Section: Arts

Go behind the scenes with alumnus Christopher Ellsworth

Go behind the scenes with alumnus Christopher Ellsworth

Cora Markowitz

By Lauren Katz

Alumni of the Kenyon Drama department have often returned to the Hill as professors and directors, but Christopher Ellsworth ’96 returned to work behind the scenes. Ellsworth has made his mark on the Department of Drama by working as a carpenter and set designer both as a student and as a graduate. 

As a student, Ellsworth found the scene shop and became hooked. He became a drama major and developed a close relationship with Tim Pryer, the department’s technical director during Ellsworth’s first three years at Kenyon. After Pryer left Kenyon, Ellsworth’s academic life took a downturn.

“I had a horrible senior year,” Ellsworth said. “It wasn’t fun and I swore upon graduating I was never doing theater again. I failed comps … and that coupled with the new technical director made senior year unpleasant.”

While he passed comps the second time, Ellsworth kept to his promise to renounce theater for awhile. He took a three-year detour, but he found his way back to theater while living in Philadelphia.

In 2002, a job opportunity opened up at Kenyon, and Ellsworth became the new technical director, a job he has loved from the beginning. Previously he had been the assistant technical director at McCarter Theater in New Jersey, but he found himself bored in this position.

“They have an operating budget of $10 million a year, so when they ran into a problem, they buy the solution, and I thought that was really dull,” Ellsworth said. “What I like about [Kenyon] is that we have smaller budgets but have to do some really cool stuff.”

Ellsworth loves a challenge, and one of his favorite projects was building the set for Noises Off last fall.

“The entire set spun, so we built a front stage and a backstage, including 17 backstage masking panels, eight doors and a window that [was] punched through every night,”  Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth has passed his enthusiasm for creative problem-solving on to his students. Molly McCleary ’14, for example, described Noises Off with a similar sense of appreciation.

“The most challenging but also most rewarding project that I did with Chris was contracting the set for Noises Off,” McCleary said. “There were a lot of demands, but we had an absolute blast, and we were working on it right up until we put up the show.’”

Ellsworth loved working for Pryer as a student and remembers him fondly. However, the memory has also created a complicated perspective.

“I remember thinking that Tim was wise and worldly and old,” Ellsworth said. “Now looking back, I don’t see myself as being wise and old and worldly.”

Ellsworth’s students said that he was not only wise, but also an excellent teacher.

“Every time I have had a question for the past four years, Chris has almost immediately known the answer,” Matt Super ’15 said.

One of the best qualities about Ellsworth, according to his students, is that his devotion to them extends outside the scene shop.

“He is important to the College because of his job, but also because of the support that he offers to students he interacts with,” McCleary said.

“There are so many times when I will just pop into the set shop to borrow pliers, and I accidentally end up spending 30 minutes chatting with him,” Cheyenne Davis ’15 said. “He is a sweetheart, so genuine.”

Ellsworth sees the scene shop volunteers not only as students, but also as friends.

“Chris Ellsworth is the reason I did drama in my life ever,” McCleary said. “Chris is one of my best friends. I would come in and talk to him about anything, and he just really wants everyone to have the best Kenyon experience they possibly can.”

Ellsworth has gone full circle. He currently holds the job that his mentor had when Ellsworth was a student, and he could not be happier. He only hopes his students can find the same satisfaction, and he even has some advice.

“If you fail [comps], it is not the end of the world,” Ellsworth said. “Come talk to me. I am very good at listening. But have fun. You have to have fun in theater. It’s too much work not to have fun.”

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