Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Research talk gives behind-the-scenes look at stage design

Unlike many pursuits, theatrical design has to be more than a hobby, according to Christopher Otwell, a theatre professor, scenic designer and technical director for Randolph College’s theatre program.

“To have success, both personally and professionally, you have to have a lot of commitment. For scenic design, you truly have to give a piece of yourself,” Otwell said in a Summer Research seminar. He walked students, faculty, and staff through a discussion of the stages of a set design.
Christopher Otwell used his design for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
to demonstrate the need for research in stage design. He had to learn about
the workings of mental institutions to make the set accurate and compelling.

The first step to great scenic design is to read the play. “You have to know that play from inside and out,” he said. It helps to think like an actor and a director because the stage needs to provide both atmosphere and physical space for every scene, entrance, and exit for the show.

“After reading the play, you have to research,” Otwell said. “Every play is going to have a time and a place that it takes place in. It’s going to have a world that it occurs in.”

Otwell said scenic design requires factual research to help designers understand the play’s historical and geographical setting which must be recreated on stage. It also involves inspirational research to spark creative ideas. He showed collections of hundreds of pictures that he has reviewed and saved to help him develop ideas for scenic designs. He also displayed images of sketches, renderings, and models he has created while designing sets for various plays.

Otwell’s speech was part of a series of weekly seminars scheduled for Summer Research Program participants and other students, faculty, and staff on campus to learn about the ways research intersects with various fields of study.