Juilliard Intern on Geometry of Set Design
“Euclid construction proofs are a big part of my life right now,” says alumna Ilana Kirschbaum (SF07), a scenic artist and designer, and currently one of two technical theater interns in the scenic painting department at the Juilliard School in New York City. She is amazed by how often a little geometry comes in handy in her career. It’s a “huge” part of scenic art, Kirschbaum affirms. “When you walk in the room, before you see actors, you see the set, and that affects where the audience’s focus is,” she says.
“Science, alchemy, art, practice, and craft,” is how Kirschbaum describes her work. One could add tradition, collaboration, and improvisation. There’s a good amount of “MacGyvering your way around” in scenic art, she says, “a lot of fake wood, faux finishes, fooling the eye.” For example, Kirschbaum’s work for a production of Jean Anouilh’s retelling of Antigone was mounted in a most unusual space: an abandoned swimming pool. She helped transform the bare space of the pool’s floor into a desert with rivulets of poetry written across it, flowing into the murky depths of the deep end. The effect is spooky and woebegone, perfect for the tragic story of defiance.
Kirschbaum first dabbled in stage work when she painted a backdrop for a St. John’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. “I was amazed by how much time it took,” she says. “I just fell in love with theater.” A college-sponsored summer Ariel internship with Santa Fe artist Paco Benitez led her to THEATERWORK, a company that produces plays and performances ranging from Shakespeare to puppetry. They were a perfect fit for a Johnnie, Kirschbaum found – “They’re interested in developed visual theater, but there’s also lots of discussion of the texts, lots of research, especially in the visual details.”
The Juilliard internship has focused Kirschbaum’s eclectic experience in the visual arts, though she’s open to applying her skills in other areas such as painting murals for natural history museum displays or working in opera. “The weirdest thing is how much [a career in scenic art and design] makes sense after St. John’s, all the random toolmaking, figuring things out, experimentation – developing methods around the process and hoping it turns out in spite of the variables. It reminds me of senior lab [at St. John’s].”