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Story by Molly McCormick
Layout by Lacey Reynolds
Photos by Matt Adams

              any students each year set aside time
              to see Clarke’s plays, whether for a
              class or just for pleasure. But very few
understand the amount of effort put in, not only
by the actors, but also the set crew and the cos‑
tume designers. Ellen Gabrielleschi and Bob Neu‑
mann and their crew of students are an important
unseen part of Clarke’s productions. Gabrielleschi
is in charge of the sets and lighting for the plays,
and Neumann is responsible for the costumes.
     Gabrielleschi, professor in the drama/speech
department, is from Memphis, Tenn. and attend‑
ed Memphis State University for her bachelor’s
degree in liberal arts. She continued her school‑
ing at Ohio University where she obtained her                                                                  Costume designer Bob
master’s degree in design, sets and lights. She came                                                           Neumann tries drama
to Clarke as a stroke of luck. But after 31 years,                                                             professor Joe Klinebriel’s
Gabrielleschi still loves it here.                                                                             costume on a mannequin in
     “It was a happy accident that I ended up at                                                               the costume shop. Klinebri-
Clarke,” she said. “I was looking for a job, and                                                               el will wear the costume in
they were hiring.”                                                                                             “Educating Rita.”
     Gabrielleschi’s family was always into sup‑
porting the arts. Her mother was a dancer and her              Neumann considered himself lucky to find
uncles were drama teachers. As a child she went to       a job in Dubuque after graduation and therefore
many plays, but unlike the other children enjoying       able to volunteer in the drama department. He
the show, Gabrielleschi was infatuated with how          currently works at McCullough Creative, Inc. as
the sets were designed rather than the actors.           a senior account manager. In 2000, he was asked
     “At my first play ever I remember looking           by drama professor Carol Blitgen, BVM, then the
up the whole time wondering how they created             chair of the department, to help with costumes.
the set and looking at the incredible painting           He jumped at the chance.
on it,” she said.                                             “My full‑time job is very different than work‑
     Gabrielleschi had a very different path to          ing with the drama department, but at the same
Clarke than costume designer Neumann who                 time, very similar,” said Neumann. “Both jobs
graduated from Clarke in 1985 with a B.A. in             allow me to think conceptually and work in a cre‑
studio art. During his time at Clarke he was very        ative environment; both are deadline‑driven and
involved in the drama department, mainly work‑           can be very demanding.”
ing on set crew but also on costumes for some of              A lot of work goes into getting ready for the
the shows.                                               plays; both Gabrielleschi and Neumann have to

                                                                                                               Clarke Catalyst 2009 20
                          Top: Gabrielleschi sets the
                          scene for “Educating Rita.”

                          Bottom: Neumann adjusts
                          senior theater major Allison
                          Padley’s costume jewelry.

                          put in not only a great deal of manual work, but
                          also extensive research.
                               A common misconception is that the script of a
                          play tells you what the set should look like and how
                          the actors should portray a character. While some
                          theaters companies may work that way, Clarke does
                          not. For Gabrielleschi and Neumann it is impor‑
                          tant that they teach the students how to read a play,
                          how to analyze it, and how to visualize it.

                           A learning process
                          “Students are our main focus in the drama depart‑
                           ment,” said Gabrielleschi. “Their growth process
                           is important, and our production work is their
                                 Neumann starts with lots of research and de‑
                           velops an overall concept for the costumes before
                           the first production meeting between the director
                           and the designers. During this meeting everyone
                           discusses their thoughts and ideas for the show.
                          “It is important that we are all on the same page,”
                           said Neumann.
                                 Neumann continues researching items like
                           clothing, shoes, and accessories, and looks for
                           inspiration all around him. Costumes can be built
                           by the students, bought from a store, pulled from
                           Clarke’s stock inventory, possibly used as is or
                           reconstructed for a production.
                                 “I am always asking myself, would this char‑
                           acter wear this?” said Neumann.
                                 Normally most of every Saturday and Sunday
                           is spent in the costume shop developing the cos‑
                           tumes for a production. Several students accom‑
                           pany Neumann to help find and create costumes.
                           They don’t just learn how to build a costume; they
                           discuss how to reinforce the concept of the play
                           through the progression of color choices, and even

21 Clarke Catalyst 2009
                                                                                                               Ellen Gabrielleschi cuts
The biggest challenges                                “Laramie Project,” “Flights of Angels,” and “Frog        material for a set.
When Neumann was asked what play was the great‑ and Toad.” Surprisingly, Neumann thought
est challenge to find clothes for, he said, “Funny    “Agnes of God” was one of the simplest pieces of
that you should call them ‘clothes,’ technically they  design that his group has done, but Gabrielleschi
are called ‘costumes’ but I look at them as cloth‑     had quite the opposite opinion.
ing. They are what these people wear; they are part         Gabrielleschi admitted that “Agnes of God”
of who these people are, and they need to look like    was her favorite play, but the set required a lot
they came out of their own closets.”                   of work both for her and her students. “Agnes
     Gabrielleschi said the most difficult set to      of God” was selected to be taken to the regional
design is for any realistic play which involves con‑   portion of the American College Theatre Festival,
struction of a room, doors, windows and similar        where it was performed and reviewed.
interior elements because it costs a lot of money to         Everything from the costumes to the actors to
create something that looks real. What makes a set how mobile the set was evaluated. Even though the
so difficult is the general obstacles such as money,   festival required a lot of work, the students enjoyed
finding enough people to design it, time, and the      themselves and Clarke received wonderful reviews.
space to build, which can be the biggest challenge          “I love everything about this job,” said Neu‑
and the most important.                                mann. “I love having the opportunity to work
     The drama department, like any other depart‑ with some extremely talented people. I love being
ment, operates on a budget. This budget varies de‑ with the students; they keep me young, but what I
pending on the play, but Gabrielleschi still tries to  love most is watching them grow.”
seek out the most affordable set. Most basic parts          “The drama department is like a small family,”
of sets can be reused in a different production.       Gabrielleschi said. “There is an incredible amount
     Plays set in early time periods can be hard to    of learning, growth, and, of course, a good time.”
create costumes for; finding patterns and clothes
that appear to be of the time period can be a real
     Neumann said his favorite plays to find and
design costumes for were “Woman in Mind,” the

                                                                                                               Clarke Catalyst 2009 22

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