Lynne M. Koscielniak




1.     Approach


Scenographers function as historians, artists and technicians. In teaching scenography, I provide students with the tools they need to fulfill these roles.  It is my objective to equip them with the ability to analyze texts, research topics, adhere to industry standards, and articulate their design approaches orally and visually.  Armed with these tools, they can chart their own path to achieve their design objectives. Young designers must find their individual artistic voices while adapting their talents to the needs of each production and creative ensemble. 


Students from a number of disciplines, including media study, visual studies, architecture, performance, and design, take my beginning and advanced scene and lighting design courses, in which we tackle a new library of plays each semester.  We discuss the classics, new works, and plays by minorities, to provoke discussion of themes relevant to today’s society.  As some students will take more than four courses with me during their time at the university, it is important that they are always challenged by a new text. No matter what career path the students will follow, they should leave my design courses with the ability to articulate their ideas and with an awareness of theatrical design and its creative process.


2.     Philosophy


Designing for theatre requires an exploration into the denotative and connotative world of the play.  It is impossible to express this content without the ability to achieve strong technical form. I care deeply about text analysis, research, oral and visual communication, and graphic standards.  In my design courses, I question the students on the details of the text and require them to write down their responses.  In writing, each student solidifies the given circumstances of the play for him- or herself. With this information, students can balance the needs of the play with the dynamic of the playing space that they select for the production.  I believe that a quick and visceral visual response to a play can unlock a design approach.  In class I have done a number of exercises that allow the students to visually explore the play: analog drawings, creating bash models out of molded paper, building sculpture in response to the text, and arranging geometric shapes in a scaled drawing as a way to explore composition.  These gestural responses can inspire an abstract environment, lead to the arrangement of real objects, or influence lighting transitions. I require the students to create an extensive research file, inclusive of both factual and emotional data that they may use to inform their design directions.  Factual research may include background information on the playwright, the social context of the play, and period and environmentally specific research.  Emotionally based research consists of images that speak to the play in a non-literal way and are personal to the student. Beyond analytical skills, to communicate as a designer the student must have graphic ability. To that end I dedicate class time to teach how to draw, paint, and how to use drafting equipment.  As designers need to understand what they are asking a computer to do for them, I teach students how to hand draft and render before they are introduced to computer-aided programs.


3.     Innovations in Teaching


I embrace technology and integrate it into my teaching.  I use computer programs that allow me to render space in three dimensions and create pre-visualizations of intended lighting looks.  This “what you see is what you get” technology, known as WYSIWYG, has changed the way in which I communication to the director, the lab technicians and my students. Ideas that once could only be discussed by looking at 2-dimensional representations or by executing them fully in the actual space are tested and revised in virtual worlds.  Through an Educational Technology Grant, Itinerary Computer Laboratory and WYSIWYG Learn Studio: Pre-visualization in the Performing Arts, further supported from the College of Arts and Sciences, I created a computer design lab dedicated to the department, allowing the students and me to integrate this new technology into our work. 


Through the integration of advanced instrumentation designed for production, I have reinvented 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.  I have conducted experiments with the students, exploring how light can be used as a malleable object that emotes, evolves, and interacts with performers.  This innovation in teaching helps the designers understand how tech tools can be an integral part of the collaborative process, rapidly demonstrating ideas to their team, and how technology can be used to enhance production values.


4.     Theory and Practice


To truly grow, the theatre artist must practice within a laboratory setting.  I promote undergraduate research activity, as it is not until student designers work with a collaborative team and take a design from start to finish that they truly understand all the pieces and parts of the process.  In the Department of Theatre & Dance, undergraduate design students design eight fully-realized productions each season.  I am proud of our ability to bring designers up through the ranks, starting off underclassmen in supporting positions and allowing them to grow into being the lead designer on a production.  To give structure to the students’ independent research in design, I have created protocol sheets and project check-lists for each assignment, which in effect, has created a manual for production protocol in the Department of Theatre & Dance.  As undergraduate students hold these positions of responsibility, my coaching of the students through the process is essential.   Formal mentoring of students in production happens at a weekly Design Seminar that I lead.  These sessions serve three main functions: to provide a forum for the sharing of rough ideas, create a network of student designers and technicians who become their own support system, and offer an opportunity to guide designers through appropriate protocol for working with the technical shops.  I am on-site for all technical rehearsals, staying in the background to let the students command their original designs while being accessible when they are faced with a production problem.


