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Create This: Setting up

Prop designer says there's more to her art than people think

 by Heather Wells  published on Thursday, February 17, 2005

<em>Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br> 
Theater junior Megan McDuffee plays with a “medieval knight tomato” puppet. McDuffee has designed the sets of multiple on-campus plays including “Romeo and Juliet,” now playing in the Lyceum Theatre. /issues/arts/692032
Danielle Peterson
Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Theater junior Megan McDuffee plays with a “medieval knight tomato” puppet. McDuffee has designed the sets of multiple on-campus plays including “Romeo and Juliet,” now playing in the Lyceum Theatre.
 

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Every week, The State Press Magazine features an artist by interviewing him or her, explaining his or her craft and challenging that person to spontaneously create. The artist, who can be an actor, painter, sculptor, dancer or musician, is given a goody bag of random materials and asked to make something out of them or use them in a creative way. Find out what Megan McDuffee, who designs props and sets for plays on campus, comes up with in this installment of "Create this."

"This stuff sucks. Can I go grab some of my stuff?"

Megan McDuffee, a 20-year-old theatre junior, goes to her bedroom and comes back with a mask designed to look like a peacock, a glue gun and a puppet made of foam and rubber, which she calls her "medieval knight tomato."

"We had to do anything food-related [for a class] and give it a personality, and I like things with swords, as you can see by my living room," McDuffee says, pointing to a life-size, cardboard Viggo Mortenson dressed as Aragorn from "The Lord of the Rings." The cutout stands in the corner of her room, and a pink paper heart is taped to his chest in honor of Valentine's Day.

She sits down and dumps the bag's contents onto the table.

McDuffee, whose theatre concentration is in scenography, has many titles at ASU. She has been a welder, painter, carpenter, designer and "lugger of heavy crap across campus" for 10 plays at ASU. It's hard to imagine the petite McDuffee using power tools, but she says that's the easy part of what she does.

"The most difficult part is finding what directors really want," she says. "Set design is very collaborative; it's not just about what you want and feel, which sometimes can be unfulfilling. Sometimes you have to give up what you want for the sake of the show. With other art, you can do whatever you want."

McDuffee just finished working as the staff scenic painter on "Romeo and Juliet," playing at the Lyceum Theatre through Feb. 27. She was also the set designer for "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" at the Prism Theatre in January.

She says she became interested in art during middle school when one of her friends started drawing. Her first artistic endeavor was drawing characters from "Sailor Moon," a Japanese cartoon.

"It was just something my friend was into," she says. "I thought it was cool, so I started, too."

When she got to high school, McDuffee started taking art and drama classes.

"I took drama because my sisters used to make me cry," she says as she balances a bike pedal upright on the table and plugs in her glue gun. "I thought that if I learned how to act, I could withstand it more."

She quickly learned acting wasn't for her, though. She says there was a lot more to it than she thought. Her drama teacher started asking students to paint sets for the shows, and she volunteered.

"I really liked it and have stuck with it," she says. "By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew this was what I wanted to do."

McDuffee grabs a gold, glitter glue pen and starts decorating the bike pedal.

"This is what happens when you give an abstract scenic artist a bike pedal and a glitter glue pen," she says, smiling mischievously. "It's going to be very Vegas showgirl. I'm going to make this into a set."

She starts painting the base of the bike pedal with red nail polish.

"I like the idea that I can make a drawing two-dimensional, then a month later I can come back and walk through it," she says. "That's the coolest part."

McDuffee says her dream job would be working in film doing set design and scenic painting for movies like "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings," movies she describes as "more fantastic in nature."

"There is a lot more color and detail and a lot more room for imagination," she adds. "I don't want to be doing living rooms on TV."

She glues a row of gold stars onto her "set" and picks up a stuffed monkey.

"We can give him some beads and he can be my Vegas showgirl," she says. "We'll name him 'Honey.' "

After graduation, McDuffee knows she will most likely have to move to California to find work.

"I don't want to move there because that's where everybody moves," she says. "But that's where the business is."

For now though, McDuffee is finding enough work at ASU and in the community to keep herself busy.

She will be the props master for "Raw Footage" and "Stolen Children," both student-written shows beginning toward the end of the semester, and she is currently designing the prom celebration at Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale.

McDuffee finishes her "set" and places it in a model she made for "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," even though the "colors don't work."

She says that the amount of work she does is sometimes underestimated. Sets that may seem easy to design, such as a 20-something's bedroom, actually require a great deal of thought.

"In set design you have to worry about entrances, exits, colors, mood, time period, the style of the play and character feelings," she says. "It sounds weird for a set designer, but you have to study the characters."

She adds, "A lot of people just think you throw a couch in the middle of your set and there you go. But there's a lot more to it than people think."

Reach the reporter at heather.wells@asu.edu.



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