School of Theatre & Dance – West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
Associate Professor of Scenic Design
Director of the Design & Technology Program 2005 - Present
THET322 Scene Design
THET323 Advanced Scene Design
THET622 Graduate Scene Design
THET623 Graduate Advanced Scene Design
THET330 Rendering Techniques
THET321 Stage Properties
THET428 Scene Painting
THET725 Portfolio Development
To pin down a precise, fixed philosophy of teaching is not only difficult, it is somehow philosophically wrong. I hope my teaching will always be toward a moving
target. If there is one constant it is that I try to view my students as individuals with individual experiences and skill-sets when I first meet them.
I try to stay true to the individual needs of the student.
There are many technical building blocks that are crucial to a young designer’s training: mechanical skills of proficiency in rendering, drafting, and scene
painting that need to be learned so they can be transcended.
I try to separate exercises that develop these skills from the student’s design projects so they focus on the exercise not on their excitement
with their design.
This is done with smaller individual projects that focus
on a small, manageable skill, often with little or no “design”
of their own. This is especially true in teaching Rendering
and Scene Painting, but even in Design courses it helps
the student learn they don’t have to think of everything at
In Scene Design I, for example, a project deals with the
fundamental placement of furniture onstage from an
acting/directing perspective as being the starting point
for the eventual design of the “set”. Another focuses
on the creation of maximum flow of movement patterns
in a multi-level set independently of concerns of “look”
Past mere proficiency in their craft, the student must
develop their critical thinking skills and a sense of the
art of theatrical design. This brings up the question:
Can one teach creativity? Probably not, but designing
can be presented as a process, even the less tangible
elements of it, that can be learned, and eventually
adapted to become one’s own.
I try to demystify creativity to teach reliance on process that will ultimately set creativity free.
Toward this end, I stress the development of the design. This is done, for example, by requiring that a research collage of specific elements from a specific
period be “arranged” in an architectural logic. When presented, the student, and the class is encouraged to identify what elements of design could be altered to
bring the research elements together. The next project is a revised collage with scale, color, etc. changed, and the next is a pencil sketch that further develops
To develop critical thinking, students are encouraged to critique each other’s work, to find what is strong and what could be improved.
To give the young designer a sense of the art as a whole, I include extensive exposure to the history of stage design in the last 100
years and what trends and concepts are being explored today.
This serves to minimize the reinvention of the wheel,
as well as promoting a humbling “it’s been done before”.
It also gives a wealth of inspiration.
In Scene Design II, focus is put on a “toolbox” approach
to contemporary trends and concepts, such as Skew,
an “Un-Designed” look, anachronism and intentionally
“naïve” use of color, or painting techniques among others.
I suppose this all adds up to a philosophy.
Like everything else, it is a process…..