To celebrate Women’s History Month, HUDSON is shining a spotlight on some of the incredible women that call Hudson Scenic Studio home. Today we are spotlighting two women from our Paint Shop: Pat Bases (Scenic Charge) and Barbara Cohig (Scenic Painter). We sat down and chatted with them about their work at Hudson, favorite projects, and advice for young women breaking into the industry.
The interviews below have been edited for clarity/length.
Q: How did you end up at Hudson? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field?
PB: I was pretty focused on getting into the union [when I started out]. I first came to Hudson in the late 80’s when they first started the shop. Before that I had been doing movies and one of my big non-union jobs was working on the Macy’s [Thanksgiving Day] Parade. It was sort of like little light bulbs went off in [my] head like “oh that’s a job!”. It’s really hard, but nobody in schools was focused on scenic art, they were focused on design. [That is when I realized] “this is a job! You can make a living at this!”. And I knew the union was the way to go. Really early, within my first year in the city, I kept being asked to paint a show for like $50. Then one day, I looked at the producer and I went “he gets a paycheck every week”. And I knew that was a way to protect myself and why I joined the union.
BC: I went to school for set design, decided I hated it, but I loved the camaraderie and chattiness and everybody-pitch-in-together [aspect] about scenic art. I took the union exam; Jane Snow was the Charge then [at Hudson Scenic]. She was at my union exam and she hired me the next day.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you at Hudson?
PB: Well, it’s always different every day, and that’s what is kind of cool about the job itself; it is always different, and everybody has these remarkable skills. I would say my job is about balancing the skills among the crew, and who will work well with who, and personalities, and getting the job done in efficient time.
BC: My day is very changeable, but [typically] we start off in a group and then we break off onto our [projects]. Sometimes I’m leading a crew. We’re whipping through the job trying to get it done as fast as we can and have a good time and make it look really good. And make something beautiful using our techniques and [also] make it happen on time and under budget.
Q: Pat, do you get to be a part of the actual painting as the Scenic Charge?
PB: Yes, it really depends on how busy we are. If we are very, very busy, sometimes I prefer that people do their own samples because if they do their own samples, it’s in their head, and it’s in their hand, and it is in a way they are comfortable with. If I do the sample, then they have to try and interpret what I was doing and what I was thinking. I feel there is more than one path to get to the same solution. People are intelligent and they are hired for their intelligence, so we try to use it.
Q: The scenic department uses a lot of different mediums, from drops to sculpting. Can you tell us a little bit about that, what all is encompassed in the world of scenic painting?
BC: We do drops, we do everything from photorealistic drops to abstract to very tight graphic things. We do scenery that’s got a lot of textural elements, a lot of painting wood to look like metal and metal to look like wood, doing bricks, doing stone. Sculpting can be anything from a float for Disney, to sculpting Adonis or whatever. And then we can do really tight industrial work too. Those people out there [on the shop floor] are trained up to do a million things. We are faux painters, we are realistic painters, we [do] wild abstract beautiful stuff, we [do] artsy Maxfield Parrish type stuff. The great thing is that every day it’s different. You don’t feel like ‘oh I’m going in and doing essentially the same thing’.
Q: Even though you have personally been on Hamilton five times, six times?
BC: Eight! I think it’s eight! Yeah, well it’s always good to have that to go back to, right? It’s good to have that job and know everything is successful but it’s also good to do other things.
Q: What is your favorite project you have worked on?
PB: I would say I have a soft spot for Les Misérables, because I was kind of ‘Miss Les Mis’ for a very long time but that’s like ancient history. I love the environmental sets. Like Hamilton is an example of what I would say is an environmental set. Matilda, to me, Matilda was amazing when I saw that in the theater - it was just like “Wow!”. I like those sets where it is like the designer has taken that one big idea and they have developed that one big idea and they’ve tweaked it and they play around with it and so it comes up in various iterations, but it encapsulates the actors.
BC: Early in my time at Hudson, I got to work on beautiful drops for Ragtime and The King and I with really excellent painters. I was new and it was terrifying, but I learned a lot, and the painters were so nice to me. Recently, I got to lead several drops for the Something Rotten tour- which was really fun. Working with some of the best and most interesting designers such as Rachel Hauck on Hadestown, John Lee Beatty on all of his shows, and David Korins on Hamilton have been great experiences. These designers let you bring your best to the productions and be a real collaborator.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
PB: Personalities. I would say the most challenging thing is keeping all of these eccentric, lovely personalities in harmony with one another. That is the one thing I ask of people; they don’t have to be friends, but they have to show respect. There are charge people who thrive on the tension and I don’t thrive on the tension. I like people to be harmonious.
BC: In my career, I went through developing technique, to deciding I wanted to do it and commit to doing it, to now I feel like I have got that under my belt and now I just feel like I’m trying to make it better. I feel like as I get older, I just want to make it better and continuing growing.
Q: What advice would you have for young women looking to get into this industry?
PB: Take any opportunity you can, and I think make friends because your friends will get you your next job. It is a big word of mouth business. So, you make friends with the people you work with and keep contacts and if you can’t do a job, recommend a friend who you think would be able to do it and make your contacts that way. I say stay focused on getting yourself into the union. Last year when we were able to hire non-union people because the union had opened up that list, I used to tell them that they needed to stay focused on getting in the union. And then when we could no longer hire them because of the [pandemic], I wrote them all an email about keeping their contacts and knowing who they worked with last year and having each other’s backs. I was like ‘these are the people who are inheriting the jobs’ so I would rather they were treated the way I wish I had been treated when I first got [into the industry]. [It was important to me] that they were treated well, and they walked away with a positive feeling about their time at Hudson.
BC: Oh, I have so much advice, but the first thing is trust yourself and don’t be scared and just say what you want to say. I say that to so many people and see that it is hard for them. But it’s really like “you got it, you can go out there and you can do it!”. I got into theater because I loved theater, I didn’t know that this is what I wanted to do. I went to college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I became a set designer and then I became a scenic artist and it [felt] like “am I good enough for this?”. I worked super hard and it was like, “just do it, you’ve got it”. Work hard and you are going to succeed.
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
PB: I am one of [those] scenics who felt like this was the best job ever. It’s always different, it’s not repetitious. You can’t get bored. Because every designer has their own sense of what a red brick looks like. And you have to take that idea that the designer has, and you have to make that into a three dimensional thing. Or if it is a flat piece of scenery, to look like a three dimensional thing. But it still has to be their concept about what a red brick looks like.
BC: I have two daughters, and my mother was a stay at home mom, who got divorced, went out and got a career and built up a business where she had 7 employees. That was a good thing for me to see and I always want to show my daughters that women can succeed and do really well and work hard and be smart and be valued. The other thing I was thinking was that I really think Hudson is a really good place to be a woman here, it is a really good place to be a minority. I know the world is still heavily weighted, but I feel like there isn’t pushback [at Hudson] against people who are succeeding and doing well. Women have been given a place in leadership here and are listened to and it really is what makes it one of the best places to work for me. I’ve also had to great luck to work with two of the best charges in the business here, who also happen to be women, Pat Bases and Jane Snow.