Pioneer Spotlight: Jeffrey Strange
Jeffrey Strange, associate professor of theatre, resident scenic and lighting designer and technical director of the Center for the Arts Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, began teaching at the university in fall 2011. He teaches Introduction to Theatre, Stagecraft, Scenic Design, Lighting Design and Production, Drafting for the Theatre, Scenic Painting and Period Styles for the Theatre.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Strange received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre production: scenic design and scenic painting from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, then a Master of Fine Arts in scenic design from Wayne State’s Hilberry Repertory Theatre in Detroit, Michigan. There, his design for the play “Lie of the Mind” by Sam Shepard was part of the Moscow International Theatre Festival and led to immersive design training at the Moscow Art Theatre School.
Strange was a lecturer at Tennessee State University, where he designed “The Birthday Party” and “Ruined,” which was an American College Theatre Festival Region IV finalist. He also has designed at Weathervane Theatre (“Hair,” “Ragtime,” “Legally Blonde,” “Music Man”), Stagedoor Manor (“The Wild Party,” “Chicago,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sweet Charity,” “Les Miserables,” “The Producers”), and the Heartland Festival (“Nunsense,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Shrek the Musical,” “The Last 5 Years,” and “Mary Poppins”).
How did you become involved in theatrical design and production?
As an only child, I was always preoccupied by drawing and painting, and I loved reading and telling stories, so I guess it isn’t a surprise that I found theatre so appealing. I also come from a family of builders and house painters, so I got to experience how amazing it is to see places transform and I think that instilled in me a real appreciation in the craft that goes into creating the world around us. When you put it all together, I think, that’s how I became involved in theatrical design and production.
What do you hope students take away from your classes?
Fundamentally, all of our students gain an appreciation for the work, planning and artistry that goes into theatrical production. They are really truly shocked at what it entails – from the analysis of character dialogue to the choice of construction hardware, from the hem length of a dress to the selection of spotlight colors. It is incredible to watch the students grow in their awareness and use their skills to create wonderful moments of theatre.
Personally, I hope the students also take away two things: One, I hope they gain a respect, understanding and confidence in safely using tools and materials. Two, I hope they gain a deep appreciation of the symbiotic nature of theatre and the world around them. It all comes back to the idea of interconnectedness. Theatre was, and is, about us – our world, our humanity. On the production side of things, so much of what we do reflects that. We use knots that came to us from sailors; we use tools and machines that carpenters have used for years. When the students learn how to use a tool, for instance, it empowers them; they own that ability. I will have a student sketch a plan of what they want to create, make a CAD drawing of it, budget the materials and then actually build it. What we create in theatre may be abbreviated or specialized, but at its core, the students find a lot of their world there.
What is the role of a resident designer and technical director?
As resident designer, I am responsible for the design – the idea, if you like – of the scenic and/or lighting for theatre program productions. I analyze and research the script, collaborate with the director and other designers and generate materials to express what the design is. This includes creating sketches, models, drafting and paint samples. Essentially, I provide whatever is necessary to convey to the director, other designers, performers and technicians what the world of the play is going to be. I am also fortunate I have the opportunity to mentor student designers through this process as well. It’s exciting to see their transformation from student to peer.
As technical director, I oversee the realization of the scenic and lighting designs. This involves the actual construction of the set, the painting, hanging lighting fixtures and so on. Being technical director, I also supervise the student production staff and the daily operation of the Scene Shop and Center for the Arts Theatre performance space.
What special qualities are essential in your position?
The UW-Platteville Theatre program is a producing theatre, so we are faced with very real deadlines for each of our productions. To maintain a balance of all of these responsibilities, you need to have strong problem solving and project managing skills to break down an entire production into achievable weekly, daily and often hourly goals. I believe it is also essential to have the patience and flexibility to work with the variety of different skill levels and life experiences that each student brings in order to help them be as successful as possible. I mean, really, our productions rest upon those individual student successes and I could not be more proud of them.
What do you enjoy most about your position?
What I enjoy most about what I do at UW-Platteville is the chance to work with wonderful people in a wonderful discipline. Our productions are so varied – it’s like working on a different world every few months. My colleagues are exceptionally talented and committed to the students and the program. My students are so eager to learn and develop their skills. We challenge each other to be better. It’s truly remarkable.
For more information about the theatre program, production dates, or how to get involved, please visit: https://www.uwplatt.edu/theatre.
Interview conducted by: Laurie Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.