Set for success: Williams wins national set design award
Kim Williams’ set design for Doane Theatre’s fall production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage” spoke volumes.
Theatre Director Rob McKercher’s wanted to take the play about war and set in post-apocalyptic times while riffing off of the theme of capitalism in conflict. Williams ’14 took those queues and made them into a reality.
Scaffolding and broken, painted pieces of Masonite plywood showed damaged structures.
Unfaced platforms sat above layers of junk, strewn around to indicate chaos.
Nods to 1960s environmental theatre brought audience members into the action with seating in the scaffolding.
All of those nuances hit the right notes—and spoke to Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) judges. Williams was awarded the Region 5 (for colleges in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) crown for set design before winning the KCACTF Award for Excellence in Scenic Design in late April in Washington, D.C.
It was the third time Williams went to Washington after a regional award. She won for lighting as a sophomore and junior, but had never won at nationals—nor had she done set design for a production.
“I usually do lighting, so I tried set design for the heck of it and surprise!” Williams said.
“I’ve done it in class but (Mother Courage) was the first realized set design. I’ve designed stuff before in classwork, like homework, but this was the first actual show I’ve done set design for.”
For a rookie designer, the unconventional theatre set-up of Whitcomb Lee Conservatory was a challenge. But pulling off the environmental theatre aesthetic was a big hit with judges.
“They were really impressed at the regional level in the space that we work in. It’s very unique. It’s a black box theatre, which means that we don’t have the traditional proscenium,” Williams said. “To take a space that’s round and convert it to our needs is something that’s always difficult when you’re designing.”
At KCACTF’s National Theatre Festival, the set’s odes to environmental and epic theatre (“which basically teaches a lesson and is very spectacle-filled,” Williams said) again resonated with judges.
“I could see that their interest was definitely in that aspect of the show,” Williams said. “They were also impressed with Rob’s concept at the national level.”
Williams said McKercher’s bold approach is part of why her education in Doane Theatre was so special.
“I think what Rob does here at Doane you won’t find at any other college, especially in Nebraska, but I would go so far as to say maybe the entire Midwest,” Williams said. “Rob lets us do daring shows, he lets us do stuff that would be intimidating to most colleges.”
The senior, who is about to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in theatre and art, is now starting a career in set design.
As part of her award, Williams won $500 and a trip through KCACTF to either New York City or Las Vegas in early June. Afterward, she will begin working on exhibits, props and set decorations for Minneapolis’ theme park Valleyfair, a job she interviewed for in February at the MidWest Theatre Auditions in St. Louis, Missouri.
The York native now gets to add the KCACTF regional and national awards for set design to her resume already featuring last summer’s internship at New York Stage and Film, which calls itself a workshop theatre for up-and-coming and well-known artists. Williams said she worked on a show produced by famed actor and comedian Steve Martin.
Last summer, she couldn’t have seen herself working on sets. But less than a year later, her success in design is speaking to her.
“It’s definitely influenced me and changed my direction quite a bit,” Williams said.