A set career – Reuben Lucas finds success as scenic designer

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Jeremy Hogan Scenic designer Reuben Lucas, left, talks to props master Kevin Nelson in the scenic studio at Indiana University’s theater department. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Reuben Lucas got interested in theater in high school, but it wasn’t until he was a student at Kansas State University that he became interested in set design.

“It’s just pretty much something I stuck with. I’m good at it. I like doing it,” Lucas said.

The assistant professor of scenic design is having a busy summer, too. He’s scenic designer for two plays in IU’s Indiana Festival Theatre’s summer season.

Both shows present their own challenges. “As You Like It” is a well-known and often produced play by William Shakespeare. “The Gentleman from Indiana” is based on a book by Booth Tarkington that is the tale of the new owner and editor of a small town newspaper who takes on a corrupt political machine in fictional Plattville in 1889.

“For these shows, the challenges for both of these shows is they’re in rep. The other challenge was how to put both of these shows in the round,” Lucas said.

Dale McFadden, director for “The Gentleman from Indiana,” said staging a play in the round is a challenge for everyone involved in the production. Both plays will be performed in the Wells-Metz theater, where the stage is surrounded by the audience.

“There is less scenery, but there must still be an evocative design. In my conversations with Reuben, I stressed some particular elements that evoke 1890s Indiana — American flags, newspapers, hand built furniture and a sense of rural life. Reuben has created a stimulating and varied design that will enhance this humorous, tender and optimistic play,” McFadden said.

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Photo: Jeremy Hogan

Scenic design is a challenge, and the art is rising to the challenge and solving any problems. It also requires a lot of team work to get the job done. Lucas must take into consideration any changes made by the director or others involved with the play.

“That’s what I really like is working with the directors and other designers to really make something that’s living, breathing, changing,” he said.

Once technical rehearsals start, there can be more changes or things can evolve over time. And because the two plays are being done in rep, the scenes have to be easily moved and changed, which isn’t an easy task when you consider the various locations that must be created for the plays.

As opening night draws nearer, a lot of the heavy work is done, but Lucas must still be prepared to make changes. Sometimes there are particular elements that don’t work.

“With every project, there’s times when I do get frustrated on some things,” Lucas admits.

It typically comes from his drive to make everything right. But with lots of tweaking and reworking, he typically will get to the point that he feels he’s hit the nail on the head.

“For all of the shows, I take some time with them and just try to feel what they are. As an audience member, what would I want to get from this?” Lucas said.

Lucas did draw inspiration for “The Gentleman from Indiana” from a variety of sources. A sense of Americana, a simpler time and a museum installation feel were all thoughts running in his mind as he looked for the right pieces of furniture and props. In telling the story, Lucas was ‘trying to make it something that people will be brought into visually with textures and colors from this world, too.”

“All that together excites me,” he said.

It takes time to put together all his thoughts and ideas to complete the scene design. Lucas said he went through quite a number of preliminary ideas for “As You Like It.” He cycled through various concepts and ideas before he finally happened upon the right one.

“But it took all of those bad ideas, which weren’t bad, but just weren’t quite right,” he said.

When Lucas talks about the plays, it becomes obvious that he draws inspiration from various sources. He read the Booth Tarkington book to help with inspiration since he has deadlines to meet for the productions. Sets are typically being built a couple of weeks before the show opens.

There also needs to be time to make changes. Sometimes a particular aspect of the design isn’t working, and it needs to be changed.

“Huge overall changes don’t usually happen, but small changes like props and furniture or little changes like that, will occur all the way up to opening night,” he said.

For Lucas, it is usually during the first or second dress rehearsal that he finally sees how everything — actors, lighting, set, props — comes together.

“When everything’s working, that’s a success,” he said.

The opportunity to follow his passion comes with the opportunity to teach the next generation of scenic designers. Lucas said he is currently mentoring five up-and-coming scenic designers and helping them discover their own voices in their artistic endeavors.

Lucas encourages those learning the craft to keep their ears open and listen. It’s one of the things he learned working in the design studio. Listening to what others say and how they say it is important. It’s not easy, especially when a designer has to ask a question that someone might not like.

He also knows that you need the passion and drive to be a success.

“That’s one of the big things, I would say. It’s a lot of work. It’s hard. Scene design is a lot of work,” he said.

2015 Indiana Festival Theatre

WHAT: “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Michaelsen.
WHEN: July 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 22 and 24 at 7:30 pm. July 19 and 25 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Center for Theatre and Drama, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

WHAT: “The Gentleman from Indiana” adapted by James Still, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington. Directed by Dale McFadden.
WHEN: July 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. July 12 and 18 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Center for Theatre and Drama, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission. See the original article at the Herald Times Online

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About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peak behind the curtain at the Indiana University Theatre Department productions and student work.
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