Do you know what it takes to make a functional rod puppet? What about a giant batch of fake blood?
Senior Emily West knows how to make both those and more as part of her many skills showcased through her set, costume and prop designs as a dedicated member of SBU Theater. West, a theater and journalism and mass communication major from Vestal, N.Y., first appeared onstage in sixth grade as a boy in "Guys and Dolls," when there weren't enough boys in the cast. She also participated in acting programs and drama club in high school where her theater teacher put her in the right mindset for design.
"My senior year we had a new theater teacher and she really pushed us doing concept designs for shows, having justifiable design decisions and finding cues in the text," she said. "I really credit her with getting me thinking in the right way about it."
West arrived at Bonaventure planning on pursuing journalism. After joining stagecraft class in the fall and working on the set for the show, she joined design class in the spring and aspired to costume design SBU Theater's stylized, steampunk production of Liz Lochhead's "Dracula."
"I kinda went in going, 'I'm going to costume design this show,' and I knew nothing about what I was doing," West said. "I had a single rendering and everything else was in my head because I didn't know what to do."
West said it was her most challenging costume design experience right up until opening night of the production in the end of October 2010.
"We also did it early so it would be done before Halloween and it cut 3 weeks off of our production time," she said. "Once we got to the end, there were 3 days in a row where if I wasn't in class, I was (in the workshop) sewing things. I finished that show and said I would never design again, and I obviously failed."
Aside from challenges, West had the most fun taking what she describes as the "mammoth task" of designing costumes for last spring's William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," while starring as the faerie queen Titania.
"It got a little convoluted and overbearing toward the end but it was so much fun to design," she said. "Shakespeare gives you so much free reign there, it's not like the script is telling you what everyone should be wearing, so it got a little crazy there."
After devoting countless hours to theater nonstop since last fall, most recently costuming and starring in Kathryn Coughlin's "More than Before" and designing the set and costumes for the upcoming one-act festival, "Knowing and Un-Knowing," West plans to take a little break before committing to plans for her post-grad life.
She plans to apply for a fall internship in the costume department for Disney after seeing the company's session on anamatronics in costumes at a USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) convention, and is interested in working in movies or television costumes. She said graduate school may be in her future, but she won't pursue it until she finds her definite path.
"I still haven't figured out exactly what I want out of it and that's a pretty expensive thing to buy not knowing exactly what you want," she said. "I'm going to take a little time and be a 20 year old for awhile."
No matter what, West knows she is destined for a career in design.
"I find design really intellectually demanding in the weirdest ways. You start out with a text and you have to do an analysis of it and figure things out, what you get out of it and then you have to collaborate and work with your director and other designers and figure out what they get out of it and come up with something cohesive," she said. "It's constant learning and problem solving and analysis and it's sort of addictive to get to do something so artistic but you have to be using so many parts of your brain at all times."
West said her bank of eccentric skills grows with each of the shows she designs, thanks to Bonaventure's small theater program. While she loves what she does, the pressure of doing most of it on her own is favorite and least favorite parts of design.
"It can be really frustrating and exhausting too. There are days when I hate it," West said. "At the end result, it's something you can take such personal pride in and have such a deep connection to because you've had your hands on everything from conception basically. It's a full creation."
Emily West in front of costume renderings
Emily's Set Design for KNOWING & UNKNOWING
Designs for Puck's Jacket & Puppet for A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
About the Author
Mary Best has a lifelong relationship with theater, from dancing to stage managing to writing and blogging about it in college. A 2013 St. Bonaventure