Friday, April 8, 2016

Technically Speaking with...Sarah Stolnack

Name: Sarah Stolnack (Stoli)

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Education: BFA in Theatre Design/Tech, University of Evansville

Favorite Credits: Caryl Churchill’s Fen with Red Garnet Theatre Company, The Evansville Ballet’s The Little Mermaid (world premier), and GIG with Jenna Nicholls (a project that combines live dance with live music from a singer/songwriter).

Why theater?: Storytelling is incredibly powerful, whether it’s through theatre, dance, opera, etc. I can’t imagine working in any other field – theatre provides a unique opportunity to combine that storytelling, visual creativity, and technical understanding. Theatre also attracts me because it exists in time and space – I get to play with pacing and timing as well.  I’m always excited to work with new people and bring our work to new levels, and I absolutely love the fast-paced schedule that working as a freelance designer brings. I never have a boring day.

What is your role on Primary?: Lighting Designer.

Tell us about Primary: Primary is a new play that follows a family as a mother considers starting a political career.

What inspired you to design Primary?: I love working on new works, to be part of a team that is doing something for the first time, developing the piece, and being involved in shaping the story that is being told. This piece especially draws out all of the reasons I love it – being able to directly relate the story we’re telling to current events.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: All kinds of performance speak to me, anything with a strong visual element. I enjoy designing theatre, opera, and dance. I’m inspired by performance any performance that I think is well done. For visual inspiration, I am constantly looking at art and finding new artists that I connect with – right now, I’ve been looking at a lot of paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw, he manages to capture moonlight and streetlights in a beautiful manner. He uses colors that I wouldn’t always think to incorporate.

What makes a design “successful”?: I don’t have any benchmark for myself that defines “successful”. On every show I do, I learn something. I always have a few things that I wish were better, some timings that could have been tighter, some focuses that could have been sharper. I think that the lighting telling the story and providing the needed visibility is the base of what makes it successful, but there is so much more than that. I want to come away from a design feeling good about the visual elements, feeling that they represented what the design team and I wanted to portray.

How do you approach your work individually and collaboratively?: I think you have to start with the collaboration – that shows the direction that you’re going in. I come into the first production meeting with an open mind – still with thoughts, ideas, and a direction I would approach it from, but I’m there to hear what everyone else has to say. After we’ve talked and I understand the direction the team is going in, I will go off on my own and find the specifics that I think lighting should bring to the show.  

What is your favorite part about the collaboration process?: I can’t think of a part of it I don’t like, so I don’t think I have a favorite part. I love being involved in telling the whole story – talking with the director about the arc of the story and how that affects lighting, with the scenic designer about what the visual language of the space is, with the sound designer about flow and atmosphere of the piece, everything.

If you could design any play or musical you’ve yet to design, what would it be?: I find it hard to choose one – partially because I like working on new plays so much. Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, or one of Puccini’s operas. What excites me even more that a script or score that I like is working on it with a creative team that is all on the same page about the story we’re telling and how we’re going to portray it in our respective disciplines.

What’s up next?: I’m designing skinny crazy small at Theatrelab, Gaslight Tango for Axial Theatre Company, and then heading upstate for the summer to work as a lighting supervisor at the Glimmerglass Festival.

For more on Sarah, visit