Lynne M. Koscielniak




1.     Introduction


My set and lighting design work spans from storefront theatres to the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), encompassing original designs for new dramatic works, classic texts, modern musicals, and dance. I collaborate on a regular basis with a diverse group of artists to create original set and lighting designs for experimental and traditional theatre. My recent work includes collaborations with playwrights, composers, and choreographers on premiere productions as well as innovative productions of classic American plays for contemporary audiences.  In addition to my personal vision as an artist, I attempt to distinguish my design work by integrating dramaturgical practices and advanced technologies into my creative process.  In the long term, I seek to have a significant effect on the shape of the future of set and lighting design through my professional work and by teaching my students to employ a similar process to develop their own visions. 


2.     Design


I received my Master of Fine Arts in Stage Design from Northwestern University in Chicago, where I focused on the role of design in the production of new works and the presentation of classics for the modern audience.  I explored how today’s “cinematic” playwriting styles can be brought to the stage through innovative design, creating fluid spaces where lighting and projection seamlessly transition to give visual reference to the stage action.  In practice, I worked in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and playwright Joyce Carol Oates to bring her epic, THE PASSION OF HENRY DAVID THOREAU, to the stage.  My graduate work set the foundation for a career in which I function as one part dramaturg while still serving in the traditional role of designer, an approach that I believe distinguishes my process and work. 


Since graduating from Northwestern, I have maintained relationships with Chicago-based ensembles and directors. I have designed five productions for the Piven Theatre Workshop, including three for Artistic Director Joyce Piven.  At the Piven, I have worked on two premiere productions by Pulitzer Prize finalist and playwright Sarah Ruhl, whose episodic texts have pushed me to new levels of inventiveness, creating evocative environments that transcend reality. I have worked in collaboration on four productions with director and associate producer of Writer’s Theatre, Shade Murray.  Our collaborations included the lighting design for INVITATION TO A MARCH at the Victory Gardens Theatre, for which I was nominated for Chicago’s top theatre honor, a Joseph Jefferson Award for Design Excellence.   Also with Shade, I designed the Chicago Premiere of Naomi Iizuka’s TATTOO GIRL and the lights and projections for Mark Ravenhill’s SOME EXPLICIT POLAROIDS, produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre.  In recognition of this production and others, I was honored with an Emerging Designer Residency at Steppenwolf.  During this residency, I designed the Midwest Premiere of Wendy MacLeod’s THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE and the World Premiere of Bryn Magnus’s WORLD SET FREE, a play that deals with Enrico Fermi and his work to produce the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. 


From the scientific to the kinetic, my designs span a wide range of productions, both thematically and spatially.  For choreographer Billy Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, I designed the lights for GETTING THERE PART 1 and 2, a narrative dance that toured nationally with the company. Most recently, I worked with choreographer Bill Evans on the realization of ALTERNATING CURRENT, a movement study addressing the body as a force, in which the lighting functioned as a magnetic field, drawing the dancer in and pushing him away, making transitions in harmony with the trembling movement and sound.


My collaborations have taken all shapes; from working with directors who tap into my dramaturgical skills, to working with playwrights and composers on a development team, to being part of large scale productions where I have been brought on to deliver a professional product in a short amount of time, to wearing many hats as part of small ensemble.  I have been challenged to make plays “work” in a variety of venues and to interpret classics for contemporary audiences.  I often function as a historian, researching the social context of the play; a fine artist, sketching and rendering the proposed design; and a graphic artist, drafting schematics so that lab technicians can construct and mount the necessary systems for production. I have even taken on the role of costume designer on a few occasions, to expand my awareness of all areas of design and improve my understanding of my fellow designers’ work process and challenges.  For the premiere of PARALLEL LIVES by Richard Pearson Thomas, produced Off-Off-Broadway by the Riverside Opera Ensemble, I designed the sets, lights, and costumes. To design the production, I became versed in the daily life of society in ancient Greece, the ways of the Spanish gypsies, and the manners of women in Victoriana.  As the action of the play traveled to all these realms, I chose to have the visual world be informed by all the periods. 


