Campus Q&A with a scenic designer

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Stephen Hudson-Mairet is an associate professor in the Diederich College of Communication Theatre Arts Department and chair of digital media and performing arts in the Helfaer Theatre. He has created the scenic experience for more than 30 Marquette plays. Hudson-Mairet was attracted to theatre work while in high school and continued on that path in college. He holds an M.F.A. in scenography, or theatre design, and last year became the second faculty member in his department to be granted tenure.

What does a scenic designer do?

My role is multifaceted. As chair, I do the normal administrative things, but I also help produce a full season of shows on campus in the theatre. As a designer, I analyze the play and venue, and research the history of the play, playwright and time period the play is set in. I worry about the physical aspects (colors, textures, number of doors and furnishings, etc.), as well as the psychological and esoteric character aspects. Who lives in this play? What is the playwright trying to say, and how can I manifest the soul of the drama in the scenery?

A scenic designer needs to be a jack of all trades: an interior designer, architect, painter, director and theatre artist. Ultimately, I am deeply connected and reliant on colleagues and students for a production to be successful. Theatre is a collaborative art.

How do you create scenery for a production? 

One of my favorite designs at Marquette was for the show And Then They Came For Me. It was about a couple of kids who survived the Holocaust. The play followed their journey from a normal life to living in a concentration camp. We saw imagery online at the Holocaust Museum. One exhibit, a hall of faces, was particularly moving. The museum emailed us all the files from the exhibit and granted us permission to use them in the design of our production. The overall image we created was striking, but what made it more powerful was how my colleague, Chester Loeffler-Bell, designed lighting to accentuate the performers and scenery and how my colleague, Deb Krajec, directed the show to use the space to its full potential.

Can you tell us about the most difficult scene you designed? 

Shows vary in difficulty. Sometimes shows are difficult because of the magnitude of work involved. Sometimes a show is difficult, which was the case with And Then They Came For Me, because the content, the topic, is so difficult that you have to step away from time to time.

What attracts you to doing this work at a university?

I get to work with exciting students who come together to create art. They grow together as a team — and as individuals they learn their limits. I love to see the discovery while we work together and love it when graduates come back to campus to share techniques they learn that I can share with students.

Why have the arts always been important to Jesuit education?

As I understand it, historically the arts have been a cornerstone of Jesuit colleges and universities, known for the study of arts and architecture, painting, sculpture, music, theatre, dance and poetry. The arts help us examine our lives through empathy and understanding in a way that no other discipline can. All areas of study at the university should be searching for the truth as well as THE TRUTH. The arts allow us to examine these questions through the embodiment of the struggles, the questions, the joys and the essence of what it means to be human. — JMM

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