Review: It’s good to see a Theater Design book presented in landscape, I’ve always wondered why so many are published in portrait when the common layout for portfolios and storyboards in the industry is landscape. The Performing Set is bursting with images of costume designs, scenic renderings and production photographs – all of which fit rather well in the Landscape format.
The Eckharts were prolific designers, during their years on and off broadway and in their later lives as tutors at the Southern Methodist University, highlights of their career include “Mame” starring Angela Lansbury, “My Fair Lady” starring Julie Andrews to “Of Mice and Men” starring James Earl-Jones, they designed not only for musical theater but Opera and straight theater too.
To compile a visual record of their work is no easy task yet Andrew Harris has managed to bring together a wealth of images, details, anecdotes and documentary information about the Eckharts’ work and lives and not surprisingly it’s taken him quite some time – ten years in fact. But it’s not just the volume of images and information that impresses, the book is thoughtfully and carefully organised with costume designs almost always accompanied by actual production photographs, a number of technical and working drawings and indeed some rather beautiful full colour workings drawings and renderings are also often included throughout.
“New York theater’s loss was the SMU students’ gain. I can’t help but envy those students who got to work with Bill and Jean”
Leaving the wonderful images aside and forgetting the star-studded production photographs (this is a great book to play “Spot the film/stage icon”) i found myself most fascinated by the examination of the working relationship between the Eckharts. It’s common of course for designers to collaborate but there is always some line, some demarcation of responsibilities, perhaps not always on a practical level but almost certainly on an intellectual or artistic level. The Eckharts however seemed to collaborate in a very intuitive and instinctive way, indeed it seemed to be a very unified approach. It’s the examination of the Eckharts working style, the life that they created for themselves in the theater that compells most. A married couple working together may not have been the most common design relationships in theater though it is one that many students and new designers might find of interest.
It’s easy to see why the University of North Texas Press catergorise the book as a “Performing Arts'” and “Coffee Table”, it certainly has the depth to interest both the casual reader and the student/professional alike. Whether you are interested in the design process, US Musical Theater and it’s hey-dey… or just enjoy a nicely presented volume of design work this is a book i’d happily recommend.
Hardcover ISBN: 1574412124
Publication Date: March 2006