In addition to choosing to work on productions that promote areas and skills for personal growth, I have a particular interest in productions that investigate non-traditional modes of presentation.  A case in point is my recent work on the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. To design this play, I studied the playwright’s life and works to decide with the team whether the autobiographical nature of the piece should inform a realistic space or if the poetry of the text should inspire a metaphysical environment.  I constructed two scale models that made tangible our production concept in completely different ways and allowed the director and design team to choose a direction; proposing multiple solutions to a design problem is a standard part of my process.  On another occasion, I was challenged to reinvent a holiday classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a play that can easily fall prey to preconceptions, for the Virginia Stage Company. For this production, set in an attic, innovative staging, lights, and sound were employed to transport characters through space and time. Having deftly executed the design for A CHRISTMAS CAROL in 2004, I was asked back to design the re-invented 2005 production.  These experiences in the LORT theatre led to my acceptance into United Scenic Artists – Local 829, the exclusive national organization of designers, production and technology professionals in the performing arts and entertainment industry.


3. Technology


Through technology, I work internationally and nationally while based at the University at Buffalo.  As web master for, I publish my design ideas on the internet, facilitating exchange between the playwright, director, the designers, and the production technicians throughout the collaborative process.  In pre-production for the world premiere of Bryan Delaney’s play THE COBBLER, produced by the Irish Classical Theatre Company in Buffalo, my site, entitled Collaboration On-line,  provided an essential link between Delaney, based in Europe, and the director and designers based in several cities throughout the US.  My goal is to maintain a cost-effective idea exchange tool, one that allows me to facilitate and contribute to the rapid communication of visual ideas among collaborators. 


In addition to using technology to advance the creative process, I keep myself up-to-date with ever-advancing industry standards and emerging stage technologies to advance production methods. I am particularly interested in the testing and implementation of automated lighting and software for lighting design applications.  This technology opens up new possibilities for me as a lighting designer as well as a lighting educator.  In my professional work, I have used automated lighting in dance and musical theatre performance to add a layer of moving texture over bodies in motion, creating landscapes enhanced with color, texture, and visual rhythm.   I believe my aesthetic is unique in that I treat performance as a canvas and lighting as paint, so that lighting helps synthesize the stage elements while supporting the narrative.  Integrating these advanced instruments designed for production in the classroom has palpably changed the way I teach.  With the advent of automated lighting technology, all the controllable properties of light—placement, shape, size, color, texture, and motion—can be adjusted remotely.  In collaboration with theatre director and performer Sally Fox, I have explored moving light applications in the classroom.  Together we created a lab that allowed students of lighting design and mask to invent scenarios in which light could act as a character and interact with an actor.  These explorations used light as a malleable object that could emote and evolve.  By teaching this way, the student designers learned how technical tools could become a living and breathing element in the production process, while student actors learned how to combine the mask work with design. 


Advanced technologies continue to play a role in my professional work and consequently my teaching.  Through WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) software, a computer program that includes a CAD engine, I construct virtual three-dimensional stage environments, create lighting systems for the stage, and model my designs in pre-production, demonstrating the design idea to the director, my fellow collaborators, and to my students.  In 2004, I received an Educational Technology Grant from the University at Buffalo, Itinerary Computer Laboratory and WYSIWYG Learn Studio: Pre-visualization in the Performing Arts, which made the use of this software possible.  With additional support from the College of Arts and Sciences, I created a computer design lab for the sole use of the department, allowing the students and myself to move this new technology from the classroom into our mainstage production work.  I seek to train my student lighting designers to visually communicate throughout the collaborative process, using technologies to allow them to demonstrate lighting transitions to supplement traditional static images that depict single moments.


As the technology in the lighting field constantly changes, I actively engage in the United States Institute of Theatre Technology to stay current and to contribute to product development.  I have served as a beta-tester for the Rosco Horizon Lighting System Software and through professional development workshops have become proficient at software and hardware including Vectorworks Spotlight, ETC lighting control including the Congo and the EOS, and automated lighting control including the Grand MA.  I believe it is essential to fully investigate these tools to learn their potential to assist the designer in achieving their artistic objectives.  Yet for me, the telling of the story is always primary; technology should be integrated to advance the narrative. 


