Every year a raft of young new designers make a splash in the industry, and every year Entertainment Design has chronicled their rise. For the previous four years, we've shone a light on a small group of predominantly New York-based young artisans as part of our Young Designers to Watch. But it's a big country, and there's a lot of talent out there, so this year the spotlight has gotten a whole lot bigger: nine — count ‘em, nine — young designers, from California to Nevada to Washington to Illinois to Milwaukee to New York and even Canada, make up the class of 2004. Keep an eye out for these talented young tyros if they end up working near you, as this group clearly demonstrates.
Profession: Set, Lighting, and Production Designer
Education: BFA North Carolina School of the Arts
The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World (Set), Lookingglass Theater, The Power House Theater, LA Weekly Award; The Pool of Bethesda (Set and Lights); Umalleniay Productions, Hannah and Martin (Set and Lights), Timeline Theater Company, Joseph Jefferson Citation; Far Away (Set), Next Theater Company, James Joyce's The Dead (Set), The Court Theatre, After Dark Award for the design team; Hard Times, Lookingglass Theatre at The Arden Theatre (Lights); Our Town (Set), and Benefactors (Set) Writers' Theatre; Sunday in the Park With George (Set) and Romeo and Juliet (Set), Chicago Shakespeare.
“Everything from Boris Aronson to Jim Ingalls, as well as the work of European artists, architects, and interior designers. Scenic and costume designer Franco Colavecchia was a large influence on my work while a student at North Carolina School of the Arts where Colavecchia is on the faculty. An around-the-world trip as a dancer after college.”
At age 30, Brian Bembridge has won a considerable number of awards for his work. As a student he started ICE (Interior, Commercial, and Entertainment) Designs, working on interiors and furniture market showrooms, as well as theatre design, but has phased into theatre and film design almost exclusively now. He has his own website at www.briansidneybembridge that illustrates the scope and depth of his design talent, and if you “google” him, you'll find page after page of articles and references about this work. Yet he embraces old-fashioned design techniques, doing everything by hand, putting pencil to paper, although he admits to using PhotoShop® to create a photo-realistic backdrop for a recent production of The Seagull.
Moving from a performing career into design, he first was a lighting designer, then embraced scenic design as well, and often does both. He once designed the sets, lighting, and costumes for a 90-minute three-person Hamlet (“What was I thinking?” he quips). He has worked in Chicago since 1997, and currently works in almost every theatre in town, while considering the Timeline Theatre Company as home base, designing all four shows there this season. He is also teaching at DePaul University and Loyola College.
His sets for Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre evoked this comment from a reviewer: “As the play opens, the first thing to catch the eye is the scenery — movable scaffolding that variously serves as the Capulet's house, public places in Verona, Friar Laurence's cell, Juliet's chambers, and the tomb of the Capulet family. An abstract set is eminently practical for a traveling stage production, of course; but more than that, Brian Sidney Bembridge's scenic design ingeniously establishes at the outset the universal, timeless theme of this commendable production.”
Bembridge's biggest challenge at the moment is breaking into regional theatre without moving to the East or West coast as many other young designers have done. He may have hit a glass ceiling in Chicago, but he seems poised to shatter that and hit the national theatre scene in a big way.
“Brian is an unusually versatile and prolific designer, with tremendous energy. Though primarily a lighting designer, he is equally at home designing scenery. His designs are always both elegant and playful.”
— Linda Buchanan, set and costume designer, head of the scenic design program at DePaul University
Profession: Set Designer
Education: BFA and MFA, CalArts
Designer at the Eugene O'Neill Playwright's Conference; Producer, Director, and Designer, Juicy Point with choreographer Maureen Whiting; Scene Designer, Beauty of the Father by Nilo Cruz at the Seattle Repertory Theatre; Scene Designer, Shape of A Girl at the Seattle Children's Theatre; Production Designer for feature film Cascadia.
Artists James Turrell, Wolfgang Laib, Richard Serra, Pina Bausch. The mountains, the sea, and the sky.
