Theatre Students Serving as Assistant Designers for Upcoming Play
University of Findlay’s Theatre Program has an exciting year of productions ahead with new opportunities for theatre students to hone their craft. The first show in the 2019-20 school year, “Eurydice,” will be the first time students have worked as assistant designers with two guest artists. Jared Dixon, senior computer science and mathematics major with a theatre minor, will serve as assistant lighting designer, and Robbie Riffle, sophomore theatre production and performance major, is the assistant set designer for the show.
Meriah Sage, assistant professor of theatre and artistic director of the Theatre Program, approached Dixon and Riffle about taking on the roles based on their previous production involvement and their expressed interest in their respective areas. As assistant designers, they are helping guest artists Stephen Sakowski and Kristin Ellert generate ideas, attending design meetings, working with them at the theatre on work calls, and technical rehearsals. The guest artists are mentoring the assistant designers in their areas of expertise. Sakowski is currently an assistant professor of lighting and sound design at the University of Toledo, and has worked on productions such as the NBA All-Star game halftime show and “All Quiet on the Western Front” with Red Front Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, amongst many more. Ellert is a scenic and projections designer who has worked in designing professional and educational theatre for over 15 years. She has work on productions such as “River of Song” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and “Elf: The Musical” at First Stage, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Each assistantship is unique, but the objective is the same; The students help and learn experientially from the designer in each area,” Sage said.
Jared Dixon – Assistant Lighting Designer
Dixon is helping lighting designer Sakowski with design, light hang, and focus. He will also assist Sakowski with cuing, paper tech, and communication between the designer and the rest of the creative team. Through experiential learning and mentoring, Dixon will learn new ways to tell the story of Eurydice through light including angles, color, tempo, and intensity. He has always dreamed of being a being a software architect, but more recently has enjoyed working at Marathon Center for Performing Arts doing lighting design for YouTheatre. Throughout his time at Findlay, he has been heavily involved in the Theatre Program. In previous years his roles have included master electrician, assistant master electrician, cast member, run crew, light board operator, and lighting crew. He said the process of working with the guest artists has been valuable in terms of getting experience in the field and showing him new design methods. “I think the most special part is having a say in what the final product of the show will be,” he said. “Watching your ideas and theories come to life on stage is magical to say the least.”
Robbie Riffle – Assistant Set Designer
With the goal of one day designing sets for Broadway shows, Riffle said he was excited to be given the opportunity to work with set designer Kristin Ellert. During his time as an assistant designer, Riffle is working on developing a model box of the theater and learning about set design elements including drawings, elevations, painting, and more. As a freshman, Riffle was involved in 2018-19 performances both as a cast and crew member. “The special part about having a hand in designing this play is helping to make the world and having other people see it and be amazed by the work we have done,” he said. Working side-by-side with Ellert has provided him with the insight of what it takes to be a set designer and everything that goes into having a successful production. “I learned that it’s not always about how much you want to put into a set it’s about what the audience can get out of it,” he said. “This was a big step in my career and I learned a lot about problem solving and how to be on a successful tech team.”
Sage said it is vital to have opportunities like this when mentoring new artists. “As artists, we need to practice the art form in order to learn, grow, and develop,” she said. “As assistant designers, they are able to work with masters in their field. They are watching and learning from their mentors in the moment, while working to tell a story and create a collaborative work of art.” This process provides students with the opportunity to see choices being made and to ask questions, learn theatre best practices, and experience a broader range of artistic aesthetic and methods. She also noted how valuable this experience is for the assistant designers in terms of networking, allowing them to build professional relationships with artists working in the broader theatre community.
At the University of Findlay, students gain an edge with a variety of experiential learning opportunities. Not only do Findlay’s theatre students learn through hands-on opportunities, but programs across campus provide students with experiences relevant to their field of study. To learn more about Findlay’s Theatre Program, visit www.findlay.edu/theatre.
“Eurydice” will be presented on Sept. 26 and 27 at 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 at 8 p.m.; and Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. on campus at the John and Hester Powell Grimm Theatre in Egner Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $6, and can be purchased at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts box office at 200 W. Main Cross St., by visiting www.mcpa.org, or calling 419-423-2787. UF students, faculty, and staff will be admitted free with valid University ID.