Theatre major helps bring a story to life with scenic design

September 5, 2018
Samuel Klaas
Close up of Samuel Klaas cutting
Mini figure used for scale
Set model
Set model
Set model
Set model

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — After he graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in May 2019, Samuel Klaas, a senior theatre major from Lancaster, Wisconsin, aspires to earn a Master of Fine Arts in scenic design and then work as a scenic designer or technical director at a college or university.

This summer, thanks to UW-Platteville’s new Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program, Klaas was able to gain hands-on, scenic design experience that will help make his aspirations a reality. The goal of the program is to provide students with an intensive summer scholarly experience that will prepare them for graduate studies as well as help enhance the culture of scholarship among students and faculty at UW-Platteville.

Klaas’s project involved designing the scenic portion of the university Theatre Program’s 2018-19 season spring show, “Fool for Love,” by Sam Shepard. The play, a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, tells the story of two former lovers who meet again in a motel in the desert, where they confront one another for one last time.

As the play’s scenic designer, Klaas was responsible for imagining and creating the entire world of the play. The project was split into two parts: (1) research about Sam Shepard and “Fool for Love” and (2) development and implementation of the play’s scenic design.

In April through May, before the program had officially begun, Klaas met with Dr. Ann Farrelly, associate professor of theatre at UW-Platteville and director of the play, and Jeffrey Strange, associate professor and resident designer/technical director for the Theatre Program at UW-Platteville and Klaas’s mentor for the project, to discuss design concepts.

After the program officially started in early June, Klaas began the research phase of the project, learning as much as he could about Shepard and the play by referencing more than 11 books about both. He then used the deeper understanding he gleaned from his research to begin visualizing creative possibilities for the play’s scenic design.

“By fully analyzing both the text and the playwright, I could begin to piece together the world in which the characters lived, why they were there, and why it mattered,” said Klaas. “My job not only gave the characters a space to inhabit; it aided in the telling of Shepard’s story.”

Klaas then began the second phase of the project – the development and implementation of the play’s scenic design. He created formalized scenic designs using Vectorworks, a special software that allows users to sketch, model and present two- and three-dimensional designs. He then created a scale white model of the design, which gave him a chance to test out the physicality and logistics of the space and provided a visual sense of what his set design would look like in real life.

In June and July, Klaas presented his research, rough and preliminary designs, sketches, initial and refined ground plans, white model, elevations and other three-dimensional aspects of the scenery to the director and technical director for approval. Throughout the summer, Klaas also met with Blair Schuler, a junior theatre major at UW-Platteville and the play’s costumer designer, and Zachary Van Camp, a theatre minor at UW-Platteville and the play’s lighting designer, to coordinate the play’s production.

In early August, after roughly 350 hours of design work, Klaas presented the final design, which included a full color model, paint elevations and multiple plates of drafting, including a ground plan section and elevations of every scenic element of the design. At the end of the fall semester, his final scenic design will go into production. On Feb. 13, 2019, the actual, realized production of “Fool for Love” will open.

“Our inaugural Summer Undergraduate Scholars community has such a diversity of research projects, and we are fortunate to have Sam and Jeffrey on board,” said Dr. Chris Underwood, assistant professor of geography at UW-Platteville and director of the Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program. “They bring a refreshing perspective to our group and serve as a powerful reminder that undergraduate research consists not only of field and bench science, but also comprises creative contributions to one’s discipline.”

Klaas said that the Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program provided him with an intensive summer scholarly experience that prepared him for graduate studies. He noted that the hands-on experience enabled him to hone his skills in professional scenic design and create a design that he can show to future graduate programs and employers.

“Because I had the chance to work on scenic design professionally this summer, I now have more materials to show potential graduate programs,” said Klaas. In January, he will attend many theatre conferences, including the University Resident Theatre Association Interviews in Chicago, Illinois, where he will showcase his work and talent in front of a multitude of surrounding graduate programs.

As Klaas’s mentor, Strange was responsible for teaching Klaas the more in-depth facets of scenic design, providing assistance and guidance as needed. Strange noted that working together on the project enhanced the culture of scholarship among students and faculty at UW-Platteville.

“By fully analyzing both the text and the playwright, I could begin to piece together the world in which the characters lived, why they were there, and why it mattered. My job not only gave the characters a space to inhabit; it aided in the telling of Shepard’s story.”

                                                                                                                                     –Samuel Klaas

“I was very happy to go on this creative journey with Samuel,” said Strange. “He possesses many qualities that will help him be successful in the field of theatre. He has a very critical eye, is intelligent, and possesses a deep sensitivity in lighting design, construction and painting.”

Strange explained that Klaas’s job was to generate ideas while his job was to ask questions that helped Klaas strive for more specifications about the play’s conceptual ideas and how the scenic design related to the environment of the story, audience, pivotal pieces of action, production, costuming and lighting.

“This creative experience put Sam in a position to focus solely on conceptualizing the play to generate a product,” said Strange. “Developing the play’s scenic design gave him a full design package that will make him stand out when competing with other students who are going into the field of theatre. The program allowed him to create a capstone piece that represents a culmination of his participation and his training in theatre. He created a scenic design that fulfilled the playwright’s intentions – and because there is always room for an artist’s interpretation, he created a design that is, and always will be, uniquely and completely his own.”

The Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program is made possible with funding support from UW-Platteville’s Student Research and Engagement fund (formerly PACCE), a UW-Platteville initiative and funding source for community-based scholarship of engagement and undergraduate research projects that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners, and Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.


Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, University Relations Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


Subscribe to news at University of Wisconsin-Platteville using our RSS feed.