4. Impact 


In recognition of innovative thinking in design, I was selected to represent the USA at the 2007 Prague Quadrennial of Stage Design (PQ).   The PQ is the pre-eminent international scenographic exhibit showcasing the best theatrical designs from 60 countries and 6 continents.  As part of the USA National Team, my work stands next to the work of preeminent American designers such as Ming Cho Lee, Jennifer Tipton, and George Tyspin.  My lighting designs for the 2004 Virginia Stage Production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, included in the exhibit, are published in the United States Institute of Theatre Technology and Broadway Press publication Design Exhibit USA.


I have also received international recognition for my set design work.  In 2005, an international jury selected my set design work for the World Stage Design Gallery Exhibit in Toronto.  In response to this exhibit, American Theatre magazine featured my design work, citing my design for ENDGAME as “Beckett for a new generation.”  I was particularly pleased with this comment, as I aim to help define the future of design as a reshaping of the theatrical environment to elicit response from an evolving global community, and this article was a major acknowledgement of my progress in this regard. 


Recognized by my peers as a teaching artist, I am regularly invited to respond to the work of emerging stage designers.  I have reviewed work at the USITT’s Young Designers’ Forum and at the Kennedy Center American Theater Festival.  Once a presenter at the Yale Portfolio Review myself, I now return to this event as a professional, offering advice to young artists. 


As a scenographer, I treat plays as scientific problems that need visual solutions.  I have developed a methodology for arriving at a finished design that includes dramaturgical research and analysis, response to text through analog drawing, and the use of image, sculpture, and manipulation of architectural space to arrive at a stage environment.  The integration of traditional scenographic practice and advanced technologies to expand the role of the designer in the collaborative process is crucial for me. My students integrate my methods into their undergraduate research activities, just as I do in my design work and my conference presentations. I seek to create innovative and appropriate designs from a thorough, thoughtful, and professional creative process., Schooled in these methods, my students have gone on to top M.F.A. programs at Brandeis University, Florida State University, Northwestern University, University of Connecticut, University of Florida, and University of Missouri Kansas City, among others.


5. Future Plans


Recently, I have begun to explore the use of lighting within virtual reality performances. I currently serve as the lighting designer for the Intermedia Performance Studio (IPS), a collaborative group composed of faculty and students from UB’s Departments of Media Study, Computer Science and Engineering, and Theatre & Dance.  The IPS integrates digital technology, interactive fiction, virtual reality, and embodied performance.  Through the IPS, UB’s week-long contribution to Suzan-Lori Parks’s year-long national play marathon 365 Days, 365 Plays took on new dimensions through the synthesis of digital characters, audience interaction, and live dancers and actors.  The lighting helped bring together the disembodied and embodied performers, marrying the 3-dimensional projected virtual reality with the performers on the stage.  I am interested in further investigating how theatrical lighting can powerfully synthesize virtual and tangible worlds. In attending the International Organization for Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians (OISTAT) Conference in June 2007, I gained global perspective on digital design and intermedia performance and a new understanding how sensory technology±technology that allows the performer to control digital imagery in the performance—is vital for countries rooted in improvisational based theatre forms.  Traditionally, actors have needed to sync their movement to predefined digital imagery, an idea counter to spontaneous action which is at the core of improvisational theatre.  Through these working groups, I have expanded the resources and goals for my work with the IPS.


I plan to continue my design work within regional theatre while expanding my work into international venues.  I am committed to my development as a designer and theatre technologist, and I look forward to future collaborations so that I may bring significant original work to the stage.  My professional work feeds my teaching and service, and I expect it always will.  Thus far, my work has led to subsequent conference presentations on topics including the designer’s role in the production of new works, oral and visual communication for the scenographer in the creative process, and integrated stage technologies.  I have new affiliations within OISTAT working groups that will fuel future dialogues resulting in panel presentations and publications.  My hope is to continually break new ground, integrate new technology, and have the great pleasure of collaborating with like-minded professionals on exciting classic and contemporary material.