Based in Seattle, Etta Lilienthal has been working steadily and building a reputation for quirky, but emotionally relevant set design on the West Coast since gaining her MFA from CalArts in 1999. Lilienthal's set designs are a study in contradiction, so subtle and simple that one can't help but notice them. They are beautiful and poetic but not distracting, just memorable, which is why her on-point scenic designs often get mentioned right along with the actors in the reviews of the plays. She has been the subject of numerous articles and cover stories in American Theatre Magazine, Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, and The Seattle Times Magazine. Lilienthal told the Seattle Pacific Magazine in 2003, “Being a set designer is really about creating a complete world. I want you to feel — when you enter the theatre, take your seat and the lights come down — that you're coming into a totally new environment.” And she is a master at creating these new, striking environments, whether it's the sensuous, sun-drenched set for Nilo Cruz's Beauty of the Father or the effectively subtle beach scene marked by a solitary fallen log in Shape of A Girl.
Not only a scenic designer, but also a design consultant, she has worked closely with creators and directors in the development of production and performance space. Among her career highlights, Lilienthal credits the performance art/dance installation Juicy Point as giving her the ability to find “an extension of my creative voice as a director and performer.” She worked in collaboration with choreographer Maureen Whiting of the innovative Maureen Whiting Company during its development. For Juicy Point, which was lauded for its wonderfully different use of space and movement, Lilienthal and Whiting researched parking lots, old factories, even seedy hotel rooms and created a space that examined interaction with the “juicier points” in people's lives. With the guidance of resident designer Skip Mercier, she also played a fundamental role in the development of new plays at the Eugene O'Neill Playwright's Conference.
Lilienthal is not containing her design abilities to the square feet of a stage; she recently worked as production designer on the independent film Cascadia. Shot in Seattle, the film covered more than 100 locations in a six-week schedule. She is currently designing The Maids, by Genet, at The Empty Space Theatre in Seattle.
“Set design is one of the subtle arts, best functioning when it doesn't call attention to itself. Etta Lilienthal is an exquisite designer whose work cannot fail to impress you….Lilienthal [has a] sensitive and powerful eye for light, space.”
— Brendan Kiley, The Seattle Pacific Magazine
Profession: Set Designer
Education: MFA, CalArts; BFA Music, University of the Pacific Conservatory; Chelsea College of Art
Guest From the Future, Don Juan in Prague (Bard Summerscape); The Dazzle, The School for Wives, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Bosoms and Neglect (South Coast Rep); Jenufa, Euridice, Trois Operas Minute (Long Beach Opera).
“Two powerful influences in my work have been Chris Barreca (CalArts) and David Chambers (South Coast Rep and Bard). Other major influences include designers such as Ming Cho Lee, Robert Brill, Richard Hay and Ralph Funicello, who have opened up many ways of thinking about design, including tools for empowering actors with dynamic playing positions within compositions.
Additionally, collaborations with Isabel Milenski, Geoff Korf, Mark Rucker, Mel Marvin, Jonathan Levi, and Chris Parry have been influential and illuminating. From the art world: influences include the elaborate illusions of Yayoi Kusama's mirror installations, the massive exquisitely decayed textures of John Polidori's photographs, and the mysterious transformative worlds of Bill Viola, as well as Antony Gormley, Gottfried Helnwein, and Debrah Turbeville.”
Darcy Scanlin is proving that a background in music is fine foundation for a career as a scene designer. And not just in musical theatre, although she has designed some stunning sets for opera, including her professional debut in 2000 with Euridice at the Long Beach Opera and the recent Guest from the Future for the Bard Summerscape — the sets critically praised on both. It was after observing the technical rehearsals for the San Francisco Opera, while studying for her BFA in Music and Voice, at the University of the Pacific Conservatory, that she was turned on to the creative power of scenic design. She quickly shifted her study focus and went on to receive her MFA from CalArts, studying under scenic designer Chris Barreca. Scanlin's sets are characteristic of a designer that is more interested in revealing the inner workings of a character and narrative, than simply building a structure to support them. She says she approaches her designs from “the inside out.”
