The shop room behind the Bolton Theater has, among other things, a dinosaur skeleton hanging from the ceiling, a giant painting of a Coca-Cola bottle and an enormous clock. Technical Director in the Department of Dance, Drama and Film Christopher Ellsworth ’96 is well-decorated himself with a beard and several piercings in his ears. It is from this colorful room that most Kenyon theater productions aquire their scenery, and it was in this same room that Ellsworth worked when he was a student at Kenyon. Ellsworth described it as his “safe-haven” during his time as a student.
Ellsworth’s current project, his 45th, is the scenery for the Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club’s rendition of The Comedy of Errors, set in 1940s-era Cuba. After designing the set of Moonchildren in the fall of 2015, this is the second set that Ellsworth has been asked to design himself — typically, Ellsworth is not the one designing the set.
When designing a set, Ellsworth reads the play, talks to the director and conducts extensive research. “At that point Cuba was sort of the French riviera, so there’s a lot of arches and there’s a lot of columns and it’s going to be very brightly colored,” Ellsworth said about working on the set for The Comedy of Errors.
Ellsworth has been working as the Technical Director for Kenyon’s theater department for 15 years. For each production there is a budget of only $3,400. To save money, Ellsworth ensures everything he builds can easily come apart and be repurposed. Ellsworth’s favorite sets to create are ones built to be realistic, but precision is not always the goal with these creations, as Ellsworth is well aware the audience will not be close enough to see minute imperfections.
To get his job done Ellsworth requires a lot of help. Kenyon employs Jack Mullen ’19, Hannah Porter ’19, Brennan Steele ’19, Jasmine Manuel ’17, Seth Reichert ’17 and Callan Schackor ’17 to help Ellsworth build sets. “I tell everyone I hire that I’m not hiring them from the neck down; I want your brain too,” Ellsworth said. He enjoys when his workers give their own suggestions for how the work should be done.
“I just think it’s important — and I’ve always thought it was important — that everyone has a story to tell, and so even if someone comes to work for me in the shop and has no theatrical experience, they have experience in something,” Ellsworth said. “I try to sort of find out what that experience is and use it in such a way that they get something out of the process.”
Ellsworth does his best to accentuate his employees’ strengths. Some are skilled painters while others have excellent attention to detail. “He will help you if you need it, but usually you have to figure out the best solution for yourself,” Steele said.
The scene shop is open every week Monday through Thursday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone is welcome to come volunteer.
“You don’t have to have any experience,” Ellsworth said. “The only thing you need is an intense desire not to cut anything off your body. If you have that, come down.”