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Theatre Design/Tech Grads Talk Shop

Like so many when the pandemic hit, designer Alexander Whittenberg ’14 (theatre design/technology or D/T) was forced to pause his work. He used the opportunity to reflect, to appreciate those who inspired him, and to consider the industry’s future.

The result is a compelling series of ten interviews conducted online called The Creative Quarantine Sessions.

The Purchase D/T community is tight-knit, so not surprisingly a few Purchase connections were in the mix. His first interview was with instructor, Ina Mayhew ’81, an accomplished television designer who currently lectures in Theatre Design/Tech and was our 2019 Distinguished Alumni honoree.

Additional interviews followed with award-winning designer David Gallo ’84–’88, who has also taught in the D/T program, as well as with Brian Tovar ’10. Tovar is co-founder and creative director of LiveSight.

Gallo designed the set for Jerry Seinfeld’s recent Netflix Special 23 Hours to Kill. He also earned a Daytime Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design for his work as production designer on Sesame Street.

And Whittenberg turned to Nathan Avakian ’14 to compose the score.

Whittenberg is a designer for theatre, film/television, dance and environments. Based in Orlando, he currently works for Disney Parks Live Entertainment.

His designs can frequently be seen on a myriad of central Florida stages including Mad Cow Theatre, The Garden Theatre, and the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. Recent theatrical design credits include All My Sons, The Spitfire Grill, Constellations, Skylight, Destiny of Desire and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Whitteberg has served as production designer on a series of recent films including Speed of Time (post-production), Bear With Us and The Archetypes, in partnership with Orange Grove Dance. In the world of television, Alexander works in the art department of Home Shopping Network. 

Below find a Q&A with Whittenberg.

Q: You mentioned you are furloughed from work (along with 40 million other people). What were you doing before coronavirus hit?

A: Before Coronavirus, I was serving as the props master for the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Walt Disney World in Florida. I was also in the midst of pre-production on a couple of LA-based film productions.

Q: What was the impetus for these interviews? What made you choose this as a quarantine project?

A: The impetus of these interviews was simply the desire to connect with fellow creative types whose journeys have influenced my own trajectories over the years.

It’s rare that everyone in the industry (and the world, for that matter) shares a moment of pause to meditate and reflect on the work that’s been so thoughtfully created in the past.

I was amazed at the consistently positive responses I’d received upon reaching out to possible interviewees. Everybody had a semi-open schedule and shared the desire to hop in a time machine and look back on a life full of deeply inspiring creative ideas-turned-reality.

In the same vein, these brilliant minds all had unique perspectives to share on the possible future of our industry. How could I turn my back on all the stars aligning to make these conversations a reality!?

Q: What’s your overarching goal for these? Beyond them being entertaining and informative, are you thinking longer term, like you’re creating a type of archive of theatre design people?

A: At the time of creation, the goal of these talks was two-fold. The first part of this was about bringing levity to a rather dreary time in the world. The talks hopefully provided a distraction from the virus itself and allowed the viewers a moment to breathe, laugh and admire the creative minds that have contributed so much to our shared tapestry of storytelling.

The second part of this was allowing a platform on which to ponder how the industry might evolve as a result of COVID-19. The conversation of how things might change for better or for worse is a conversation that anyone in the industry seemed eager to participate in. The simple exchange of ideas is very important.

Speaking about the future of the project, I’m not exactly sure how this series might evolve but I’d definitely like to produce more content beyond the ten episodes we’ve just completed. I’m currently in the process of producing an hour long live show focusing on the art and design of my personal favorite film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Q: How did you decide who you were going to interview? 

A: I simply sent an email to a handful of designers and artists that have made an impact on my life through their work. My co-host Caryn did the same. Some of the guests we knew personally, while we were meeting others for the first time. I was surprised by how many folks responded so quickly with an eagerness to participate.

Trust me, there are a million potential guests out there that I’d LOVE the opportunity to host on the program.

Q: Now that you’re a few years out, what are some of the lasting impacts your experience at Purchase had on you?

Purchase made a huge impact on my life as an artist and a human being. The exquisite training received from industry professionals truly puts the students a step above everyone else entering the professional theatre/design world for the first time.

There were connections made during my time at Purchase that have served me very well over the years since graduating. The Purchase cats help each other out and the opportunities that present themselves after school are abundant.

The proximity to NYC was a definite advantage for the program as well. I’ll never forget the sleepless nights spent in the studio working so hard on polishing our passion. I think it’d be fun to return as a professor at some point down the line.

Q: Why did you choose to study at Purchase? 

I knew that I’d be pursuing a life in the theatre from a very young age and Purchase offered everything I was looking for and more.