Scanlin has been developing, as she phrases it, a “dualistic approach to design,” influenced by her work with Barreca and award-winning director David Chambers. “This merges two elements,” she explains, “the nonphysical mind of the characters where interior psychology yields rich, imagistic worlds, and the machine of the play, which deals with physical place and storytelling.” Sounds complex but, fully realized, her psychological approach to design lends itself to bold, defining, and emotionally charged set pieces, suggestive of the tensions and emotions playing out on stage. For the production of Guest from the Future at the Bard Summerscape, she used a wall of mirrors to transition between the realistic world of Soviet Russia to Akhmatova's vibrant dream world: memories of imperial Russia, Bohemian visions, and ghosts of his past appeared through the mirror. “This mechanism for mysterious appearances and disappearances created the sense of Russian mystical dualism at the heart of the opera; magical, but real — a transformative, mysterious depth,” Scanlin says of the wall of mirrors, which reflected the actors and structural pieces on the set 100 times over.
Scanlin makes use of all available elements to create dynamic scenes, such as color, texture, and light. For set designs in Don Juan in Prague, Scanlin turned to a photo by John Polidori not only as inspiration, but as actual set. Enlarging the photo to 40', she manipulated the distances and perspectives within the architecture to maintain the realism of the image. “The scale of the theatre was transformed, and the set appeared to stretch miles beyond the back wall of the small theatre,” Scanlin says. “The illusion was priceless; it looked as though Grand Central Station could have fit on our stage.” When directors want creative and unique solutions to their theatrical vision they turn to Scanlin for ideas such as this.
It's ideas such as this that have led Variety to hail her sets as “highly effective” and have made her a scene designer of choice for directors throughout the nation, though she is based in California.
Profession: Lighting and Set Designer
Education: BA, University of Massachusettes, Amherst; MFA, CalArts
Homebody/Kabul, Intiman Theater; Coriolanus, Georgia Shakespeare Festival; Tom Thumb, the Great, LaMama; Cymbeline, Georgia Shakespeare Festival. Upcoming projects include: Othello, Hartford Stage; Apollo, the Douglas Theater (Taper too).
“My mother was a fine artist and my father an engineer. It is both the understanding of structure, math, and formality mixed with the whimsy, freedom, and expression in both of those disciplines that inspires me to work as a designer in the theatre.
“Bill Viola's use of space and time, dealing with live audience as a fine artist; Anne Bogart's commitment to making challenging new work in new ways; Bartlett Sher's belief in simple, profound, and elegant storytelling. Chris Akerlind's artistic directorship of Portland Stage, as well as his understanding of architecture and space; Doug Stein's belief in community within the Studio Group — a working group of designers who share the same studio space and therefore conversations.”
Justin Townsend believes in team spirit and collaboration. This past summer, after graduation from CalArts, he went to Maine to work with TENT, a company he co-founded as a group of theatre artists who gather to make new work based on popular myths. “I believe in working with innovative, inspiring individuals; shaping time and space with them to make new work. I became a designer out of the impulse to make new work; to bring a formal and complex aesthetic to the world of the theatre. In my work I have a conversation about time and space onstage,” he says.
To make the Maine project a success, Townsend and his peers exchanged labor for free housing/board/rehearsal/performance space from several people and organizations in the community of Portland, including space in an abandoned church, St. Lawrence Arts. Their goal was not just to create a theatre piece, but to create a community of young de-signers, a support group for the future.
As for Townsend's future, he is already very busy. This fall he had design projects in Boston and Rochester as well as New York City, where he assisted his former professor, lighting designer Chris Akerlind on Reckless, for Manhattan Theatre Club at The Biltmore Theatre (last year he assisted Chris Barrecca on the sets for The Violet Hour). When he was in France as-sisting on the CalArts production of King Lear that toured to Dijon, he realized that the French take a month's vacation each year. This gave him the desire to spend a month each year to create something with the people he cares the most about, and not have to worry about the financial success. That led to the TENT idea in Maine, and is the kind of thinking that makes Justin Townsend exactly the kind of designer who will excel in the collaborative world that is the theatre.
