ARTIST INTERVIEW: Karen Lee Tait, Set Designer

Karen

This week, our Communication & Development Intern, Brianna Olson-Carr, interviewed set designer, Karen Lee Tait, who designed the set for Intrigue With Faye.

Q: Can you tell us a little but about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?
A: I originally grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then moved to Columbus, Ohio, with a goofy accent and a history of renovating houses with my family. We fixed up three houses in six years so I got pretty good at laying floor and building cabinets. I was on the bus one day when these two ladies came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in building them a window seat for their play. I was desperate for friends so I went along with them. I had acted a little here and there, but coming from a small school I was clueless about tech and had no idea how sets were built! That window seat I built for them was to code and weighed a TON! We would joke that if a bomb ever went off we would all climb into it and use it as shelter. It was absolutely ridiculous. I quickly learned how to build things efficiently and cheaply. There was no going back after that – I was totally hooked. When I went to college at Bowling Green State University, I spent a few years studying Biology. I was dead-set on being a dentist, which didn’t last long. Two days after graduating in December 2011, I packed up everything I own into my itty-bitty Kia and started driving. I was planning on moving to Chicago but hit rush-hour traffic and saw my life flash in slow motion before my eyes. I kept on driving and was lucky enough to land a few jobs within the first couple days of moving to the Twin Cities.

Q: What attracted you to set design?
I never meant to be a set designer! As a carpenter, bringing other peoples’ designs to life, it is difficult to not let your own ideas surface. I’m totally a visual learner. I have to see something to understand it. One time in college I had to read The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In order to understand what the main character was doing in her chambers I started sketching rooms. Where was the bed? Where did the light source come from? Where were the cracks in the wall? Those kind of sketches were all over my English Textbooks. My designs become completely inundated with meaning behind every little detail. Ever take an English class? An author misspells a word and suddenly that extra letter means something. The color of his shirt…means something…the double layer baseboard…means something. It just happened and again, there was no turning back.

Q: How did you get involved with 20% Theatre Company?
A: I stumbled across 20% Theatre on Minnesota Playlist’s website, and sent Claire an email in attempt to learn more about the company and the work that they do. I had just had two great interviews for local theatre companies and then wasn’t hired because of my “lack of real-world experience.” I was hitting a wall, and it hurt. If you don’t give me a job, how will I ever gain real-world experience? The 20% Theatre website was encouraging because it mentioned how they provide learning opportunities for the underrepresented and green. I put that to the test and was lucky enough to be hired to design their winter mainstage production. This has been an amazing opportunity that I am so very grateful for. I have learned a lot about myself as a solo artist, carpenter, designer, and teacher.

Q: What is your favorite genre or type of theater to design? What are some plays on your set design “dream list”?
A: This is a tough question, as I don’t feel I’ve been in this field long enough to be partial to one genre over another. I’m just excited to work on any play offered to me! For me, it is all about the director and their vision. If a director comes to me and says: “I want a green wall with purple trim and 4.5ft between point A and prop B” I have nothing to design. I’m shut down. The director has dictated exactly what they want to see and has given me zero room to collaborate. In the case of Intrigue With Faye, Nicole gave me a thought, a philosophy, a place to go, a painting, and a sentence that summed up her feeling about the show. In this case I felt such a freedom…… Now, what is my budget?!

Q: What are some of your other interests/hobbies when you’re not covered in paint or sawdust?
A: I am currently planning a hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2014 — over 2,000 miles, and it will take about six months. So, when I am not covered in paint or sawdust, I put on my wool socks with lace trim and my boots, pack my bag and take a hike. I trade the paint and sawdust for dirt and grime. (BTW – I really do believe there is always room to feel pretty and about 90% of the time my socks really do have lace on them.)

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Trailer!

Introducing: Videographer, Cat Hammond!

Intrigue With Faye by Kate Robin involves A LOT of video (cool, right?), and Cat Hammond joined the production team as videographer, filming many scenes for the show, as well as this short trailer/teaser!

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Nicole Wilder, Director

Nicole Wilder

20% Theatre Company’s new Communication & Development Intern, Brianna Olson-Carr, is helping us launch ARTIST INTERVIEWS for our new blog! This week, we interviewed Nicole Wilder, company member, workshop facilitator, and director! Nicole has directed and co-directed numerous plays for 20% Theatre, and is the director of our winter show, Intrigue With Faye by Kate Robin, performing January 25-Ferbruary 9 at Nimbus Theatre.

