Meet the Artist: LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES Scenic Designer Vicki Smith

Meet the Artist: LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES Scenic Designer Vicki Smith

VIDEO: Courtesy of Second Nature Productions, LLC. Click here to watch the video interview.

Vicki Smith is the scenic designer for ATC’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues and a longtime collaborator at ATC. Most recently, she designed the set for our production of Fences in the 2015/2016 season. Other ATC credits include: Wait Until Dark (2014/2015), The Mountaintop (2013/2014), Woody Guthrie’s American Song (2010/2011), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2010/2011), The Kite Runner (2009/2010), Touch the Names (2004/2008), Love, Janis (2006/2007), Hank Williams: Lost Highway (2005/2006), Dirty Blonde (2002/2003), and Master Class (1999/2000).

ATC:
According to your website, you were originally a ceramics sculptor. How did you transition from sculpture to scenic design?

MS. SMITH:
I was in Seattle at the time, and I was working with a filmmaker who did animated films with dimensional clay figures – I was making little clay figures for him to animate – and there were people there from the University of Washington’s theatre school making small sets for him. I had no idea there was such a thing as technical theatre; they told me there was, and I was really looking for a way to make money doing what I wanted to do. So I took some classes in summer school in set design and thought, “That’s pretty good.” I just basically happened upon it and changed over. And it was a good change.

ATC:
Scenic design tends to be a very male-dominated field. Did you find it difficult to get started?

MS. SMITH:
When I first started, yes I did. The first job I had was at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I was there as an intern, and the Production Manager’s assistant told me that he believed that women had no place in set design because they couldn’t take the pressure and they would cry. The reason he chose me as an intern was because I happened to be the only person who applied that year. So it was just by dumb luck that I didn’t get turned down. I did have problems when I first started there, with their older, more experienced carpenters, who also didn’t think women belonged in the scene shop, in set design. So I basically had to prove to them that I could do it.

It has been less difficult as we’ve gone on. There’s still not a lot of women. There was just a study that was done recently; it’s still about one-quarter women, three-quarters men, but it’s much more accepted now.

ATC:
You’ve worked with ATC on quite a few shows. What keeps you coming back?

MS. SMITH:
I just like this theatre. I like this town. This is where I met my husband, who’s a lighting designer, so I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this place.

ATC:
How’d you get involved with Low Down Dirty Blues?

MS. SMITH:
I’ve worked with the director, Randal Myler, a lot; I’ve done a lot of shows with him. He had actually done Low Down Dirty Blues a couple of times before I became involved, but when he got the job in Cincinnati – which is the last place we did it – he invited me to do it. I’ve been kind of a regular with Randy, as is my husband as a lighting designer.

ATC:
Do you find it’s different designing for a musical as opposed to a “straight” play?

MS. SMITH:
Big musicals are very, very different than straight plays. They’re much more complex. They change much more often; they often involve a lot more tricks. This is basically a one-set show, and it’s intended to be quite realistic. It’s pretty much like any other one-set show, except they sing a lot.

ATC:
Do you have favorite elements of this set that you’d like to share?

MS. SMITH:
I really like the gold foil across the top of the set. When I looked a whole bunch of blues clubs, a whole lot of them had that stuff, and I thought, “Well maybe this is a rule, so I should do it.” It’s a really interesting element for lights. If you want to really boost the light, you focus on that, and boy, does it give you a return for your money.

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