By combining of theoretical projects, realized work, and involvement in theatrical practices beyond the university, my area fully prepares our students for a life in the theatre.  My research and creative activities off-campus give my students opportunities to act as assistant set and lighting designers, automated lighting programmers, technical directors, carpenters and scenic artists in professional arenas. This exposes the students to other production methods, to a variety of venues, and to state of the art technologies, and it allows them to start to build a professional network.  When working out of town, I have negotiated accommodations for University at Buffalo students to accompany me as assistants, a tremendous opportunity that I am pleased to share with my advanced undergraduates.  To further achieve these objectives, I arrange for professional designers in residence at Buffalo’s LORT regional theatre, Studio Arena, to speak to our students, and I have set up a formal internship program with the Studio Arena production staff.  I have arranged for demonstrations of high-end lighting systems for our students on-campus, and I have created symposia around Theatre Management topics.  I regularly take my students to the United States Institute of Theatre Technology’s Upstate Section Conference and to the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  When I attend the Prague Quadrennial of Stage Design 2007, I will investigate “Scenofest” in anticipation of taking a University at Buffalo team to the international collaborative event in 2011.

5.      Teaching Outcomes


In recognition of my creative work and teaching, I have been invited to respond to the work of emerging designers at the Yale Portfolio Review, the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region VII and VIII, and the United States Institute of Theatre Technology Conference’s Young Designer’s Forum.  I have been asked to participate in a fellowship program at the Kennedy Center, The Collaborative Process: Designers and Directors led by Ming Cho Lee and Constance Hoffman, a two-week intensive that brought together designers and directors from across the globe and allowed for the act of collaboration to be put under the microscope, so that we could study artistic team dynamics while working toward production proposals for significant plays. I have given master classes at University at Pittsburgh, Muhlenberg College, PA, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Geneseo, and University at Washington.  As part of the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, I am scheduled to present on the topic of global aesthetics at Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.


In 2005, I was named a “Celebrated Teaching Artist” by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  As a teaching artist, I expose my students to a process for design that I have developed through numerous collaborations.  My courses follow a dramaturgical approach, where students “own” the text as equal collaborators with the director.   They learn to become contributing artists to the production process and develop the ability to articulate their design ideas both visually and orally.  My students are aware of and practiced in industry standards.  Their proficiency will allow them to take the profession forward, re-invigorating methods for production, and, I hope, setting the trends for the future of American stage design.  In teaching scenography, I aim to inspire the next generation of theatre artists with the fearlessness to create honest theatre that can educate, inspire and amuse.  Through my guidance, I help students find their artistic voice and equip them to function in a professional arena.  I am interested in training young designers to rise to new levels of inventiveness while always maintaining an awareness that each element of a theatrical production forwards storytelling in a unique way.  It is my goal to continue to provide students with informative and energizing challenges to further their development as theatre artists, technicians, and managers.


In testament to my teaching success, students who have functioned on my artistic teams as lab assistants have gone on to positions with professional producing agencies as well as to top graduate programs in design.  My former students are on staff with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and Hubbard Street Dance as well as positions on staff at the Berkley Repertory Theatre, Hangar Theatre and Santa Fe Opera.  I currently have students enrolled in MFA programs at Brandeis University, Florida State University, Northwestern University, University of Connecticut, University of Florida, and University of Missouri Kansas City among others.  Under my directorship, the University at Buffalo Design and Technology program in the Department of Theatre and Dance has gained a reputation for excellence.  The profile of the program is growing as UB alumni are completing their graduate studies and taking positions on Broadway, at the Lincoln Center, in the Regional Theatre, and are on tour internationally with dance companies, their bios citing their training at the University at Buffalo.