“Justin combines some remarkable skills: first, he is an excellent collaborator and communicator — Homebody was a very difficult piece, but he both listened well, gave himself a huge range of choices to build from, and had enough agility to shift and add late in the process. Like his mentor, Chris Akerlind, he has a great sense of creativity in where to put the light, and how to use light in new ways. At one point, late in previews, he had great doggedness to come up with two amazing late ideas — a mirror ball for one transition, and an excellent and fresh transition into the final scene,…and he did not go over his budget. He also has great musicality and rhythm in his lights. And he is dangerously charming, when all is said and done…he is a real artist, and I suspect a rising star in a very crowded field.”
— Bartlett Sher, artistic director, Intiman Theater, Seattle
Profession: Projection/Set Designer
Education: MFA in Scene Design, Brandeis University 1999; BFA, Theatre Design/Technology, University of Evansville
Sets and projection: History of the Word, Crossroads Theatre; From My Home-town, Gramercy Theatre; and Maybe Baby, It's You at St. Luke's Theatre. Projection: Diss Diss and Diss Dat, New Federal Theatre; A Saint For All Wash Cycles, Irish Arts Theatre; Betrayal, Roundabout Theatre. Assistant production designer at David Weller Design.
“Spent a semester in England during undergraduate, where I saw about two-dozen West End productions, and was very much inspired by Theatre De Complicite; 20th Century art; the sculptor Rebecca Horn.”
Convergence is not just about lighting and projection; it can also be about sets and projection. Veterans like British designer Bill Dudley know this; now younger designers are coming to the fore with a similar focus. New York-based designer Matthew Myhrum is one such up and comer; though his training and background were in set design, he's begun making a name for himself around town for his projections, including a well-received production of From My Hometown, which moved to the Gramercy Theatre off Broadway earlier this summer, and a production of Diss Diss and Diss Dat last year.
His foray in to projection began after a period where he spent six months working with noted projection designer Jan Hartley; following that, he became involved with other shows that needed titles or images. That was followed by a period where Myhrum was brought on to projects that required not only sets but also projections, and he ended up handling both.
“There's been a growing trend where people say, ‘I really want projections in my show,’ he explains. “And since I'm also a set designer, I say, ‘Well, do you need projections in the show, or is it just wanting to have something flashy?’ Unfortunately, it sometimes happens when they have no money whatsoever, to which I say, ‘Well do you have your parents’ Ektagraphic we could use?'”
Myhrum's next project is the upcoming History of the Word at the Crossroads Theatre, directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj. “Matthew has vision and passion,” says Maharaj “We have developed a wonderful artistic collaboration and process. I respect his eye and ability to pull from his and my imagination to help create and tell stories.”
Myhrum says that what attracts him to projection is how much different it can be from one show to the next. “It can provide transitions, or juxtapositions; it kind of ends up being a bridge,” he says. “I think what I'm loving about projection design is its malleability, compared to costumes or sound, and the way it can be used that's more flexible than say, lighting. It has this whole blanket over the lot of them.”
“Matthew is a director's designer in the truest sense of the term. He's one of the few designers to whom I can assuredly say, ‘Design the play,’ and know that my vision as director and the playwright's intent will be creatively and innovatively realized.”
— Clinton Turner Davis, director with whom Myhrum worked on Home at Queens Theatre in the Park and The Piano Lesson at Brandeis
Profession: Costume Designer
Education: York University, BFA in theatre design (Toronto, Ontario)
costume designer, Timon of Athens, assistant designer, King Henry VIII (All is True), 2004 Stratford Festival of Canada; costume designer, Agamemnon, 2003 Stratford Festival of Canada; The Underpants, Theatrefront at Can-stage Upstairs (Toronto, Ontario)
“Shawn Kerwin, a teacher of mine at York University, used to work at Stratford. She talked all the time about the festival, and designers such as Desmond Heeley, whom she worked with — there's a great tradition of teaching and passing-down of know-how in a rep theatre like Stratford that's more than 50 years old. When I worked at the Shaw Festival (in Canada), I assisted Sue LePage, who was Ann Curtis's first assistant at Stratford; Ann used to be Desmond's student. Now, I'm Ann's assistant. There are circles connecting us all.”
