Arts Academy Boarding School: Theatre Design and Production

  • Design and Production students prepare for a performance of Tuck Everlasting.

  • A Design and Production student works on a class project for Fundamentals of Design.

  • Amadeus set design by student Luke D'Alessandro (IAA 12-15).

  • Design and Production students check lighting equipment before a performance of Tuck Everlasting.

The design and production concentration gives students opportunities to study stagecraft and design in the classroom and use Interlochen’s state-of-the-art facilities to make their ideas a reality. The program includes hands-on experience in scenic design, lighting design, costume design, sound design and stage management. Design and production students have opportunities for collaboration with other departments including dance and motion picture arts.

Starring behind the scenes

Wren Dorris and Quinlan Olsen had important roles in Tuck Everlasting, but they weren’t playing Winnie Foster or Jesse Tuck.

Dorris and Olsen were, respectively, the Stage Manager and Light Board Operator for Interlochen Arts Academy’s Michigan-premiere performance of Tuck Everlasting. Like the actors on stage, they are current Arts Academy students. But instead of majoring in Theatre Performance, they’re majoring in Theatre Design and Production with instructor Bridget Williams.

Hands-on learning

“I like being in charge of the show,” Dorris said of their role in Tuck Everlasting. “It feels good when you do something right and see people react.”

As the stage manager, Dorris began working with the cast of Tuck when rehearsals began in September. During the rehearsal process, Dorris was responsible for arranging schedules for the production and facilitating each rehearsal. They also served as a liaison between director Bill Church, the actors and the designers.

During performances, Dorris’s primary responsibility was to “call” the show, sitting in the house and using a headset to communicate with the backstage crew and sound and light board operators. Dorris also oversaw the day-to-day maintenance of the set; prior to each rehearsal and performance, Dorris led their team in sweeping and mopping the set and checking for any hazards.

“I was surprised by how much time it takes,” Dorris said. “It’s a lot of work.”

Light Board Operator Quinlan Olsen is familiar with the production process, having previously served in the same capacity for shows outside of Interlochen. At Interlochen, he enjoys learning how to operate newer lighting equipment, as well as learning the basics of lighting design.

“I like working with lighting, because it’s specific and measurable, yet it’s abstract,” he said. “It’s something that people don’t really notice, but it’s integral to the show.”

Before each show, Olsen made sure that the lighting system was in proper working condition and oversaw any needed maintenance. During the show, Olsen controlled the light board according to the design created by Williams, or, as Olsen modestly puts it, “pressed the G-O button.”

Behind the curtain

In addition to Dorris and Olsen, several other Design and Production students were involved in the behind-the-scenes operation of Tuck Everlasting. Asa Nestlehutt and Samia El-Erian were the assistant stage managers. While Dorris managed the show from the house, Nestlehutt and El-Erian’s domain was behind the curtain. Behind the scenes, Nestlehutt and El-Erian set out props for the actors and operated scenic elements, such as the flying jars and flags during Tuck’s fair scene. The two were also in charge of maintaining safety on set: in addition to removing any tripping hazards, Nestlehutt and El-Erian were prepared to respond in if an actor had become injured during the show.

Asta Balakauskas and Ben Kubin managed costumes for Tuck Everlasting. The duo assisted with quick costume changes and dressing room safety during the show, but most of their work happened after the final curtain. After each performance, Balakauskas and Kubin ensured that each costume piece was present and put away properly, checked the costumes for damage, and reported any broken or torn costumes to the costume designer.

Learning the craft

While the students practiced their production skills on the set of Tuck Everlasting, they are honing their design skills in the classroom. This year, Williams has based class design projects on Lynn Nottage’s play Intimate Apparel. “Reading that sort of material in this class is eye-opening for the students,” Williams said. “The play provides insight to relevant issues, and the class allows students to gain insight about, and address these issues via creative outlet. It's great for teaching them about experiences outside of their world view, and it also forces them to do historical research.”

While there are many aspects of designing a production, Williams and her class are focusing on costumes this semester. “Clothing is a good place to start,” Williams said. “It’s tactile, and everyone wears clothes, so they understand how it looks on a form.”

Williams has tapped Interlochen’s staff of professional designers as a resource in her class. “I asked Risa Alecci, our resident Costume Designer, to come in and teach a class on how to approach costume design,” Williams said. “She’s also always there to answer questions about how to transfer their ideas to paper. She’s been a wonderful asset.”

Opportunities for success

Williams ultimately hopes to give students practical experience in design by having the students assist or apprentice with Interlochen’s professionals for upcoming performances. Williams herself plans to invite Olsen to collaborate with her next semester as the Assistant Lighting Designer of the spring dance concert. The students will also have the opportunity to test their skills by designing sets, costumes and lighting for January’s one-act festival.

Many of Interlochen’s Design and Production alumni have gone on to work behind the scenes on stages and the silver screen, including Broadway designer Dane Laffrey (IAA 99-01), Des Moines Metro Opera technical director Chris Largent (IAA 07-09), television and film construction coordinator Jeffrey Goyer (IAA 83-85) and freelance stage manager Marisa Blankier (IAA 06-08, IAC 02-06).

Faculty

Bridget Williams

Instructor of Design and Production, Interlochen Arts Academy

MFA in Lighting Design for Theatre, Indiana University; BFA in Stage Management for Theatre, Western Michigan University

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