If theatre design legend Tony Walton thinks you're a rising star, who are we to argue? Scenic designer Kelly Hanson assisted Walton on the Goodspeed Opera's Where's Charley, which he also directed, along with various other productions. “I have been impressed with the extraordinary and ongoing expansion of her craft and skills, especially considering her youth,” Walton said in his recommendation to the USITT Committee. “I believe that she is an ideal rising star due to her immensely impressive and constantly growing command of her craft as well as her wonderfully imaginative approach to her art.”
Walton knows what he's talking about as Hanson — a 2001 graduate from the University of California, San Diego with an MFA in scenic design — has a resumé that jumps all over the country and across the Atlantic with work for Lincoln Center Institute (This Ain't No Rodeo), the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fatboy), The New York Fringe Festival (Haven), American Opera Projects (Fireworks), and the list goes on. Currently assisting Walton on a revamped version of The Boyfriend directed by Julie Andrews for Goodspeed Opera House to be followed by a national tour, Hanson was thrilled to be the first recipient of the USITT Rising Star Award, sponsored by the ETS-LDI Show and Entertainment Design and Lighting Dimensions magazines. “It's a wonderful honor,” Hanson says of receiving the award. “So many of my peers are working so hard and are so talented and struggling so much to make it work that I was so bowled over to be recognized among them.”
Hanson approaches the design for a new show in a more storytelling-oriented manner. “I try to create a visual world that enhances the story that's already there and tells that story more than simply illustrates it,” she explains. “I do a lot of script work but I also do a research collage which helps me translate what's going on in my head and puts it into a visual context.” To create this collage, Hanson not only looks at photographs — for historical perspective, when needed — but she also looks at a lot of art installations, depending on the type of project it is. She likes to do both literal research as well as conceptual research, which allows her to use these collages to establish her palette, texture, color. “Things emerge that are more instinctual than intellectual and that can be very rewarding,” she adds.
While her immediate plans call for her to stay in New York — aside from The Boyfriend, she's working on four modern dance pieces, production design for an independent film, as well as a show at HERE Downtown called Boro Tales — Hanson hopes to explore the world of regional theatres because that seems to be the more typical route to getting on Broadway and off-Broadway. “Unless you design something downtown that just happens to get picked up [for Broadway], it's better to work in regional theatres,” she explains. “But Broadway is not the only reason; I really like what regional theatres are doing in terms of community outreach and really entertaining their audiences. It would really enrich my career, but in my ideal world I would do both.”
After such a successful relationship with Walton and other designers, Hanson wants to continue to forge rewarding relationships with exciting collaborators. “Young designers are sacrificing so much to freelance in this business,” she says. “It takes nearly all of your time and energy and certainly doesn't often produce financial rewards! I think the trick is to make it fun by working with people who you really gel with, and of course, it is those relationships that create the best work.”