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Category Archives: Behind the Curtain

Noel Coward’s provocative comedy, DESIGN FOR LIVING Feb. 6-24 at the Rollins Theater from Austin Shakespeare, professional award-winning theater.


As Austin Shakespeare goes into its final week of production of Noel Coward’s witty comedy Design for Living, we thought it would be fun to take a second look at the characters from lead Helen Merino’s perspective.  In her interview with Artistic Director Ann Ciccolella, Helen gives us her thoughts on the show

What makes Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING appealing?

Well, it’s an attractive world to start. It draws you into its serious ideas via sex, period clothing, enchanting music, and dazzling wordplay. It is a provocative, substantial, sometimes even painful journey but always in the close company of something sparkling, fun and beautiful. My only regret about being in it is that I can’t be in the audience to have that happen to me.

Why did you want to act in DESIGN FOR LIVING?

It was a combination of the script and knowing I would be working on it with Ann (Ciccolella, director). In general, I find it hard to turn Austin Shakespeare down. The experience is always the way I fantasize I’ll be treated as an actor in other companies but rarely ever am. There seems to be – not
just in Ann, but in the staff as well – a sincere, intelligent interest in what actors actually DO, so the odds of being able to DO it goes way up. I’m hired as a real colleague, employed and encouraged to do my best. They are the most satisfying company to work with because of it.


Also, I fell in love with Coward’s three main characters. He manages to be frankly critical of them without ever losing the thread of what makes them beautiful. In the end it’s their beauty, their shameless, authentic devotion that carries them to their final convictions. They all have smallness in them that they fight against or give into throughout the show, each of them following the wrong solutions to what they need to be.  But I love that when they do the final math, they look simply to the truth. Coward lets real love and honor be the thing that carries them toward survival, not fear or whim. I think that’s what separates them from some of his more cynical, sexually addicted characters. I honestly don’t know how other people will take them, but I like them all very much.

What surprised you about Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING?

Hands down, it’s the level of difficulty. It’s not just the language – which is some of the most difficult I’ve ever done, and absolutely the most difficult not written by Shakespeare. It’s the show’s hybrid style. Coward, sort of brilliantly, tells us the impossible story of helpless

21906_10151301655818253_1075770236_nlove for two people by using two different styles of drama; it’s part “Private Lives,” part “Brief Encounter.”  And he, like his characters, seems frankly, blindly in love with both methods of communication – it’s all hot and cold speech; each scene seems to exist simultaneously on two planets. The method of conveyance is sometimes a swift, cool, calculated bubble, then switches immediately into a savage, indecent, humiliating openness. It makes one feel a constant sense of, “what’s happening? is this right?”  It’s very hard to modulate, alternate, and find the right place to be, but when you do, you feel like the best of bareback riders.

For more information and Tickets to Design for Living at The Long Center.

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Editor’s Note: Long Center Resident Company Austin Shakespeare, a professional, award-winning theatre company, presents Noel’s Coward provocative comedy, Design For Living, February 6-24 in the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater.


It’s difficult for us to realize the extent of the daring nature of Design for Living. Premiering in 1933, its treatment of sexuality in loving relationships was provocative for the time. Using a three-way love affair as the core of the plot, much of the play would still be considered eyebrow-raising today. Michael Miller plays the lead role of “Leo” in the production, and he also starred as “Mr. Darcy” in Austin Shakespeare’s recent production of Pride & Prejudice.

Ann Ciccolella: What does Noel Coward’s Design for Living say to you about relationships?

The play presents an aspect of human relationships that isn’t often discussed and may not be fully understood but, for all that, is similar to the situations in which many people do find themselves. Though our society values and presents coupling as the dominant and only acceptable mode of romantic relationship, Design For Living asks, “What do you do when you love more than one person at once?” But then, going further, it asks, “What happens when the people you love return your love but also love each other?” You might have stumbled on similar stories on Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, but I guarantee, the participants there didn’t explore their situation with nearly the amount of wit, intelligence, honesty (& healthy teeth) as these characters.

Why did you want to act in this play?

noel cowardI was excited to do the show because I’ve loved Noel Coward for years. I had the best time years ago doing two different productions of his Hay Fever in which I played the same character both times. I love his wit, language, music, elan and the fact that he was obviously, if not openly, gay (and therefore a kind of role model for me). And then there was the chance to work with Ann Ciccolella, Helen Merino & Michael Dalmon again. And although he signed on after I was cast, the addition of Martin Burke took that ‘triple treat’ and made it a treat to the fourth power.

What surprised you about the work?

designforlivingWhat has surprised me is the depth of the play. I think the common conception of Coward (definitely what comes to my mind, at least) is that of the urbane, quick-witted sophisticate. And there is that – the language is unlike any other writer’s and the humor singularly Coward’s. However, this can make him seem a little “too cute for school.” But the play is rife with honestly presented conflict and searing heartbreak. And then he gives the audience this challenge  – Design For Living starts where many plays, movies, TV shows, etc. end. In other words, without giving away too much, the first act ends where most other dramas end, but Coward keeps drilling deeper as he lets the characters continue to explore just how far their love for each other can go. And therefore, this play is far more surprising and courageous, I think, than most any other you could see.

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Guest Blogger Chuck Smith is an Austin native and Executive Director of Equality Texas.

So, we currently call it the Long Center; however, “Austin’s Creative Home” has been operating, in one form or another, for my entire life.Riverside_Palmer_web

I remember the smell of peanuts and elephants that filled the ‘Austin Municipal Coliseum’ when the circus came to town when I was a small child.

