A ballerina pirouettes not a moment’s glance from a wall dripping with photos of prosthetic gore, but a wig crafter nearby pays no mind and the room hums with expressions of awe and congratulations.
For the second year, the School of Design and Production at UNC School of the Arts is opening senior portfolio reviews to the public at Hanesbrands Theatre in downtown Winston-Salem where more than 70 candidates for bachelor and master of fine arts degrees present their handiwork, transporting the behind-the-scenes to front and center.
Wig and makeup design artist Nathalie Eidt does not care for gore; during her fourth year, she focused on expanding her editorial portfolio in anticipation of pursuing freelance work in Los Angeles. Editorial makeup is more concerned with telling a story, eliciting an emotional state or interpreting fashion than selling a product.
“I like editorial makeup design because you can push the boundaries of creativity a lot more; you’re able to go further with looks than you could in a film or theater setting,” she says. “You can also invent looks that only look good for that moment — sometimes, eye shadow creases; a lip will smudge.”
Her portrait exhibit shows range, from a dreamy design featuring golden flower petals fixed beside flashes of sapphire eyeshadow to a bold-lipped duo sheathed by iridescent cellophane.
Scenic designer Manika Gupta’s MFA portfolio looks a bit different: she’s propped several scaled-down stage models next to a table brimming with sketches and provisional paint samples for her theoretical rendering of the ballet La Bayadere, in which illusory background dancers, translucent figures lit from behind, create a hallucination scene.
“We are taught, whatever you are putting in a model or designing, every bit should have a meaning,” Gupta says. “It’s about questioning every choice throughout your process.”
Over the last four years, Jada Hutchinson’s technical lighting expertise translated her peers’ concepts to the stage, whether through welding or physically loading dozens of lights per production. Tonight, she stands by a spread of thick three-ring binders holding precious checklists, production schedules and stage maps for each of the student productions she’s worked on.
“Forty-hour weeks are normal for us, except there are 80-hour weeks when we load-in shows because we’re doing three four-hour calls in a day back-to-back,” she says.
And she’s not just making sure everyone has what they need for the show to go on — she’s updating industry models, like the LED spotlights she made for a production called Next to Normal, which allow a lighting designer to maintain control of color and spotlight operators, who track actors as they move around the stage, to control faders.
Costume design MFA Kenan Burchette also worked on Next to Normal, a rock musical about a bipolar woman struggling with her illness and its effects on her family.
“The director and team wanted people to see these characters as everyday people, someone who could be your neighbor getting in their car,” he says. “With Diane, the main character, I wanted the beginning of her arc to be chaotic and then when she hits the rock bottom of her depression, I wanted her outfits to be comfortable and slouchy. After she receives ECT, the costume was about what these people’s idea of what a housewife would be.”
The colors are cheerful in juxtaposition to the hospital gown’s dull pill print, but the belt is too tight.
Soon-to-be BFA graduate Keyon Woods, also a costume designer, similarly found himself assigned to a theater production requiring “realistic” costumes: August Wilson’s Pulitzer prize-winning play The Piano Lesson, set in the 1930s.
“I was a little bit upset at first because [the script] is sad; it’s normal clothing and I wanted something sparkly,” Woods says. “But it ended up being the best project ever, for me. I realized you can get so detailed, especially with all of the textures. There’s so much that goes into what you think of as ‘normal’ clothing.”
He and Burchette both developed theoretical costume design pitches for classic works.
“I took the Oedipus story and basically chose different classes of metals and assigned them to royalty down to the very poor people,” Burchette says. “Then, how they were affected by fate — because fate is a huge thing in Oedipus — is reflected in how tarnished or decayed I made [their outfit].”
In his sketches, iron rusts on the garments, silver tarnishes to black and bronze goes green.
“I don’t know that an audience would notice the difference between gold and electrum, but I learned that electrum is essentially white gold, which is considered kind of fake,” he says. “That was perfect for Oedipus, who thinks he’s the bomb-diggity, but he’s not, as he finds out later.”
Woods flipped the script somewhat when considering the Puck character, based loosely in English mythology, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In masterful sketches, he bestows Shakespeare’s impish sprite with an enormous donkey mask constructed with mesh. Inside, a built-in light illuminates thevisage within, an ass no longer capable of dealing in deception.
Learn more about UNCSA’s School of Design and Production here.