Designers Colin K. Bills, David Ghatan, and Matt Rowe on their Helen Hayes Awards Nominations by Joel Markowitz

The Designers: Colin K. BillsDavid Ghatan, and Matt Rowe

Joel: Where were you when you found out that you had been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, and what was your first reaction?

Colin: This might be a longer answer than you want. Okay, it’s actually a much longer answer than you want. But theater is about stories, so bear with me. I was in the lobby at Signature, on the phone with my wife Rachel Grossman. I’m pretty sure I was roughing in cues for Brother Russia, which was to start tech the next day, when she called. She was reading off the nominees, including me for my design of A Bright New Boise (at Woolly), but also including my longtime and very talented assistant Andrew Griffin for his designs of King Lear (with Synetic) and Othello (with the Folger), and also being ecstatic about the nomination of dog & pony dc’s Beertown for best new play, which was a devised piece that Rachel both directed and played a role; and for which I wrote some of the content, and designed the sets and lighting.

As one of the 17 (!) co-devisors of Beertown, that technically made ME one of the nominees for best new play, which was … well it was not was what I expected.  So reactions, as I heard all of this?  I had three, simultaneously. The first, good for me, and for BNB, what a great piece of theater: Sam Hunter’s script is one of the best I’ve read in the last several years, and I truly believe that this entire production worked towards creating something truly extraordinary and HONEST for its audience. The second, Andrew, my assistant for Brother Russia, would be sitting next to me in tech with two nominations to my lowly one, and how great for him, and how in the last several years he has become such an amazing designer in his own right. The third, Beertown, a piece with only half an actual written script – because it relied on audience interaction in the second act… well holy shit, if that’s the basis for best new play, then theater actually has a chance of surviving the internet age.

And for all of this, I’m so proud. Of Andrew, for his work as I’ve watched him grow from my assistant as an undergrad at Catholic to a designer in his own right.  Of Woolly for all of the truly amazing work that the company creates. And for dog & pony dc for creating a piece of theater that I believe must be the next step in theater’s continual evolution along with the rest of our civilization.

David Ghatan

David: I was at home. I had actually forgetten that the nominations were being announced that night. I was shocked. A set design with a $1200 budget nominated. Very proud of the judges this year for recognizing small theatre.

Matt:  I was sitting at home with my wife and Matt Conner called and told me. I didn’t look because I mostly do musicals and they never get nominated in this category.

Joel: What were you nominated for and why did you want to design for this production?

Colin: Oh wait.  Did I already answer that already?  Well.  I feel like Rachel and Wyckham are going to answer for Beertown, so I’ll just answer for A Bright New Boise. For BNB, I was really interested in Sam Hunter’s description of the protagonist’s (played by Michael Russotto) false experience of the Rapture. Which of course leads to the question: how exactly does one light the Rapture? And knowing that this is not exactly the Rapture in Revelation, nor the descriptions of the Rapture in the Left Behindseries, I was fascinated by this very honest exploration of a man who thought the Rapture was imminent, but was perhaps not near enough. There are some beautiful descriptions in A Bright New Boise about the light (or lack thereof) in the post-Rapture world that did a great deal to inform my design. And when a playwright’s words can truly inspire the designer to create a tangential but not necessarily dictated design? That creates an incredible platform for the design of the play

David:  was nominated for Scenic Design for Voices Under Water with Rorschach. I am a company member with Rorschach and often design scenery and/or lighting for them. This show, like many of the shows Rorschach does, was a visual challenge. The depth of the script and then the size and location of the venue at NCDA was a fun puzzle

Matt: I was nominated for Outstanding Sound Design for Hairspray at Signature Theatre.

Joel: What were the biggest challenges for you creating your design?

Colin: How do you light the Rapture? The answer is 1.21 gigawatts. If you’ve just laughed out loud, then thank you. GREAT SCOTT MARTY!! The real answer is focusing every available light at the protagonist. Which for this production only came to 14 kilowatts. A far cry from a lightning bolt (or the burst from a momentarily electrical charge from a flux capacitor), but pretty good on stage.
David: The space has barely an 8′ grid height and is very small and in the basement of an old church. We needed to transport the audience to a plantation house in the old south. For this show to work the audience needed to be completely IN that plantation house. We found alternate methods for getting the audience in to the theatre and created a true immersion. Also there was running water on stage dripping from the ceiling. That was fun.
Matt Rowe

Matt:The hardest part was managing they 27 miced actors on stage and the 37 inputs from the orchestra.

Joel: What are some of the fondest memories you have about working on this production?

Colin: I told Michael Russotto at the first read that there would be so much light on him in this Rapture moment that his hair would catch on fire. His reaction was priceless.

Matt: Hearing the cast sing “I know Where I’ve Been” the first time with the orchestra.

Joel: What’s next for you on the stage?

Colin: Mr. Burns. Woolly. It’s gonna rock.

Matt: Lacing my skates up for Xanadu.


Recipients of the 2012 Helen Hayes Awards will be announced on Monday, April 23, 2012 at The Warner Theatre. Here is more information on the event.

Here are the 28th Helen Hayes Awards nominations.

Congratulations to this year’s nominees!





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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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