By Vanessa Cate
Designer Gary Smoot, born April 15th, 1964 in Yakima, Washington, passed away in Seattle last May. A Memorial to honor him will be held on Sunday, June 18th at 6 p.m. at Barnsdall Theater in the Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027. All are welcome to pay their respects. For more information and to RSVP, click here.
Smoot studied architecture and visual design at the University of Washington and later channeled that expertise into designing for art installations and plays. His body of work spanned decades, working in communities in Seattle (where he was integral in forming the early aesthetic for Annex Theatre), NYC, and Los Angeles. He left a mark on the LA theatre community with his continued work with Circle X Theatre as a production designer for shows such as Love Loves a Pornographer, The American Book of the Dead, and Great Men of Science, No 21 and 22. His work garnered many awards and nominations over the years, from the LA Weekly, Backstage West’s Garland, the LADCC, and LA STAGE Alliance’s Ovation Awards.
Circle X Artistic Director Tim Wright said (on the company’s tribute page), “Gary Smoot made Circle X what it was back in the day — he, along with Jillian [Armenante] and the founders established an aesthetic and built a reputation for theatricality and invention. …When I first joined the company in 2000, everyone told stories of his magnificent work. … He was THE set designer for our company. For years. He set the bar.”
Long-time collaborator Armenante had this to say about Smoot: “Gary Smoot was a rare combination of amazing artist and outstanding man. He was fueled by ‘outside the box’ thinking and absolute discovery in all his endeavors. A true renaissance man who was unmatched in his ability to make something incredible out of nothing, be it with his award-winning set designs, his mind-blowing art installations, and most importantly his effect upon the world. He truly left this world a better place than when he found it. He loved with all his heart.”
Armenante recollects, “I met Gary at Annex Theatre in Seattle in 1987 and he and I worked in the theater together for the next 30 years, be it as an actor or set designer. His friendship has had a profound effect on my family and mere words cannot express what a genuine, honest and loyal human being he was. We will miss Gary Smoot, or ‘Rhymes with cute’ as many called him. I for one will never be quite the same.”
Close friend Peter Buchman believes, “Gary had a completely original mind. And his theatre designs had that some sense of wonder, fun, and brilliance that his studio art had. His sets didn’t just serve the plays perfectly, they did in a way that was often quite inventive.”
Gary’s close friend and collaborator Paul Mullin says, “Everyone sees the world in a different way. Gary’s genius as an artist and a designer was that he could make everyone see in yet another new way. His work was full of surprise and wonder, and always very gentle, even when the subject he was presenting was not.”
Thanks to Mullin, some of Smoot’s artistic thoughts can still be found, such as this excerpt from an interview: “Part of good design is solving problems and sometimes it involves more creativity than others,” the late Smoot said. “A good designer should be able to take everything from the page, and from his or her own research. Too much planning can sometimes kill a project. There is a lot to be said for the connections we form from external forces. I think the entire process can grow from resolving problems along the way.”
Smoot’s surviving spouse, Jamey Hood, adds, “Gary was my partner for the last eight years and was absolutely the love of my life. Creativity was his driving force whether he was designing a brilliant set, or simply making dinner. His work was whimsical, playful, and magical, much like his personality. His incomparable storytelling ability through set design set the bar in the Los Angeles theatre scene, teaching us with his visual intelligence just how much artistry can be achieved regardless of budget size. While I am missing the gorgeous man I chose to share my everyday with, I recognize that so many people were touched by his artistic contributions not only in Los Angeles, but in Seattle and New York, as well.”
Mullin concludes, “Here’s the bottom line: I lost my best friend and my best collaborator in one man. But the world lost too. I am bereft, as are all of his friends, and he had so many. Pretty much everyone he met.”