The audience is seated. The lights dim. The curtain rises, and the spotlight focuses on the actors. One person stands back and watches as his and others’ work is on full display. That work is the set and that person is Webster University scene design major Robert Ashurst.
“It’s what I look forward to the most, to see everyone’s work come together,” Ashurst said.
As a scene designer, Ashurst helps set the stage of a theater production. This involves working with the director to bring their vision to life, constructing scene design models and helping guide shops through the production process.
For his work, Ashurst will receive the W. Oren Parker Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, an organization dedicated to the advancement of dialogue, research and learning among those involved with theater design and technology.
The award was established in 2002 to recognize undergraduate scene design students.
This award is only given to one student a year. Ashurst will receive the award in March.
Ashurst originally thought about going into architecture, but started getting serious about scene design during his time at Parkview High School, where he worked on school productions. It was a change that was not far from his original goal with architecture.
“I’ve always been interested in sort of environmental design, anything that has to do with designing atmosphere,” Ashurst said.
Ashurst said he did not necessarily have an interest in theater; the sets were what drew his eyes. He was able to design and paint for the school productions, something that would prepare him for college. It was when he got to college that things were put into perspective for him.
“I think you learn a lot and grow as an artist if you start to learn how the story plays a significant role,” Ashurst said. “You start to develop and polish your skills a lot more.”
Ashurst went on to work as scene designer for the Conservatory productions of Dogfight and Macbeth. Macbeth, in particular, holds a special place in his heart.
“It was a really well-rounded production,” Ashurst said.
Ashurst worked closely with fellow senior Chris Meneghetti on Conservatory productions, with the latest being Macbeth. Meneghetti is a technical stage direction major.
“I definitely think that he gets a clear idea of what he wants, and no matter how long it will take. . . He’ll get it done,” Meneghetti said. “His model making is just amazing. You can’t just teach what he has.”
Ashurst currently does freelance work for Scott C. Neale, a designer who works nationwide.
The company designs for theater productions, theme parks and trade shows. Neale works in Texas full-time, so Ashurst helped serve as the connection between the theater companies and Neale. He also does hands-on work, such as building models.
“His model building is on par with a lot of professionals I’ve seen,” Neale said. “I knew immediately he would be a good candidate to work on my productions.”
Neale said one of the best qualities of a set designer is that if they can not explain something verbally, they can through drawing. That was a quality Ashurst possessed.
Ashurst said he has had to learn important leadership qualities as the scene designer, one of them being time management. He said he would sometimes spend whole days and nights working on a project, something he has had to learn to cut down. He said he has to resolve conflicts if needed, know who to talk to and, above all, be professional since he relies on others.
“But it’s all worth it,” Ashurst said.