Setting the stage

Senior succeeds in the world of scenic design


photo courtesy of Brooke Phillips

Senior Samantha Spencer stands with her original model and the full-scale completed set of her design for the play “Matt and Ben.” “I have created slides on my own time for fun of set designs I like and showed them to the Theatre Technology class,” Spencer said. “I have thought a lot about going into scenic design and maybe going into film, but I am not sure. I probably will always keep model making and miniatures as a hobby though.”

Anna Blumenthal, Entertainment Editor

When stepping into the Millard West auditorium, one might notice an extravagant set placed on the stage. From fantasy worlds to country clubs, these designs help to transform the simple stage into a new dimension for an audience. Behind many of these constructions is senior Samantha Spencer.

Spencer joined the Theatre Department her freshman year, participating in the cast and set crew, which builds the scenes, for various productions. She had always enjoyed creating models, but didn’t think about designing a full-scale set until her junior year.

It was for a project for Theatre Technology, and I realized that I really like thinking about what a set needs, the demands of the director and actors and the space that we have,” Spencer said. “The building process is very fun. It is a series of trial and error though, and sometimes going through all of my supplies generates more ideas.”

Spencer has taken the Theatre Technology class multiple times throughout the past three years, which has given her an opportunity to grow as both a student and an instructor. Participating in the class multiple times gives her opportunities to work on designs for new shows and utilize the time provided for building. From researching to building models to working on sets, Spencer has become a leader in the class. This led Drama Director Brooke Phillips to take her on as a high school student teacher.

“I asked her to help lead the Theatre Technology class because she demonstrated mastery of the content, and I hoped students could ingest some of her research and carpentry skills if they could see her demonstrate her process,” Phillips said. “I also hoped that it would continue to stretch her and push her to communicate all her ideas. I’m really proud of her and all the work she has done despite us being in a pandemic.”

Spencer’s set building process starts by going through the script of a show. From there, she is able to figure out everything that is needed and what the overall vibe is of the production. Then, she starts researching everything there is to know about the time period of the play, from architecture to pop-culture. After letting ideas marinate for a little while, she sketches out a quick rendering of the set and then dives right into building a model. Most of these models are built during the Theatre Technology class, using materials such as fabric and cardboard found around the scene shop. She makes sure to think through what Millard West already has in stock so that not a lot of new items need to be purchased.

“I spent around 17-20 hours on my last set model because it was just fun to problem solve things,” Spencer said. “I work better with my hands than anything else. I also really love doing research for it. I would have never guessed it, but it’s actually pretty fun to look up stuff. I now have collections of slides and Pinterest boards of new projects.”

Her passion for scenic design shines through her work and inspires others in the Drama Department to put in the same amount of love and energy into their projects.

“I work with Sam as a co-student teacher for the Theatre Technology class,” senior Carlie Kottich said. “She spends a lot of time researching for her designs and makes sure to put lots of details in her sets. Her love for scenic design really shows in her renderings.”

Not only does Spencer help others improve their design and building skills, but she also is constantly growing in her own work. 

“Theatre Technology helps me a lot when I am working on a show,” Spencer said. “I always know what to do and what things have changed then. I always have the most up to date information about a show, and I get to know the show a lot better and what the director is looking for.”

Spencer hopes to always continue making models whether it is as a hobby or a full-time career in scenic design. However, she for sure knows that theatre will continue to be a large part of her life and her way of expressing herself and being creative. Her work in scenic design puts the final touches on every production and helps to transport the actors into the world of the show.