New set designer building memories at JRT

Carol Huie, set designer for the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, on the JRT stage with one of her three-dimensional set models — this one for the upcoming production “The Miracle Worker.” PHOTO BY LYNN J. RICHARDSON

By Lynn J. Richardson

Meet Carol Huie, a former graphic designer and high school art teacher who is using her talents and experience at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre as its newest set designer.

Huie is just completing her first half of the JRT’s 2018-19 season, and with several productions under her belt, she says she is “having a blast!”

A California native, Huie moved to Jonesborough a year and a half ago and quickly got involved with the local theater, volunteering to help with the set of Young Frankenstein.

“Karen Elb, one of the JRT’s amazing lighting designers and directors, must have seen some potential in me,” Huie said. “She asked me to do the set for Meet Me In St. Louis, and I just had a ball with that.”

Huie was asked to work on more shows, and this year she is enjoying her first full season as set designer. While her previous set design experience had been limited to her kids’ school productions and some church productions, it was always something she enjoyed.

“I loved seeing kids get on that stage for the first time and look around, saying ‘Wow,’ ” Huie said. “I still get excited seeing the cast members come on stage and look around, saying ‘Oh my goodness!’ I love trying to create a great environment for the actors because we really have some amazing actors at the JRT.”

What she does with set design could be compared to building a tiny home — she makes every inch count. That can be a challenge given the JRT’s stage is only 600 square feet.

Making good use of every bit of space was especially important in her design for the production “Newsies,” where the original Broadway set had scaffolding soaring 9 stories high; Huie had a space only 11 feet high to work with.

Huie’s set designs, from start to finish, usually take 150-200 hours. PHOTO BY LYNN J. RICHARDSON

“I can’t build a prop more than 9 feet, 1 inch tall if it needs to move around,” Huie explained. “The thing about working with a small stage is trying to create the illusion that things are really bigger than they are. You’re really down to the inch, the half inch.”

Still, Huie says, of the sets she has done so far, Newsies was her favorite.

“That one had a lot of energy,” Huie said. “Sets are kind of like Pinocchio; they only comes to life when those actors come out there.”

Huie’s set designs, start to finish, take 150-200 hours. And while she says she has “phenomenal” help, she could always use more hands. Her dream for the future is to build a crew.

She is also excited for another future development, which will have a huge impact on the JRT – the construction of a new theater scenic warehouse, something she calls “a game changer.”

Huie and her crew currently construct sets next door, at the old Jackson Theatre. But soon, that space will be unavailable as renovations begin to create a new and much larger home for the JRT and other productions.

So the JRT will be getting a new 5,000-square-foot warehouse located at Persimmon Ridge Park that will provide room for set construction as well as long term costume, prop and supply storage. It is scheduled to be completed this summer, according to JRT Board of Directors President, Kelly Wolfe.

Huie is also looking forward to the rest of the season, to teaching some set design classes starting later this month, as well as working on the JRT’s next production, The Miracle Worker.

“The Miracle Worker will present a lot of challenges,” Huie said. “For that show, we must make a railroad station, an institute for the blind and a garden house — all in one revolving prop.”

She is also charged with building a set, which includes a whole house, a front porch, living room, bedroom and a staircase, as well as a working water pump.

To make certain all goes as planned for each show, Huie attends to every detail by going from seat to seat in the theater to look at angles, making sure that no matter where a person is sitting, he or she can see everything they need to see.

She also builds three-dimensional models for each set. Working at home on her kitchen table, Huie spends roughly 30-35 hours creating each tiny detailed model from foam core board and balsa wood.

Her completed projects will not go to waste; she is saving every one of them to give to her grandchildren one day.

“You know how kids like to play and create,” Huie said. “These things are like dollhouses. I want my grandkids to look at things to invent, to create and to build, so I’m saving them for them.”


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