Grad Student Design Environmental Set for Spelling Bee
by Hadiyah Weaver
Twenty-seven year old Kate St. John sat down in a red chair in the upper level breezeway of Annenberg Hall connected to the Tomlinson Theater wearing paint battered pants ready to begin her interview.
This North Carolina native is the scenic designer for Temple Theaters production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
“Well I am about to go paint the set, that is why I am wearing paint pants.” St. John smiled.
This second-year MFA student has designs a number of sets for the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts and Boyer College of Music and Dane: Temple Opera Theater's Dido and Aeneas, the Boyer Dance Show and Temple Theaters' Reggie Hoops.
St. John is known for her extreme creativity; she designed a set for dance professor Jillian Harris’s upcoming project which features fifteen fifty-five pounds bags of bentonite clay. For Spelling St. John chose not to build much, opting instead to transform the theater into a school gym.
“The main impulse for Spelling Bee was to try and create an environment, so that meant changing how we see that little black box [theater] every day.” St. John said.
For St. John that meant completely changing how the audience viewed the Randall Theater upon arrival. St. John and her team changed the chairs and the walls of the theater, and getting replacing of the carpet covering with bright yellow painted panels.
“My goal here was to have us all walk in, and people who have seen a million shows, say, ‘Oh my gosh! This place is different!'” St. John said.
St. John originally developed her passion for set design as a undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. During her sophomore year, she had friends who were actors and needed a set designer for a production. St. John agreed; her great design led to doing more work at UNC because the school did not have a set design program.
St. John studied classics and art history as an undergraduate, and says that helped to influence her love for set design. After getting her bachelor’s degree, St. John found herself on the West Coast at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
“I was also working at galleries and installations assisting artists there, and I found that and sculpture [to be] really interesting.” St. John said.
St. John loves working with director of Spelling Bee, Amina Robinson; advisor, Fred Duer; Profressor Brandon Shaffrey; and her fellow graduate students.
“My peers - like the other grad students in my cohort - we have a really good structure and we can bring what we’re working on to class, outside of class and talk about where we’re going and where we might have doubts our ask for feedback, on what we might be able to improve” St. John added.
St. John is excited, but patient about where her set designing skills will take her post graduate; her main concerns are her surrent projects like Spelling Bee.
“[I hope] people come to see Spelling Bee, and are impressed and surprised about what we’ve done in there more than anything.” St. John said.
Temple Theaters The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will open April 20 and run through April 29 in the Randall Theater.