Set designers: the silent partners of theater

Trista Pinick

Everyone notices the actors in the play, everyone recognizes the director, but the set designers aren’t as obvious even though they provide the make-up of a production and transform a bland stage into something more.

Tony Naylor and Lynn Wilson work behind the scenes of the Washburn Theatre.

Both had a background in fine arts before they began their current work.

“I worked in pen and ink, acrylics, water colors, just about everything,” said Naylor.

Looking around his office, you can see that his interests really do cover most of the arts. One of Naylor’s own pencil sketches and an art student’s post modernistic painting hang on adjacent walls while books and fashion magazines abound on his cluttered desk.

“I like to surround myself with things that inspire me,” he said. “I can get my inspiration from almost anywhere, nature, a painting or a piece of music.”

However, when moving his sister into the campus at the University of Kansas in 1978, Naylor saw a set on the campus.

“I thought I can do that, so I enrolled in classes,” said Naylor. “And my first semester, I worked on a set.”

That first set was for a Russian play, whose playwright happened to attend the show.

“He was pretty upset with me, because he thought I put his characters in a cage,” said Naylor. “I’ve learned that there are a lot of small translation problems that can occur when you work on a foreign play.”

Since then he’s done a number of plays and worked with other set designers from all over, including New York and Europe.

“I respect pretty much everyone I work with,” he said. “Everyone has their own individual ideas, and what one person may think is a mundane thought I might think is brilliant.”

Currently, one of the people he works with the most is Wilson, who did carpentry work before starting at the theater.

“I began working here when my daughter came to school, and at that time I thought, ‘If she can go to school, so can I,'” said Wilson.

She noted that the work she did before and what she does now are very similar.

“It’s all artistic,” said Wilson.

Still, Wilson had only attended plays before she found herself working her current job.

“There are a lot of things that go into the set designs and plays that I never realized before when I was just watching,” she said.

The two interact happily enough in the scene shop in Garvey, as Wilson comments on a white box Naylor was painting with shades of blue.

“[Naylor’s] artistic vision happens, and then I try to carry that out. But everything’s different, every day, and that’s what’s really fun about the work I do,” said Wilson. “It’s also really gratifying to produce something that other people can benefit from or even that people can just enjoy.”