I remember seeing Richard Nixon on stage at the ‘Austin Municipal Auditorium’ in 1968 as he campaigned for the United States presidency. I was twelve years old at the time. Apparently, Nixon played the piano for those in attendance. I don’t remember the piano playing. I do remember that Nixon shared the stage with Paul Eggers, a Republican candidate for Texas governor. In those days, Republicans didn’t win statewide elections in Texas. But, what I most remember is that Eggers had cheerleaders! E-G-G ! E-R-S! Eggers! (At age 12, I hadn’t yet realized I was gay. In hindsight, it was all so clear!)Nixon

I remember addressing my classmates in May, 1974 from the stage of the Austin Municipal Auditorium as the city’s largest senior class was graduated from David Crockett High School. I also remember having the distinct honor of receiving my diploma from my father, who served as a trustee on the Austin ISD school board.

I remember May 1, 1975, when I served as a freshman member of Alpha Phi Omega and an usher for UT student events. The raucous crowd at a Beach Boys concert had the ‘Auditorium’ balcony heaving up and down so much that the plaster on the walls began to crack and fall to the ground. I snagged a chunk of the falling debris and kept it throughout my college years.beachboys

Since those days, I’ve enjoyed all kinds of amazing events at the Long Center. Things like Trailer Food Tuesdays, Tap Dogs, Ballet Austin’s Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project and many others. My most recent experience at the Long Center was over the 2012 holiday season. Two generations of my family filled a fabulous mezzanine box as we watched the Cirque Dreams Holidaze show…just like generations before had done and many more will continue to do, making memories at Austin’s creative home.

–Chuck Smith

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I applied for an internship position at the Long Center in early August. The blog entry you’re reading now should give away that yes, I did get one of the positions. I opened an email and found that I would be working in…

Guest Services?

To be honest, my first thought was something along the lines of “What in the world is Guest Services?”

Guest Services seems like this mystery corner of the building. Not because we are in a mystery corner of the building, but because a lot of people don’t realize a) that we are here, or b) what we do exactly. If you’ve attended a show at the Long Center, chances are that you’ve seen us.

So, the burning question: what exactly do we do?

We help you, the guest , and make your visit as hassle-free as possible. How?
Let’s speak in hypotheticals for a moment: you and a friend/significant other/someone (whom we shall dub Ticket Buddy) have tickets to see Capitol Steps. Last week, Ticket Buddy took a skydiving expedition. While they had a blast doing so, they did not come out unscathed. Whoops. Ticket Buddy swears the ground came out of nowhere and is now using a wheelchair while some legs (and pride) heal. While you feel bad for Ticket Buddy, you have been looking forward to the show. Do you miss it or scramble to find someone else to go with?
Go with option C and call Guest Services. We’ll help you find the easiest way to get to your seats and accommodate Ticket Buddy in whatever way possible.
Let’s get hypothetical again: you and Ticket Buddy attend the show after all. Awesome! During intermission, you grab a snack at one of the bars on your level. Great! The show is over, and you drive on home to find that Ticket Buddy’s bad luck is rubbing off on you. Your wallet is missing, probably lost near your seat.

Don’t go cancelling all of your credit cards yet! The amount of lost items (keys, wallets, credit cards) found here is shocking, but the amount of items that don’t get claimed is even more mind-boggling. There’s a good chance an usher picked up your missing item and turned it in post-show. If so, it’ll be waiting for you to claim it here.

The ushers wearing the black vests and purple ties are volunteers who give their time to make sure that every guest is kept safe and enjoys the show. They also help locate seats, read tickets, help with handicap accommodations, and enforce safety rules. Ushers show up beforehand to prepare for the show, and stay late to make sure everything is back to normal for the next performance.

So the next time you attend a show and have questions about anything, Guest Services is the place that would answer most of those questions.

“Can I bring a camera into the hall?” Usually not, but it could depend on the show.

“Can I take drinks inside the hall?” Again, depending on the show, maybe.

“Can you help stop Ticket Buddy from his next skydiving trip?” Um, probably not. Let’s just hope that the string of bad luck has stopped by then. But if it hasn’t, we will be happy to help sort out Ticket Buddy’s seat again for your next visit.

– Stefanie Martinez, Guest Services Intern
The Long Center

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When my colleagues and I decided the Long Center needed a blog, we wanted to make sure we created something exciting, interesting and just as vibrant as our staff and programming. We want to use our blog to celebrate the wonderful Long Center experiences and memories fellow Austinites and our staff have had here, as well as give the community a greater sense of who we are, what we do and the family of phenomenal staff members who work here.

Like Austin itself, our staff is a diverse combination of native Austinites, transplants (like myself), singles, moms & dads…but most of all we are a team who live and thrive on the arts that we celebrate here at the Long Center each and every day.

We invite you to read the engaging commentaries and insights into running a world-class performing arts center, the personal experiences of being involved in and around multicultural events and performing arts, the behind-the scenes thoughts, feelings and perspectives that are a true celebration of what it’s like to be a part of our Long Center family.

In LONG STORY SHORT, you will learn about this spectacular, iconic, green, state-of-the-art, acoustically-built building. You’ll learn about the people who work behind its walls and you’ll learn about the world itself, as we strive to bring programs from around the world to the Austin community.

Always remember, our home is your home. And we welcome you to our family.