Dialogue, movements and emotion help portray the characters and the message of a play, but it is the setting that gives audience members something that is tangible—something that allows them to visualize the scene that is about to unfold before their eyes. William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” debuted at the Redfern Arts Center on Wednesday Feb. 27 to March 2, and Keene State College senior Rachel Benson helped bring the play to life through her design.
Ever since she was little, Benson has been embedded in her artwork. “I’ve been doing art forever, probably since elementary school, I’ve always been doing art,” she said.
“My first big piece that made me feel like I was going to be an artist was probably in high school. It was a giant sculpture of a pear. I made it out of Styrofoam and ductape. It actually reminds me of what I’m doing right now,” Benson said.
Since Benson entered college six years ago before transferring from Framingham State to KSC, Benson has been working in the sculpture medium. While designing has been consistent throughout Benson’s life, she is also embedded in the theatrics of a performance.
“I’m a theatre minor and props is what I love doing,” Benson said, “Anytime there are props, I’m usually the one that is asked to work on them.” In order to sculpt the props for “The Tempest,” Benson said she used Styrofoam and paper mache over the props—similar to her design aesthetics that she used in high school. “I like to use multiple media’s together,” she said.
When Benson is not sculpting each of the props for the production, she is in charge of constructing and bringing to life one of the more elaborate props in the play—a table completely covered in food. “Compared to art, it’s a lot more structured. It’s a lot more working with groups, and you are not doing your own art, you are following someone else’s vision, but you also get to be creative.” And this sense of creativity is what allowed Benson to incorporate her own sources of inspiration into the piece.
When creating the elaborate table, Benson found inspiration in baroque paintings. “I like that part, I like to be able to be creative, but I have a starting design to go off of. You get to try a lot of different medias and I like the idea that you get to work on a lot of different projects at once; you’re not stuck to one project. It’s always changing because it’s always a different show and a short span of time to work on it,” she said.
For roughly two to three weeks, Benson has been sculpting this elaborate design.
“It’s definitely a tight time limit, everyone’s working long hours to finish this. Over the last weekend, I was here until eleven o’clock trying to finish,” Benson said.
“There’s definitely some stress involved, I won’t lie about that. This show wasn’t too bad for me, but I’ve done shows where I was the main designer. It’s a lot more work when you’re doing multiple props. I feel like now I can put in full effort on one project instead of little effort on a bunch of projects, so it is nice.”
But it is not just Rachel’s sense of creativity that allowed her to create props that tell the story of the main characters—it’s her talent that helped bring her vision to life. Celine Perron, professor of theatre of dance, said, “I think [Benson] is extremely talented. She comes from an art background, so she’s got skills that are about just the general theatrical skills. My experience working with her has been great.”
Given Benson’s background and talent with sculpture, and her knowledge of theatre, Perron said she was the ideal artist for sculpting the table.
PeggyRae Johnson, director of “The Tempest,” said, “[Rachel] has been a great person to work with as a designer and as a props person. She has integrity and responsibility and marvelous talent. She is quite artistically gifted.”
But despite Benson’s experience with design and sculpting, she is constantly looking for ways to refine her techniques.
“Every time I’ve taken a class, I’ve learned a new skill and every time I do a new piece of art, I use all of those skills. I feel like as I’ve gone on, I’ve added new skills so my art keeps evolving, so I add new techniques and new ways of doing things each time I make a piece of art,” Benson said.
Even though Benson believes that her skills as an artist are constantly evolving—art itself evolves based on who the audience is.
Her work is not only designed for the targeted audience, but it is reflective of her creativity, as an artist, as a sculptor, and as a designer—and she gives audience members something tangible to hold onto—a memory of “The Tempest” that will forever be visualized.
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