AN INTERVIEW WITH A
Shannon Flynn is a Scenic
Designer. He is also a
technical director for a
Black Box theatre.
He is also a puppet
LM: Leonard Madrid
SF: Shannon Flynn
LM: Hi, Shannon.
SF: You owe me money.
LM: How are you?
SF: I am good. You?
LM: I am well.
SF: Ooooh, good grammar.
LM: You are a scenic designer.
LM: How did you get into that?
SF:I started out as an actor.
LM: We are hearing this a lot.
SF. It’s not rare. People start out thinking that theatre is just about
acting, and then they realize that it takes a whole mess of stuff to
make a show work.
LM: Like designers?
SF: And stage managers. Nothing would every happen anywhere if
there weren’t stage managers. I am convinced that before the sun comes
up every morning, there’s a stage manager saying “ Light Cue one, go!”
LM: That’s pretty funny.
LM: So you started as an actor, and then.
SF: And I needed a job. I started helping out in the scene shop,
LM: Because they were cool.
SF: Because they paid, and actors didn’t earn much.
LM: What happened next?
SF: I liked it. So I started learning how to paint, how to build sets, how
to read ground plans. Then I took classes in it.
LM: How do you approach a script?
SF: I usually have a pencil and paper. I read it through looking for things
that need to be in the show. Like, if there’s a line that says “Open the
door!” There’d better be a door. I usually start sketching ideas of what the
show is going to look like to show to the director.
LM: That early?
SF: Yeah, I like to have ideas right away. I am not married to any of them,
so I can just start over if I need to.
LM: Is that normal?
SF: Most people like to wait until after the first meeting with the director
and other designers. I like to do research, find out about the era the play
was written in. The history, so I can ask the director “ Are we doing this
traditional or different?”
SF: After I meet with the director, and he’s given his concept,
I start drawing ideas.
LM: Like renderings?
SF: Yup. And different shows make for different drawings. If
we’re doing a new , sleek show I’ll do a computer drawing. If
it’s an old fashioned one, I might do a water color or
SF: Not everybody in the production meeting can come up
with pictures in your mind. And the more you can convey
your ides, the better. You might be selling an idea in the
beginning, but you are also showing the feeling of the show. Is
it sleek? Is it rotting?
LM: What medium is your favorite?
SF: I like white pencil on black paper.
LM: Why is that?
SF: I don’t know. I think it sort of puts everyone in mind of theatre.
With all the black curtains and stuff. The Void.
LM: Makes sense. What do you do after everyone sort of agrees on a
SF: Then you stop being an artist, and you start being a builder. I have
to draft ground plans, elevations, sometimes center line sections.
LM: What are those?
SF: A ground plan is a bird’s eye view look at the set with
measurements and such. The section is a profile look at the stage, like
you cut it right down the side. The Elevation is a look at either the
front or back of the wall or flats so that everyone cane see how things
are put together.
Simple ground plan. Not by Shannon.
Center line section. Also not by Shannon.
Front elevations. Oh, so not by Shannon.
LM: What happens next?
SF: It really depends on the size of show and type of theatre. If it’s
a big theatre with a huge budget, I just sort of show up now and
then to check on stuff. If it’s a small theatre, I am building the set.
Sometimes we have a show that is a “Build” which means we are
making everything from scratch. We’re buying the wood and stuff.
Sometimes we have a “Pull” which means we are finding stuff in
storage or buying stuff. Sometimes you’re spending every day at
ReStore looking for the right doors…or you going to parks looking
for fallen tree branches. Last show I did, I had to drag a bunch of
bales of hay and windows everywhere.
LM: Or wood pallets?
SF: Oh yeah! Show them that set. Such a good idea, until we spent
half of the budget on fire proofing.
LM: It looked good.
LM: How do you think your experience differs from other set
SF: Gee, I don’t know. I work for a small theatre company, and
pretty much design everything for them. Some designers have to
work job by job as they get them, but my story isn’t rare.
LM:Is it different than you thought it would be?
SF: I think I thought that it was going to be a bunch of people in
black turtle necks smoking cigarettes and using big words.
LM: And it isn’t?
SF: It can be. I mean you have to know what a periaktoi is, because
someone always brings it up. But mostly it’s just people working. And
because people really only work with people who they want to work with,
it’s usually nice.
LM: Everyone’s nice?
SF: Er. Nicer.
LM: Anything else you’d like to share?
SF: Hmm. Yeah. I really like when a show closes and you have spent all
this time working on it. You look back and remember “ Three months
ago, I didn’t know anything about this play, and now I made it into ….into
LM: Thanks Shannon.
SF: You’re welcome.
There is much discussion about designers who use a more literal or naturalistic design (this means
people who try to make things look as close to real life as possible) and designers who use a more
impressionistic or abstract design (meaning that the set looks less realistic).
1-Which type of design do you think makes more sense for you, and why?
2-After designing your own set, what do you think is the biggest challenge for scenic designers?
For more help
Follow this link to a video about Scenic Designer, Ming Cho Lee.
Some Designs from Leonard
Follow this link to designer, Alex Wardle.
Follow this link to a presentation on scenic design.
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