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Making a Scene: An Interview with Michael J. Krauss

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Making a Scene: An Interview with Michael J. Krauss

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

By Brittany Worthington, Marketing Student Assistant

Scenic designer and UT alumnus Michael J. Krauss has traded longhorns for dragons in Musical Thrones: A Parody of Ice and Fire. The Game of Thrones parody, performing March 8 at McCullough Theatre, required Krauss to bring the vast lands of George R.R. Martin’s Westeros to a single stage. Krauss discussed his own journey in scenic design, from his personal style to challenges of the job and how to fit an entire show inside of a truck.

Q: How did you first get involved/interested in scenic design?

A: While studying in my undergraduate degree in Theatre Education [at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro], one of my classes was a scenic design course—throughout the run of this class, I realized how much I enjoyed creating the world of the play through design. After I graduated I continued work in scenic design through freelancing for local community  , improving my skills and developing a portfolio to be used to apply to graduate programs in scenic design. (Krauss earned his MFA in Scenic Design from The University of Texas at Austin).

Q: What is unique about scenic design and its role in the performing arts?

A: Each discipline in theatrical design is unique, and brings its own attributes to creating the overall world of a play or performance through shape, color, texture, etc. Scenic design does most of the visible (to the audience) lifting in establishing not only the when, but the where of a particular production.

While costuming has its own language in the clothing that a character wears, and lighting does quite a bit of work in establishing the mood of the play, scenery gives the audience clues to the nature of the piece. Is it abstract? Or is it a realistic set? Architectural details may also clue the audience in to details about the play, and the way that the scenery is treated (painted) can help show what type of play this is as well.

Q: Do you have a particular style that defines your scenic design aesthetic?

A: Generally speaking, I would say that my design work tends to be a bit more on the bold and stark side. I tend to find myself attracted to minimalism and clean lines. That's not to say that I haven't had my fair share of more minutely detailed work, but if I have a play or opera that really lends itself to that style, then that is most likely what you will find from me.

Q: What challenges have you faced in your work?

A: Generally speaking the biggest challenges tend to come from a financial standpoint. Productions can cost a lot of money, and if your budget isn't huge, and you are paying carpenters and painters to build and paint your set, your slice of the pie for actual materials gets significantly smaller. This, in turn, impacts the choices you can make as a designer in order to get the most out of your designs for the money.

Q: How did you go about designing the set of Musical Thrones? 

A: Musical Thrones was a bit of a unique challenge in that not only was I separated from the director/production company by long distances, but the additional challenges of having a touring show that has to be packed down into a truck that ALSO has to do the work of showing the myriad of locations throughout the play.

In the end, we decided that a turntable-esque design was the best option for the needs of this play—something that can show three main locations (King's Landing/Mereen/Winterfell) that can be adapted through props and dialogue to become other locations.

Q: Is there a show/performance in particular that you worked on that meant a lot to you?

A: The show that I've worked on that meant a lot to me would have to be Refugia [that I worked on as a grad student] at UT a few years ago. Not only was this a devised piece in collaboration with The Moving Company, but the piece ended up having a lot to say about the political climate of the world right now. The fact that it was devised meant that we never actually had a physical script and things changed daily, sometimes hourly, and we had to adapt to keep up. Even though it was an incredibly stressful production for pretty much everyone, it turned out to be a beautiful production.

Q: Why are the performing arts important to you?

A: I've spent more than half of my life in theatre and performing arts, first as an actor, then as a teacher, and now as a designer. Performing arts has the ability to impact us in ways that we would least expect. Taking classes and studying in the field can open someone up to new forms of expression both verbally and artistically. It gives people the opportunity to have a voice and use that voice in new and unexpected ways, which will in turn lead to stronger abilities in other areas of life as well.

Musical Thrones: A Parody of Ice and Fire
McCullough Theatre
Thursday, Mar 8, 8 pm

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