Dana Osborne started collecting Vogue magazines when she was just 13 years old, skipping teen publications and heading straight to high fashion. She has always been attracted to designers such as John Galliano (especially liking the fact that Galliano was once a dresser at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and that his designs are very theatrical) and Karl Lagerfeld. She was drawn to the costuming side of design because she loved clothes — and was aware of costumes as a child when she appeared in dance recitals and plays.
She is interested in the psychology behind why people dress the way they do, down to why someone chooses a certain color sock on a particular day. She finds that the challenging part of doing historical design is that we don't know, for example, when people wore a particular color in the 18th century, why they chose that tone. “As a designer, you have to decide why that color is appropriate, and you have to do a lot of research to learn more about the period, whether that's through examining paintings or writings,” she says. For each design, she has a new set of influences to draw from, so each design is fresh and new. Everything and everyone she sees and every experience she has can eventually influence her work, sooner or later.
Presently, Osborne is interested in mixing period costumes with modern dress, something that is often a necessity in small Canadian theatres where budgets do not allow a full complement of period costumes and you need to be flexible. When this is the case, she uses vintage contemporary clothing with some period pieces to create the right feel. She also finds that body shapes are different now than in the past, the proportions are different, and an athletic man might have trouble fitting his large shoulders into a period frock coat, or gussets may need to be put in under the arms so an actor can move properly. Other costumes, such as those for period musicals, need modern tricks such as spandex panels so that singers and dancers can breathe.
In spite of her penchant for period costuming, Osborne just designed a modern Timon of Athens for the Stratford Festival. To make the modern clothes look theatrical, she chose a very tight color palette (otherwise it looks like you are at a mall, she says), with blacks, blues, and a touch of plum, set against a black and white set. She also added sunglasses and digital camouflage as used by the army. “Timon has themes are very appropriate for today, concerning a star system and wealth,” she says. “It had to be set in a period where there is a boom in the economy and luxury was in and hot.” This fall, she will be redesigning the costumes for a production of This Is Our Youth in Toronto and getting ready to design the costumes for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Stratford next season. She is trying to avoid the cliches in this well-known play, but finds there are things people expect, and wonders if they are cliches because they are the right choices. This love of clothing and costumes, the attention to historical accuracy and detail, and the freshness of her designs are sure to bring Dana Osborne to the next level of costume design.
“When choosing an assistant, you start with choosing a personality you get along with: someone who is adaptable, has a sense of humor, has energy, and of course, has talent. I've worked with Dana over two seasons and I know she has all these attributes. Her judgment is sound. At the Stratford Festival, the assistants come as part of a learning program and some of them, like Dana, have profited by it and have progressed. She has designed a studio production on her own in 2003, and this year did the costumes for Timon of Athens at our Tom Patterson Theatre. She's now a fellow designer, as well as a valued assistant.”
— Ann Curtis, costume designer
Profession: Costume Designer
Education: BA, Tulane University; MFA, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts
Cabaret, TriArts Theatre Festival; The Eliots, Center Stage, NY; Barriers and Island of the Slaves, HERE Arts Center; The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Theresa Lang Theatre; Demon Baby, The Ohio Theatre; Cosmic Jazz, The Bondstreet Theatre Coalition; Get Lucky (film short), director Sarah Canner; and The Bellclair Times (feature film), director Chriss Williams.
Livui Ciulei, Susan Hilferty, Jeanne Button, Carrie Robbins; John Conklin, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, the work of the Ballet Russe, the Symbolist Movement, Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet; Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Hellman, T.S. Eliot, and Voltaire; New Orleans French Quarter in May.
