Jeffrey Schmidt is sorry for his tardiness. He’s been in Austin, he says, working onParkland, a new JFK-assassination movie.
“I play Richard Stolley,” he says, “the Life magazine editor who bought the 8mm film from Zapruder, played by Paul Giamatti.”
No big deal. That’s just how Schmidt’s life is these days. Last year was a banner one for the director and set designer. He directed Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, a play about the invention of TV, at Theatre Three, and On the Eve, a musical about time travel at Nouveau 47 Theater. Both plays faced similar logistical challenges, in that he had to devise ways to move ensemble casts around small spaces, and keep it interesting.
“The initial design idea for Farnsworth came one night when I was driving south of Dallas and saw a collection of really tall radio antennae with the blinking red lights,” Schmidt says. “At night, they’re kinda eerie and beautiful at the same time. The On the Eve set began with the idea that if it was end times, then the company only had access to what was around the theater. On and off stage, the theme became, ‘Make do with what you have.’ More importantly, I knew I wanted to provide the actors and the audience just enough detail to spark their imaginations. Let them fill in all of the blanks. Allow them to interpret how each of the many locations looked. Live theater exists only when it has an audience, so you have to invite them to be part of the collaboration.”
Schmidt thrives on that idea.
“That is the most thrilling part of the theater process for me, the act of collaboration. Something created out of the simple act of sharing ideas. … That was the key to On the Eve’s success. As the director and designer, I had the final say in many regards, but I saw myself as more of a conduit for everyone’s ideas and inspirations. I certainly didn’t have the answers for everything, nor did anyone else. I had to provide leadership and direction while allowing for creativity and spontaneity. It’s a delicate line on which to balance. In the end, it’s worth it. Everyone had a strong sense of ownership for the project. Everyone gave a part of themselves. It would have failed without each individual’s contribution.”