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Teen One-Acts Festival: Oscar learns set design

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Mar 30, 2011
in School of Theatre

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By Margot Leonard, scenic art fellow

The Teen One-Acts Festival is an annual event in which a panel of students selects two original plays penned by Bay Area teens to be performed, directed, and produced by their peers. These teens are then mentored by Berkeley Rep staff at each step of the process to help them hone their craft.

Margot Leonard is the 2010-11 scenic art fellow at Berkeley Rep. As part of her fellowship, Margot helped mentor Oscar Peña, this year’s teen scenic designer, through the entire One-Acts process.

About a month ago I was sitting in the lobby of the School of Theatre, teaching a teenager to draft his set design. I’ve spent semester-long college classes on this subject (and that’s not including the grad school that exists somewhere in my hazy future), but I had to give Oscar a crash course in half an hour. We covered the basics as he tried to conceal the apprehension in his eyes, and I assured him he could email me with any questions. Considering how much I threw at him during that brief meeting, he absorbed an incredible amount.

Oscar’s drafting turned out great, and provided us with everything we needed to know to build the set as he intended it (which is, after all, the point of drafting). Fast forward to last Saturday, which marked the beginning of build for the One-Acts. For one week, Lindsay (scene shop fellow), myself (scenic art fellow), and Oscar (teen set designer) worked in the old prop shop, building and painting the set that Oscar designed. Highlights from that week include “crash course in color mixing” and “how to make paint dry faster using a hair dryer.” Much fun was had by all.

Now, just a few days before the show, the sets and lights and props and costumes have been loaded into the School of Theatre and tech week has begun. The actors are figuring out their costumes and props, the stage managers are writing their cues, and everyone’s getting excited as it all starts to come together. Tech is one of my favorite times because, as a set designer, the majority of the work is already done, and it’s a time for making small tweaks to get everything just right. It still means long days, but there’s generally more sitting involved than during build.

IMG_1136 Oscar paints a "stained glass window."

I’ve been amazed by Oscar’s attention to detail and maturity throughout this process. True, he would still have a lot to learn before becoming a professional set designer (for that matter, so would I), but he designed two great sets that really work for these teen-written one-act plays, and he successfully communicated those designs to the rest of his collaborative team. That’s more than can be said about some professionals in this business. And he’s only 15!

Come see the Teen One-Acts Festival! Shows are April 1, 2, 8, and 9 at 8pm.

Want to learn more about the fellowship program? Click here!

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