Q: How/when/why did you get into theatre?
A: I started pursuing theatre in 7th grade by way of acting. Honestly, I think I first got involved because I wasn’t really into sports but didn’t particularly like taking the bus home after school, so why not? Having rehearsals meant I was guaranteed a ride home 5 nights a week. I had always exhibited a flair for the dramatic, though (just ask my mom). So I think I fell into it pretty naturally.

Q: What drew you to directing, specifically?
A: A professor I had in graduate school, Dr. Paul Jackson, really opened my eyes to the power of directing. I realized I had things to say. I realized I could say them much louder with theatre. I realized that through the act of directing, I could live my politics in lots of ways…in the plays I picked, in my casting choices, in my rehearsal process, in the way I treat my audience…Directing became my conversation starter and a megaphone for the ideas that are important to me.

Q: How did you get involved with 20% Theatre Company?
A: I first got involved with 20% Theatre through an open call for directors, back when we were working on The Naked I: Monologues from Beyond the Binary. Although…20% had been on my radar way before then. 20% Theatre Company’s mission and my desire to work with other socially conscious artists basically pulled me back to the Twin Cities from Ohio.

Q: What drew you to Intrigue with Faye? How would you describe the play to someone who knows nothing about it?
A: So remember everything I said about being a socially conscious artist? Forget all of that for a second. What drew me to Intrigue with Faye initially was that I saw myself in both of the characters (how scary is that?). However, I personally don’t believe that’s a good enough reason to actually go through all the work of staging a play. I wouldn’t ask an audience to watch me put me on stage. I think it was my desire to make sense of these flawed characters that kept me interested in staging this production. These characters and their sick interactions are a symptom of something bigger…something we all need to talk about. These characters suffer from a lack of presence in their own lives. Constructing my concept and rehearsing this production became an exploration of that “something bigger”.

Q: Why should people come see Intrigue with Faye and/or what do you hope audiences will walk away with after seeing it?
A: People should come and see Intrigue with Faye because there is a little Kean and Lissa in all of us (the two main characters). We all suffer from a lack of presence. We all suffer from a fear that our emotions are just a little too much…that with some distance from our emotions, we’ll be better off. This production challenges that notion. Or maybe it doesn’t. Really, it’s up to you to decide. But you can’t decide unless you show up. I hope that after seeing this production, audience members will walk away a little more likely to actually look at the person they are with instead of burying themselves in their smartphone. I hope that the next time they see a beautiful sunset or a really cute kid or a hilarious typo on a billboard, they will make an effort to capture the moment with their mind instead of their camera. Looking at the world through a viewfinder so you can obsessively document your existence through Facebook or Instagram is one way to live, but it’s not the only way to live. Let’s use technology for what it’s meant for: to augment our reality, not to replace it.

Q: Talk about working with a two-person cast. What are the delights and challenges?
A: Working with a two person cast makes for a very tight team. I make a conscious choice to work collaboratively, and working collaboratively and reaching consensus tends to be easier with a smaller group. Of course, it’s also a challenge. There’s no diffusion of responsibility. Everyone has to bring their A-game all the time. Fortunately for me, I had a stellar cast and production team to work with.

Q: Do you prefer directing new plays?
A: I prefer doing new things. You can do new things with an old play, and you can also do old, boring things with a brand new script. It’s not so much the publication date that determines whether a play is old or new in my mind. That said, if I had my choice, I would create devised work all the live long day, with all sorts of people. I guess that means I prefer directing SUPER new plays.

Q: Where else have you lived/worked, and how do you think the Minneapolis theatre scene differ from elsewhere in the country?
A: I grew up in St. Cloud and attended the College of St. Benedict, so I guess I’m a local gal at heart. I earned my MA in Theatre from Miami University, which is pretty close to Cincinnati, OH. I have also studied in Athens and in Rome, and I spent a summer doing nothing but seeing theatre in the Czech Republic. I love the Minneapolis Theatre scene. I think it’s vibrant and diverse, not just because there are so many theatre makers, but because there are so many theatre watchers. Here in Minneapolis, more than in most places, we understand that to make theatre, all you really need is an actor and an audience and an idea, all in the same place at the same time. That means that as long as people keep showing up, theatre can be (and is) everywhere.

Q: What are your other interests aside from theatre/directing?
A: I also sing in a band called Spencer McGillicutty, and I’m learning to play the ukulele. I try to write every day. I love to paint. I like knowing a little bit about a lot of things. I like talking to strangers. Laughing is my favorite thing.