Theater – 2014 Blog Series #2 for the Shenandoah Valley

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Theater – 2014 Blog Series #2 for the Shenandoah Valley
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Events, Kids Trail, Shenandoah Valley, Surprising Sophistication

Topic – Scenery and Lighting Design

Continuing the theater series celebrating Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre (SSMT) 31st season this summer, I move into scenery and lighting design. Because there are four musicals in less over eight weeks, just like in costume design, there are two scenery and lighting designers Let me introduce Mac Bozman  and Bill Pierson.

For you non-theater professionals, set design is both the creation of the design and the technical building of the sets and then most importantly the light design. Lighting Design creates the mood and atmosphere thru the use of different lighting instruments. What is interesting is that Bozman and Pierson both approach set design from two entirely different creative channels.  Bozman embraces the non-computer approach using “blue print hand drawings” as the guideline for building the set. Pierson however, uses the new tech world of the computer.  Both agree that their goals are the same – to sculpt the space creating the mood and atmosphere for the play to occur in.

Like with Yancey, a costume designer, Bozman saids, “The first step is to read the play and listen to the score.  The second is to talk to the director who paints his vision for this musical. The third is to analyze the script to determine the specific things required for example in the well-known play “Romeo and Juliet” there is of course the need for a balcony.  In “West Side Story”, there is the climbing out of a window and the fire escape.  In “Mary Poppins”, not only do we have to create a colorful London setting but we also have to create a world of grey and totally lacking in color.”

“What is wonderful is that both the creative costume and set designers fall under a Technical Director.  This is the ‘realistic thinking’ member of the team who keeps the designers honest. Part of the challenge is working under different directors. Some are crazy, some are very detailed. I just keep drawing until I know they like it,” said Bozman.

Bozman has twenty plus years in set design. When I asked him ‘why theater?’, Bozman admitted he wanted to be an archaeologist. As an archaeologist he needed to speak one to two foreign languages which was not his forte. “I did play the guitar and ended up encouraged by friends to be the stolling trubador in Beauty and the Beast.”  From there, Bozman saids he was hooked. “I enjoy the challenge and also the intellectual world I work in. I am not desk bound but move between my office, classroom, and scene shop where I help at times painting and builiding props.”

“I was fortunate I worked for Hal Herman when I was in high school and was offered a job at Shenandoah College in 1975 for $5,000. Part of my duties was to be a dormitory supervisor and I also ate in the cafeteria as an added bonus to the low salary. I earned my M.F.A. in 1978. Hal asked to come back which I agreed as long as there were no dorm responsibilites. After thirty years, I am still here.” said Bozman.

Pierson like Bozman also uses drawings as his base but then does 80% of his work on the computer. “The range of color palettes and 3-dimensional models is limitless,” said Pierson. “The speed the software packages give me allows for me to make rapid changes. I can also add lighting to the set creating a two dimensional light plot and then apply the industry standard colors from Rocco, the biggest theater lighting gel provider getting the exact color I want.

“The important thing to remember is that the computer is not the art. Young people today want the speed of the process rather then the experience of the process. Nothing takes the place of the hand drawing, hand drafting and rendering of a set design where you develop an understanding of light, shade, and shadow. It is essential to learn the fundamentals. You are the artist and the computer is simply a tool to utilize and expand your art. One problem students face is that the computer gives you too many choices.  You must own the aesthetic as Bozman does”, said Pierson.

I asked Bozman and Pierson who works under them. There are carpenters, painters, master electrician, and the lighting board operator. The summer gives students an excellent opportunity to work under leading professionals in the industry, but whether you are a student or a professional, everyone is paid. Working on these musicals require long intense twelve hour days.

Pierson started as an actor and director attending Eastern Illinois. He became a high school teacher. It soon became apparent to him that there were fewer scene and lighting designers than actors so this part of theater was not as competitive and offer lots of opportunities. After graduate school, he worked on the West Coast developing his portfolio and then came back to Maryland. Winchester appealed to him because of the small town feel with easy access to the major metropolitan areas. “I have 35 years of never on unemployment”, said Pierson. “Theater has far more jobs that people.  It may not offer the highest career income, but there is so much more to life and happiness that purely financial gain.”

Opening June 11th Man of La Mancha. You have your tickets, right? If not, make sure you visit shenandoahsummermusictheatre.com or call our box office at (540) 665-4569 to secure your seat.


Next in our interviews will be Theatre Blog Series #3 – Technical Director and Scene Shop Manager – two more careers to select from in theatre.