Kirche Leigh Zeile has more on her plate than you might expect from a two-year veteran of design school; she graduated in 2002 from NYU's Tisch School of Arts. With career highlights ranging from assisting the acclaimed costume designers Jeanne Button, Elizabeth Hope Clancy, and Carrie Robbins to creating masks for the Central Park Conservancy's Halloween Gala hosted by Sigourney Weaver, Zeile's young career has a variety and creative edge that gives it distinction.
At NYU, Zeile studied with award-winning costume designers Susan Hilferty and Robbins, who have set creative standards in costuming on Broad-way and off for the past few decades. Zeile credits them, along with Austrian Expressionist and French Impressionist painters, as influences for her designs in such recent shows as The Eliots, Cabaret, and the Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Working in small, community-based theatres in New York City has given Zeile a mastery of creating beautiful and effective costumes within limited budgets. She recently designed costumes for the Center Stage production of The Eliots, a study of the tumultuous relationship between T.S. Eliot and his wife Vivienne. The production involved three pairs of actors playing the lead roles, a costuming challenge to keep them unified, but specific to each period, which she skillfully accomplished. In Cook at INTAR, Zeile handled a similar design brief, depicting — through costume — the characters progressing 40 years as the play speeds through three generations. For a past production of Tom Stoppard's India Ink at the Soho Rep's Walkerspace Theatre, she dressed the Indians in bold, colorful warm clothing to contrast with the bland pale colors she placed on the British.
But she's not limited to small-scale productions, having designed costumes for the Marymount Manhattan College revival of Galt MacDermot's musical The Human Comedy; Carrie Robbins recalls Broadway producer/director Hal Prince sitting behind her during the production and “he was quite impressed with the ‘visuals’.”
She has worked at the HERE Arts center on two productions, both culturally and ethnically diverse — as “one of the most unusual arts spaces in New York — and possibly the model for the cutting edge arts space of tomorrow” according to The New York Times — an up-and-coming costume designer, Kirche Zeile fits right in.
Next, Zeile is taking her costuming talents to the big screen, designing the costumes for the upcoming independent film The Bellclaire Times, directed by Chriss Williams (Asbury Park, 1996), a former assistant to Spike Lee.
“All the work I've seen has looked amazingly good and on budgets that are incredibly skimpy. I often think the true test of a talented designer is what he/she can achieve with very little money and very little support. Lots of people can design something handsome with a budget of $500,000 to a million — that kind of buying power gets one the best shops, the best materials, the best craftspeople, and a large support team who will not let you fail. But doing something handsome on a dime really separates the “design men-from-the-boys” to me. I think Kirche has this. Keep your eye on her.”
— Carrie Robbins, costume designer
Profession: Sound Designer
Education: MFA in Sound Design, CalArts; BA in Music in Composition, Oberlin Conservatory; BA in Computer Science, Oberlin College
Assistant: Upcoming 2005 Cirque du Soleil Tour; Cirque du Soleil at MGM Grand Hotel/Casino, Las Vegas; The Royal Family, Ahmanson Theater.
Designer: Elegies: A Song Cycle, Canon Theatre; Farewell Juliet, The Santa Monica Playhouse; Faculty, Sound Design, CalArts
“David Tudor, Morton Feldman, dumbtype.”
A young designer is considered pretty lucky if he or she gets to be mentored by a top designer. So what do you call a tyro who gets taken under wing by two top designers? Meet Leon Rothenberg.
This recent graduate of CalArts was tutored by Jon Gottlieb while at the school, working up to co-designer status on the well-received site-specific production of King Lear (see “The King Has Left The Building,” ED October 2002, page 37) before graduating that year. This year, he's spent time in Vegas, working as assistant to Jonathan Deans on the newest Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand, and will soon begin helping out on the next Cirque tour.
Rothenberg started out wanting to be a composer and landed in the world of theatre almost by accident. “I was doing music composition in undergrad and my composition teacher was doing a staged reading of an opera he'd written, and it was important to him that there was sound,” the designer explains. “He used the word sound designer, and I thought that sounded interesting. That was the first thing I did, and decided it was a lot more fun working with people than sitting in a room by myself with a piano and a pencil.”
