George Mason University

News at Mason

The play isn't the only thing at the School of Theater

April 25, 2018   /   by Damian Cristodero

Scenic designer Luciana Stecconi, the latest artist in residence at Mason's School of Theater, designed the scenery for the Mason Players production of "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail." Said senior Alex Wade of working and studying with Stecconi, "She was fully a guide for how to do things." Photo provided.

Alex Wade, a senior theater major at George Mason University, said she used to approach her set design projects with ideas, but no grounded idea where to start.

“It mainly included me throwing ideas at the page and seeing what stuck,” she said.

But after studying this academic year with professional scenic designer Luciana Stecconi, the School of Theater’s latest artist in residence, Wade approaches her assignments and productions with a plan.

“She was fully a guide for how to do things,” Wade said of Stecconi. “It started with research. I would come up with ideas, and I would refine them and bring them back to her. Now I know what to do in any design process in all fields of theater.”

“We really value the individual journey,” said Ken Elston, the School of Theater’s director. “As they study, [the students] should have the opportunity to spread their wings.”

That sentiment has helped the school, in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, be recognized by the OnStage blog as having Virginia’s best undergraduate program.  The Hylton Performing Arts Center on George Mason’s SciTech Campus was named by clickitticket.com as one of the top 35 venues in the country to see “dynamic student productions.” 

What makes the School of Theater distinctive, Elston said, is the attention students receive through faculty mentorship, the group discussions that prod students to ask questions and provide answers, and the distance learning with artists and agents from around the country.

The school also boasts full-time faculty members who continue to fill their résumés with professional credits, and the Professional Artist Residency in Theater program that has attracted participants such as award-winning actors Ed Asner and Stacy Keach, and now Stecconi, who has designed sets for more than 70 shows, mostly in the Washington, D.C., area.

Stecconi taught four classes this academic year and designed the sets for the Mason Players productions of “The Gondoliers” and “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.”

“It’s been very interesting to work with students of a diverse background of disciplines along with those students in the production and tech areas,” Stecconi said. “The students who are here for acting are very much surprised and mesmerized at the production aspects once they understand a little bit about what goes into designing a show.”

“There has been a lot of collaboration through all my coursework, and there has been a lot of active work environments between classrooms and rehearsal rooms,” said senior Stephanie Risch, a theater major concentrating in arts management. “It’s really helped me grow as an artist and as a leader working with peers and professionals.”

And that brings us back to Alex Wade, who is doing independent study with Stecconi.

“She gave me the groundwork I was looking for,” Wade said. “We’re very fortunate in the faculty we have in the School of Theater. The opportunities are amazing.”

Another view of Stecconi's set for "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail."