and kicked him about the body a moment or two until the patient got up and started to work again. The others did not interfere, and I did not think it was my place to do so either.

Head Dunking

In 1878, horrific reports of torture at the Columbus (Ohio) Insane Asylum hit the newspapers. An investigation was ongoing, and reports were leaking out about dunking patients. According to one article, the asylum hired a woman named Mrs. Brown to take over one of the wards that housed nonviolent, incurable patients. Since Mrs. Brown had previously worked in hospitals for the insane in Canada, it was felt that she was the perfect candidate for this position.

Head dunkingShortly after being hired, she began a system of torture. If a patient became troublesome, here’s what would happen:

This woman, whose duty it was to nurse and care for the unfortunate persons placed in her charge, rushed the offending victim to the bathroom, where she was stripped of her clothing and thrown into the water. The unfortunate patient’s head was forced under the water until the poor creature was nearly strangled, when her head would be raised for a moment that she might recover somewhat, when the operation would be repeated, until the patient, worn out from exhaustion and almost limp, would be forced to promise to obey at all times.

As a final insult, the patient was made to promise that she would not tell anyone what had been done to her. The patient was threatened that if word got out, she would be drowned.

Chained And Stamped In The Face

There should have been more of an outcry against the treatment of people who were made prisoners in insane asylums. Too many attendants looked the other way, or they joined in on the “fun.”

In 1889, there was a small piece in The State Chronicle (North Carolina) about the sickening abuse of some patients of a Dr. Grissom. Although certain political heads werechained trying to convince people “that the necessary thing to do to make an insane person act rational is to chain him, throw water in his face, or kick and stamp him in the face,” other people were crying out about the injustice and inhumane treatment.

By 1921, there was a debate among politicians and the doctors for the insane over whether or not it would be better to put the incurably insane out of their own misery. As reported in the Norwich Bulletin (Connecticut):

Discussion of the matter was started anew last Saturday by the members of the general assembly’s committee on appropriations, the members being divided as to whether or not a law should be passed providing that persons in state institutions found to be hopelessly insane and suffering mental tortures should be mercifully put to death.

Fortunately, they did not commit mass murder on people they deemed incurable.

Slang circa 1860

Sometimes, when putting a show like this together, it’s important to understand the ways in which language differed in the time being portrayed. Here is a short list of words found to be useful while building the world of Mrs. Packard.

Dead as a wagon tire: expired

Packard House Sketch
Packard House 

Doughface: Northerners who favor slavery

Fancy girl: a euphemistic term for a prostitute.

Fit: Fight

Fit to be tied: angry

Flim-flam: Something that is untrue, false, or not to be believed, someone that is dishonest, tricky, or deceptive, though usually not cruel or dangerous

Graybacks: Southern Soldiers or lice

High-falutin: highbrow, fancy

Hoof it- March

Keep your britches on!: Do not be so impatient!”

Lickety split: Very quickly, without delay

Light Out: leave in haste

Mind your Beeswax: a slang term that directs one to pay attention to his or her own affairs, it came from a time when smallpox pock marks were a common disfigurement. Ladies found that they could fill in the pock marks with beeswax. However, a lady who filled in her pock marks with beeswax would find that her beeswax would melt if she stayed too close to the fire (the reason that fire screens were made) or her beeswax would melt when the weather was too hot and she was in the sun too long. Since makeup was frowned upon in the Victorian era, and since no real lady would call attention to another lady to go fix that which she was not supposed to be wearing in the first place, the admonition to “mind your own beeswax” came into general use.

NOB: a person who is superior, or superior-acting. The term is believed to derive from the term used to describe the jack of the same suit as the starter in cribbage that scores one point for the holder.

Elizabeth Packard removed from the home

Row: a fight

Spell: For a time.

Tarnation: indicate surprise, shock, displeasure, or censure. origin: Euphemism for Used to “Damnation” (i.e., Hell). Example: “What in tarnation did you kids think you were doing?