Despite his background, Rothenberg turned out to be a natural as a sound designer. “Leon has full knowledge of audio, from the basic fundamentals to designing his own plug-ins, thereby realizing his creative ideas,” says Deans. “Fully loaded with calm intelligence and a polite demeanor, willing to go the extra mile or marathon.”
Rothenberg credits his experience at CalArts for his growth as a theatre designer, though it turned out to be a bit more than he bargained for. “My first year they assigned me to a whole bunch of shows,” he recalls. “I got there and at registration discovered I was doing a show and had to read the script and meet with the director two days later. I didn't really know what I was doing so I tried to figure out what I thought I ought to be doing, and did that. I did that for the first year and then the second year had less shows but kept trying to figure out how sound fit into the grand scheme of things.”
With a variety of theatre credits now under his belt, and a successful assistantship with Deans well underway, Rothenberg seems poised for a solid theatrical career. But he still continues to compose, having just completed a film short called Seven Swans. “I don't do a lot of composing, but I did this,” he says. “But I don't miss it because I feel like I'm still composing, just working with different instruments. For me the thought process is the same.”
“From the moment he entered the sound design program at CalArts, I knew the bar would be raised. He is part of that new breed of young designer who embraces modern technology as second nature, while also possessing a mature aesthetic design sense that he developed while working in the theatrical trenches of a challenging academic environment. His work constantly pushes the creative envelope, achieving a unique and instinctive audio relationship to each particular piece.”
— John Gottlieb
Profession: Music Composition/Sound Design
Education: BFA Music Composition and Technology, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Twelfth Night, Playboy of the Western World, American Players Theatre; The Doctor's Dilemma, Benefactors, My Own Stranger, Writers Theatre in Glencoe; Tale of Two Cities, Steppenwolf Theatre; Tangle Grosso, University of Wisconsin/ Milwaukee Dance; The Grapes of Wrath, Ford's Theatre
“Whatever I can get my hands on.”
Used to be, most sound designers became sound designers by way of the A/V department, or occasionally even the lighting department. Today, more and more sound designers have backgrounds in music composition. Both of this year's young sound designers to watch share that distinction. For Josh Schmidt, it was a logical, if unplanned leap.
“I got into it by default,” he explains. “It was the marriage of two things I was studying in college: music composition from a structural standpoint and acoustical instruments, plus electro-acoustic music and all the technology that came with it. There was a need through some contacts of mine [at the University of Wisconsin] in Milwaukee for sound design, so they asked me to do it; I started it, liked it, and kept on going. I liked the ability to write music or compose soundscapes and have it be heard by more than the 50 people that would show up at the university to hear the concert. I also really enjoyed the collaborative elements of it.”
Schmidt's kept busy since graduation, working on a variety of theatre, dance, and music projects; this year he was asked to participate in the NEA/ TCG Career Development Program for Designers and Directors. “It was beginner's luck,” he says of the award. “I get to observe/assist other designers higher up in the food chain. I can study new software, and I get to see shows and gauge what everyone else is doing.”
Sound designer Michael Bodeen, who serves as Schmidt's TCG grant mentor along with partner Rob Milburn, says the tyro's music background fuels his design abilities. “Josh has an innate musicality about him,” he explains. “He is not only a gifted composer but a well trained one. Theatre caught his fancy a few years ago; I think the storytelling and the interaction with live actors fascinate him most. He sees sound design as the crucial final element in his compositions, and he treats sound effects and sound scores with as much care as his music.”
Up next for Schmidt is an opera he's been commissioned to write, based on Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine, which he says will combine his affinities in sound design and music composition.
“It will be marvelous to watch Josh develop into a first class collaborator, listening and reinventing himself as an artist, as he interplays and cooperates with all the talented directors and designers he has been working with, and those I hope he gets the chance to work with, over the course of his career.”
— Michael Bodeen, sound designer