Residence: Denver, Colorado

Current project(s): Production design for Wheel Of Misfortune, Off-Center at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, scenic design for You Can’t Take It With You, Metropolitan State University of Denver, scenic design for Good People, Curious Theatre Company.

Most notable achievements: Earning a BFA in Theatre Arts from Webster University; designing sets for Off-Center at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Curious Theatre Company, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Peninsula Youth Theatre, among others. Assisting Scott Pask and Frank McCullough on The Book Of Mormon, First National Tour; Susan Crabtree at Kenmark Scenic Backdrops; and Michael Ganio, Robert Mark Morgan, Vicki Smith, Robin Sanford Roberts, John Iacovelli, and David M. Barber, among others, at the Denver Center Theatre Company. I also won an award for physics from the Air Force in high school. I was pretty good at physics, but the military aspect of that award remains a mystery.

When I started in this industry: I got my first paid theatre gig in 2006 as a scenic artist.

How I got into this industry: My older brother was the first person I knew who was really active in theatre, at Westmont High School in Northern California, and seeing those productions in that cafeteria in all their student-painted, paper-machéd glory just lit something up inside of me. I was lucky to have the same drama teacher, Jeff Bengford, when I entered high school, and he let a few of us take the reins in designing sets and costumes. The first set I ever designed was at that school for Seussical, The Musical. I made the model with my dad on our kitchen table, and, being a teenager, I wasn’t sensitive to pragmatism at all. I designed this enormous set that spanned the entire cafeteria and had swings and slides on it. I think part of it was made out of yarn, and there were these cumbersome cutouts everywhere. After I found out that people get paid to design these ridiculous things, I was hooked.

Influences: My parents are huge influences on me. My mother works as a musician and a music teacher; my father went to school for sculpture and now creates sonic compositions using his own recordings of mega-structures (bridges, sculptures, monuments). They’re probably the reason I’m working in theatre today and have remained a constant source of support. I’m also influenced a lot by people who have carved a path for themselves where none existed: Dolly Parton, Amy Sedaris, Patti Smith, John Waters, Wayne White, Nick Cave (the sculptor), RuPaul, Caitlin Moran. They reject social norms and have found a way to be true to themselves. Retaining your own sense of self can be difficult, especially as a woman in America, where you face unrelenting pressure (however subtle) to follow the rules.

Worst advice I’ve ever heard: A scenic designer I assisted once told me, “You want to make as much money as you can, doing as little as possible.” Also, “You’ll sleep when you’re dead.” That’s nonsense; sleep is amazing.

Best advice I’ve ever heard: Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

My favorite thing about the production industry: You’re surrounded with people who have devoted themselves to art and to storytelling. I think most people in theatre were cautioned about going into the industry by people who don’t know much about it. I guess it’s a well-kept secret that there are jobs, people do make living wages, and you get to play for a living. Of course, the work is hard, the hours are long, and there are no guarantees, but I can say with sincerity that I’ve been paid to eat donuts, buy rhinestones, paint dolphins, carve bird sculptures, and hang out with drag queens. That feels a lot like living out my childhood dreams.

Favorite design/programming/technical trick: You can fix a lot with glitter, but you’ll not be good friends with production management or facilities once the production ends.

Plans for the future: I hope I never get boring, stale, or stuck. I plan to collaborate with interesting people, push myself artistically, and drink a lot of coffee.

Other interests/side gigs: Printmaking, collage, mandolin, and singing. I’ve also started a series of watercolor paintings of dogs I know.

Awards, honors: W. Oren Parker Undergraduate Scene Design Award, USITT, 2010
Participant in the Young Designers’ Forum; USITT, 2010
Marita Woodruff Scholarship, Webster University, 2009
Costume designs featured on the cover of Dramatics Magazine, September 2009

Other: www.caitlinayer.com