Up side the head: Strike on the side of the head.

Wrathy: angry

Interview: Costume Designer Gwyn Conaway

What do you do when not working with this production for UCI?
My career consists of three main branches within costume design: film, animation, and education. In film, I’m known for designing period drama and dystopian suspense. I’m also faculty at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA, where I teach History of Fashion in close association with the Entertainment Design department. This opportunity came about because of a book I co-authored on the subject of costume design for entertainment design artists. The university offers incredible support to its faculty, and as a result I’m able to pursue one of my life-long goals, a comprehensive survey of Ward 8 01 copyEastern dress (Korean, China, and Japan), which I started writing in late 2017 with Soo-Jeong Yoo, one of Korea’s most well-known period drama costume designers. Perhaps the branch of my career I’ve dedicated the most time to recently, however, has been character effects in feature animation. I consult for large animation studios on costume construction in the 3D space. Subjects such as pattern drafting and garment fit are elusive for 3D modelers because they don’t get the kind of time a costume designer has in the fitting room. Since I have both live-action and 3D modeling experience, I help bridge that gap.
How would you describe your design philosophy?
This is very difficult to put into words. My philosophy on design is first and foremost that I’m designing people, not characters. While characters can be watered down to archetypes, people are always complex and gripping. When the actor puts on my costume, I want them to feel the place they came from before the story began, and where they will go after it ends. I also want the audience to understand the world surrounding the narrative. No story happens in a vacuum. Think of the narrative as a single thread, and the context of the world as a tapestry. This larger context is what bears down on characters, compels them to make the choices they do, provides the adversity they push against so that they either change, or change the world around them. This tug of war between the World and the Person is what transforms characters into complex, gripping people. I design with these larger forces in mind.
What does the role of collaboration play in the design for this show?
In Mrs Packard, many of the costumes perform right along with their actors. The stripping away and redressing of clothing became a collaboration between the director and I. We saw the bell-like silhouette of the 1860s both gave women visual power and defined the boundaries of their lives. As Mrs Packard’s understructures are stripped away, her power is diminished. As her shape returns with the help of the women in her life, her power returns. These moments happen on stage, and have required strong communication between departments to support.
You had a custom fabric made for this production. Can you tell me a little about that?
Mrs Packard’s first costume is a harvest orange and pale red cotton day dress affectionately referred to as the Eden Dress. The fabric is called The Garden of Earthly Delights by Cecilia Mok. Mok and I were in contact about color and scale for a week or so before the final combination was decided upon and ordered. It features swans, the Tree of Knowledge, and pomegranates in a sumptuous repeat pattern down the length of the dress. Although my early designs revolved around apples, I chose the pomegranate for Packard 01 copyits feminine symbolism and ancient roots as a better fit for Mrs Packard. Mrs Packard hypothesizes that the Holy Spirit of the Trinity is female due to the word in Aramaic being a feminine noun. This fabric is also closely linked to her final costume, an embossed green velvet pardessus that she wears to court. Because she is incarcerated by her husband for having impugnable theological views, she wears the Eden Dress. When she testifies, however, she carries with her the writings of her fellow inmates. The green velvet takes the pattern of the Eden Dress and abstracts it into a swirling damask, representative of the green ink many writers used during the time. Her initial battle for theological independence from her husband transforms into a mission to better the lives of other women through her writing, and her costumes reflect that.
What excites you most about costume design?
Bold motion and color combined with intimate detail is a driving force of excitement for me. Much of my work has turned toward these grand symbolic gestures as I’ve grown. If I don’t feel the risk, I feel the audience won’t either. As a result, designing can be a Haslet 01 copyharrowing yet invigorating experience. The most exciting moment for me is seeing the costume perform within its environment, bathed in light and sound. At this moment, I feel like costume design becomes a visual song with its own instruments, rhythms, and harmonies.