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Making a scene

TCU’s new scenographer brings a fresh sense of setting to the theater department.

Making  a scene

Scenographer Brian Clinnin ame to TCU as an assistant professor of scenography in August 2008, fresh from the Chicago Scene Studio, one of the nation’s largest set design and construction companies.

Making a scene

TCU’s new scenographer brings a fresh sense of setting to the theater department.

A set establishes mood, it tells a story. It does not exist in isolation but is part of the interplay of lighting and costume design that come together on stage. It speaks powerfully but quietly as we watch the action of theatre unfold.

So when TCU’s new scenographer Brian Clinnin designed the balcony scene in this summer’s Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s “Romeo and Juliet,” he had Juliet encounter her love from a platform without rails suspended over the stage.

That new take on the balcony scene was designed to foretell the danger of the love between Romeo and Juliet. In Clinnin’s mind, the balcony became a diving board from which Juliet would take an emotional plunge. It said: “She’s taking a chance. He’s taking a chance,” Clinnin says.

Clinnin, an artist since childhood, former carpenter and furniture designer who studied industrial design, illustration and design as an undergraduate, came to TCU as an assistant professor of scenography in August 2008, fresh from the Chicago Scene Studio, one of the nation’s largest set design and construction companies. There he designed sets for a range of productions and displays, including Oprah’s Chicago and traveling shows, Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas extravaganza and Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

A scenographer often is thought of as the person who designs and paints sets. Yet Clinnin not only designs sets, but also lighting and costumes, as well as makeup, sound and props.
Often those jobs are held by specialists in each field, but Clinnin’s master’s degree from the scenography program at the University of Kansas required he learn sets, lights and costumes.

“It’s an all-encompassing look at design,” he says. “You gain a better understanding of how your choices affect the choices of other designers.”

Clinnin designed the “Romeo and Juliet” costumes as well as the set. It was a sparse but potent set with a trench running down the middle to visually divide the warring Capulet and Montague families. As the story grew more intense, the trench on stage filled with blood.

Scenographers are scholarly sorts. For “Romeo and Juliet,” Clinnin researched the architectural style of Carlo Scarpa, an architect who in mid-century Italy coupled the minimalist design of the era with traditional Venetian design.

In “The Laramie Project” staged by TCU last fall, Clinnin designed not just the set but also the lighting. The story centers on a hate crime against a young gay man and the aftermath of media attention in a Wyoming town. Most productions design the set around the media attention by placing newspapers or TV screens all over the set. Clinnin, however, designed the set around the place and people. He used translucent dyes to paint a sweeping Wyoming sky on a massive sheet of sheer fabric. When sections of the play focused on the media, TV screens behind the fabric shone through.

Clinnin’s next task is to design the set and the paintings for this season’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and on the costumes for the “Beauty Queen of Leenane,” as well as other productions. He is teaching scene painting and stage makeup this fall.

For information, schedules and tickets, go to www.theatre.tcu.edu.