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Stage West Theater apprenticeship program sets the stage for the next generation

Claire Floyd DeVries designed real fire stations, doctors’ offices, and a number of convenience stores in the small town, but for the better part of 20 years, she’s been creating complete environments from scratch as one of the metroplex’s designers. .

Now an architect-turned-scenographer is helping to shape the next generation of theater professionals as a mentor to the Stage West Theatre’s apprenticeship program.

According to the theater’s executive producer Dana Schultes, the idea for the program came about due to the theater’s closure due to COVID-19 and a desire to “redouble efforts” on diversity, fairness and inclusion in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protest wave.

“We have made a commitment to ourselves and to the wider theater community that we will work harder to raise our standards so that more and more people from different communities are involved in creating performances,” she said.

To fulfill this promise, they launched a paid training program to help clear the talent pipeline.

The program has separate tracks for individual disciplines. This year there are three sets of three students matched with a sound, costume or stage design mentor.

The mentors are tasked with helping students understand the full scope of what they do for the show, from pre-meetings to completion and all the various steps in between.

“One of the things that I noticed in my own educational experience is that when I entered the university, I didn’t know what to do next, and it was really intimidating,” Schultz said. “The ultimate goal is for these young students to not only learn from the best, but then have the opportunity to do their own shows with mentors watching over them to say, ‘I’m here for you if you have any questions. “. .’”

This year, Aaron Knowles Diaz, Theater Director of Education, took over the reins of the program. Finding mentors who are the best in their field and great teachers has been a priority for Knowles Diaz, and she said Floyd DeVries is a perfect example of someone who embodies both qualities.

“She’s really a master at getting other people involved in this artistic process so they can access it themselves,” she said. “The art process, even for the artists themselves, is very mysterious… But she has an understanding of the process and a really big vocabulary to share with others. And it’s just wonderful.”

Claire Floyd DeVries (right) talks to students Sierra Lesniak (left), Brooks Davenport (center) and Katie Cooley (right) on the set of the recent production of Beware. (Marcheta Fornoff | Fort Worth Report)

Cathy Cooley, who is studying theater design and technology at the University of Texas at Arlington, arrived at the theater early and had the opportunity to share perspective drawing tips before the first session officially began.

Over the course of the morning, and after the other students arrived, Floyd DeVries shared some valuable lessons on what it takes to create a believable set, from tackling practical challenges like making elements that can be easily manipulated or moved to more theoretical but equally important questions are about using design to match the tone of the piece.

For example, multiple performances may be set at the same time or location, but the design will vary greatly depending on the intended occupants.

“Whose office is this? Is this Sherlock Holmes? Is that Dr. Jekyll? White rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland)? Professor Higgins from My Fair Lady? All these rooms are quite different because they have such different personalities,” she explained. “So you need to become a bit of a psychologist.”

Sierra Lesniak, a student at Tarrant County College, plans to become a director someday but is still deciding whether she wants to work in film or theater productions. Either way, she says it would be beneficial for her to have experience in stage design and learn strategies for communicating her vision to others.

“When you work on a show, you separate it from the necessary… And then when you have the foundation, you build in the artistic side,” she said. “So the opportunity to learn the technical aspects from a production designer’s point of view… to have that under my belt as a director… I’m very excited because the more I can understand everyone’s position as a director, I think it will lift me up to be better at my job.” “.

Journeyman Brooks Davenport studies theater design and technology at Texas Christian University. He is excited about the opportunity to connect with the local theater scene and experience outside of school.

“I feel like this is a space where I think I can have a lot of creative freedom,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel like there’s a difference between being in a school and in a classroom and being in a professional environment. I feel like I can explore and experiment a lot in design here.”

Each of the various disciplines of the apprenticeship program operates on its own schedule, but all three streams will come together in May for a celebration where each student will have the opportunity to share what they have learned. According to education coordinator Knowles Diaz, the program allows both theater and students to develop.

“Now we are investing in these artists in development so they will invest in us tomorrow,” she said. “As we see it, by bringing them into the fold of Stage West, supporting and nourishing them here, giving them excellent training and sending them out into the world to find their way and grow in experience, skills and success, we are empowering them to be the torchbearers of the local theater in the future.

Marcheta Fornoff covers art for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at [email protected] or call Twitter. At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of board members and financial backers. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared in the Fort Worth Report and is published here under a Creative Commons license.

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