Graduate Thesis Projects

Graduate Thesis Projects

The following projects were produced at Northwestern University during my course of graduate study there.  These projects were presented as part of my Thesis Exhibit in June 2008.


by Jose Rivera
Directed by David Kersnar
Set design by Marianna Csaszar
Costume design by Chantal Calato

Lighting idea renderings

Production photos

Marisol by Jose Rivera is a play about a young woman experiencing a crisis of faith.  When her guardian angel abandons her, Marisol must figure out how to survive in a world where every rule she’s ever known has changed, her home has become an unrecognizable place, and people she thought she knew have become strangers.  Director David Kersnar led his design team in exploring ways to take this pre-9/11 story of chaos and destruction and set it in post-9/11 New York.  Marianna Csaszar’s set brought to mind an abandoned subway tunnel, with its mammoth concrete wall and sunken concrete floor.  Trash bags littered the ground, and set pieces were pulled out of the piles of garbage to construct the claustrophobic scenes of Act I.    The Angel watched Marisol from a recess in the huge wall, backed by a broken ventilation fan.  In Act II, when the angels have abandoned humanity for a war with God and the world is turned on its end, the objects are cleared and space is eerily vast and empty.
One function of the lighting for this production was to support the tight, claustrophobic locations that Marisol moves through in the last days of her former life.  A window motivated lighting choices for each location.  Focus was kept very tight and actors were allowed to move in and out of shadows.  Colors were cold, and evoked a moist, dank feeling.  Lighting choices also helped define moments of magic when the Angel interferes with Marisol’s life.  Bright, unnatural colors and quick-changing, sometimes strobing cues signaled supernatural intervention.  A backlight followspot caused the Angels deteriorating wings to glow against the dark set.  When the audience returned for Act II, they were greeted with an open, broadly lit stage.  Extreme changes in angle, unmotivated by realistic times of day or climate conditions, became the lighting vocabulary of the unpredictable new world.   When Marisol finally takes control of her life at the end of the story, light from unexpected places signaled the start of a new phase and the possibility of hope.  Light streamed through cracks in the concrete wall, spilled up from below the stage, and finally tumbled out into the house as Marisol offers the crown, the opportunity for renewed faith, out toward the audience.


Adapted by George C. Wolfe from stories by Zora Neale Hurston
Directed by Tony Horne
Set design by Marianna Csaszar
Costume design by Melissa Torchia

Research collage

Production photos

Spunk: Three Tales by Zora Neale Hurston is a collection of stories by American folklorist Hurston.  She wrote about the joys and pains of African-Americans in first half of the 20th century, taking inspiration from the experiences of her neighbors in rural Etonville, Florida, people she met traveling throughout the South, and in Harlem in the North.  In 1989, George C. Wolfe chose three of her stories to adapt to the stage, threading the tales together with music.  In our production, director Tony Horne chose to expand the roles of the musician-narrators, adding to the original music and playing up the presentational style of the company of players.  Marianna Csaszar’s set was designed to serve this idea by creating an ever-present proscenium, glossy playhouse floor, and lowered peripheral area where members of the company could sit and observe or narrate the scene happening on the raised main playing space.  The set also offered opportunities to use silhouettes to theatricalize the introduction of people or objects to a story.
The role of the lighting design for Spunk had two primary functions:  to establish location and set a mood for each story or song.  Our locations were the vaudeville playhouse that serves as the framework for the storytelling, a rural Florida town where the first and last stories take place, and a street corner in Harlem for the middle tale.  Images of vaudeville players basking in their footlights, silhouettes cast on drops behind them, provided inspiration for the performance framework.  For the rural Florida feeling, a vocabulary was built on photographs of small-town men lazing on benches in low, evening sunlight or caught in the dappled shadow of a nearby tree.  The Harlem scene was inspired by the geometric shapes of light and shadow in photographs of sunlight passing through fire escapes and elevated train tracks. The rich, moody colors for the show were inspired by artwork from the covers of blues records.
The visual research for Spunk’s lighting manifested itself as a collection of systems in the light plot that could be used in combination to establish a scene or highlight the theatricality of a musical number.  A wash of templated lights blanketed the stage with a leafy texture, which played with warm downlights and lavender sidelight for the rural scenes.  Two systems of color-changing lights provided the opportunity to make bold color choices that underscored an emotional encounter between characters or livened up a music and dance number.  Footlights, backlights for silhouetting a figure against the proscenium curtain, and followspots were the lighting vocabulary of the vaudeville moments.  Colors and textures on the cyc expanded the lighting ideas upstage, including the use of a geometric texture for the Harlem scene.

Burn This

by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Kathryn Walsh
Set design by Robert Shoquist
Costume design by Melissa Torchia

Research and renderings

Production photos

Stone Cold Dead Serious

by Adam Rapp
Directed by Jonathan Mazer
Set design by Chelsea Warren
Costume design by Collette Pollard

Production photos