Students Take Leadership Roles in Designing “Little Women”
Creating a World that Helps Bring the Story to Life
Few timeless classics feature young women in the center of the action like Louisa May Alcott’s captivating story, “Little Women,” which follows the adventures of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March. So, it seems fitting that the University of Idaho’s production of “Little Women – The Musical,” appearing on the Hartung stage Dec. 6-15, has a team of bright young women in lead roles on the design team. Together in weekly design and production meetings over a period of three months, they worked independently and collaboratively to create the world of “Little Women.”
Creative Research Leads to Creative Discovery
Stephanie Lutz, a junior majoring in theatre arts from Oakley, California, is the production’s lighting designer. She loves how lighting design combines artistic skill and technical knowledge to showcase the performers and the setting to meet the action on stage.
Lutz put in hours of research, digging into the script and investigating the life of Louisa May Alcott, the author of the beloved classic. While looking at Alcott’s Concord, Massachusetts home and summer house on Cape Cod, she had a revelation.
“I made a lovely discovery – that all of her houses oriented to the south,” Lutz said. “I love to use angles, so I’ve oriented the production lights to the historical angles in the scenes, matching where the sun was positioned in the sky.”
Lighting Supports the Emotions of the Play
Lutz shared her findings and emotional responses with the design team at the weekly meetings then used her software training to plot the lights and draft the cue sheet for the lighting console for the performances, applying her education in instruments, color theory, graphics and electronics.
“Lighting is so sub-conscious. It shouldn’t ever take the thunder,” Lutz said. “I don’t want it to be the focal point. Lighting design supports the mood and emotion of the play. Everything should be focused on the character.”
The final phase of her work is physical – climbing ladders, adjusting lights and working with a team of dedicated technicians and master electricians to get the lighting instruments in the right location and focus.
“The entire process is more and more collaborative as you go along,” Lutz said.
Finding Imaginative Ways to Bring a Story to Life
Brindle Brundage, a Master of Fine Arts candidate from St. George, Utah, and the production’s scenic designer, found imaginative ways to create the world the siblings live in. She worked with director Ricky Kimball and other designers to create an overall visual concept for “Little Women.” This process typically requires creating a scale model of the stage and its scenery, renderings, paint elevations and scale drawings. These items are reviewed and discussed at the weekly design and production meetings for input and finessing. Once the design has been approved by the director, it goes to the scene shop for construction by students.
“You have to think about what’s going to be representative and what’s going to be literal,” Brundage said. “The actors further establish the world.”
In “Little Women,” the main character, Jo, wants to be a writer. Brundage drew on that key element.
“I knew I wanted it to be about paper because paper is so important to the main character,” she said.
To this end, Brundage created a set with chairs and furniture that transform into paper trees.
“I think it’s a good representation of Jo and her world,” Brundage said. “It’s a game of pretend.”
Jesse Dreikosen, associate professor of scene design and head of design and technology, oversees the weekly design and production meetings of “Little Women.”
“It’s been a pleasure sitting back and seeing our students collaborate on this huge project together,” he said.
Lutz said the process of creating “Little Women” has been unique compared to her professional experiences. She has designed for The Fisher Center for The Performing Arts in New York for the past two summers and designed numerous productions including world tour shows and more than 50 theatrical productions.
“I typically do not get this expansive an opportunity for collaboration, which is a hats-off to Jesse Dreikosen for the open table to sit at,” she said.
“Some ideas could not be made without that collaboration like quite a few of the motifs that I am using throughout the show to reinforce Brindle’s messages. I use the research and ideas from others as springboards to new discoveries that resonate with myself,” Lutz said.
By Kelly O'Neill, Department of Theatre Arts
Published December 2019
- Tickets are on sale now at BookPeople of Moscow or by calling the Department of Theatre Arts at 208-885-6465.
- Free for U of I students
- $6 for youth and high school students and students from other schools
- $17 for U of I employees, seniors (55 or older) & military
- $22 for adults
- “Pay what you can pricing” for all matinees
Show Dates & Times:
- 7:30 p.m. December 6, 7, 12, 14
- 2 p.m. December 8, 14, 15
- Hartung Theater, 625 Stadium Drive, Moscow
- Parking is free in the lot across from the theater and on Stadium Way.