A man behind the scenes, literally
Golden wheat obscures the feet from eye level and a blue-gray wall dominates the middle of the stage, but eyes are drawn to the golden border with an intricate and lavish design. The stage has become a whole new world.
Courtney Smith, a graduate student on his last semester at the University of Idaho, creates these worlds.
“Scenic designers create the world that the actors perform in,” Smith said. “I do a lot of historical research and architectural research, depending on the show.”
For the previously mentioned design for “The Cherry Orchard,” produced at UI last April, Smith had to do both. He said he did a lot of research on the time period of the play and appropriate housing and wanted to do something elaborate to show the large scale of the set. In his research, he came across a decorative window and door frame called a proscenium arch.
“It was part of the house, but it also has this sense of looking through a lens at these actors,” Smith said.
Smith, originally from Ferndale, Washington, obtained his undergrad at Washington State University and is about to finish his graduate degree at UI. In between his two degrees, he got experience working in Los Angles and New York City.
Smith said he went from Pullman to LA to work on film and television sets instead of theater. While he was in California, he realized he missed the theater world, so he moved to New York and fully immersed himself in theater.
He then decided to get his master’s degree in theater and is at UI to do so. He said he heard great things about UI’s theater program while at WSU, and his love for the Northwest drew him back to Idaho.
“I did it all,” Smith said. “When I moved to LA, I could do it all, but I wanted to get as much experience as I could. I sort of settled in and found the design part most interesting.”
Smith said his interest in theater — originally film and television — arose when he was in elementary school. He spent some time in LA as a child, and across the street at a hotel there were always filming being produced.
“As a kid, I’d always sneak on the set and just watch,” Smith said. “I would kind of just stand around all day. They realized there was a kid around and they’d put me in as an extra. They could count on me hanging around, so they might as well just use me anyway.”
He said he met celebrities like Betty White and Leslie Nelson, and even as a child he thought it was interesting. Smith said he thought he would go into film and television when he grew up, but the creativity and artistic draw of theater was bigger to him.
Adding to his list of accomplishments, Smith will attend the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival April 13 – 18 in Washington, D.C. alongside UI theater undergraduate Kadin McGreevy. Smith will have his scenic design for “Cherry Orchard” judged at the national level. Smith said the festival is more of a celebration where people come together to get feedback from a broader base.
After Smith returns to Idaho, he will help with the production of “Cymbeline” and finish his degree. He then said he plans to head to Gonzaga University to accept a job as an assistant professor in theater and dance.
“Theater, in general, is such a collaborative effort and it takes more than just a designer to create a production,” Smith said. “There are many people behind the scenes that you never really hear about, and those are the people that really make the magic happen. I’m just one person of a design team that works hard to create the best art we can.”
Claire Whitley can be reached at email@example.com