Tonight (Friday, July 27) is the opening of Peter Pan, Jr. at the Depot Family Theater, and next week, the Toxic Avenger opens at the Underground on Thursday, August 2. This week’s Selective Focus subject is the scenic designer for both productions.
AW: My name is Ashley, of Ashley Wereley Design, and I am a scenic designer, exhibit designer, scenic painter, exhibit painter, muralist and commissioned artist.
I stumbled into scenic painting while in art school when a friend at a local church asked me to paint some scenery they were building for a youth camp. I was immediately enthralled, and decided to stay on for a year at the Oaks Fellowship in Red Oak, Texas, as scenic charge and an assistant scenic designer.
Because of my experience at the Oaks, I was asked to take on the creative arts director role at Saints Community Church in New Orleans, La., where I managed the sound, lighting, and graphics during weekly services and events. Through the connections and reputation I gained working with these two churches, I was given the privilege of designing and painting murals for New Life Church in Springfield Mo., and T.H. Harris Middle School in Metairie, La. After a year and a half in New Orleans, I decided it was time to pursue a degree in scenic design, and chose to attend UMD to receive my BFA. While at UMD, I was given the opportunity to design and paint both realistic and abstract scenery for small black box theaters, and large proscenium stages both on campus and at the Duluth Playhouse, as well as paint a series of murals for Central Assemblies in Superior. After graduation I joined the Duluth Playhouse as a scenic artist, and within several months they created a full-time position for me as charge artist. During my two-plus seasons with the Duluth Playhouse I painted 36 shows and designed 11 productions. In addition, I had the privilege to work with Jeff Brown, of Brown Knows Design, and was invited to start working with him and his team on projects through out the Twin Ports. Through my partnership with Jeff I have painted several productions for Wise Fool Shakespeare, scenery for the film Virginia Minnesota, the Lake Life Exhibit mural at the Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, several exhibits for the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm, and more recently an exhibit for the Red River Zoo in Fargo, N.D.
I have been working as a scenic painter for eight and a half years, as a muralist for seven years, and as a scenic designer for five years. My first museum exhibit was the Lake Life Exhibit at the Judy Garland – Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, which opened last May.
One of the biggest challenges when working with community theaters, smaller museums, zoos, churches, etc. is learning how to create enticing environments within their budgetary limitations. More often than not I find myself sacrificing paint quality for quantity in order to keep paint budgets lower and instead choose to funnel the extra funds toward building larger and more technologically advanced scenery or exhibits. Because of this, I work mostly with inexpensive interior house paints and floor polyurethane from local chain hardware stores. This may seem like a disadvantage, but the higher level of latex in house paint actually offers an additional level of durability which helps the set last longer when the actors interact with it on a daily basis. As a scenic designer, working with a lower budgets can be extremely rewarding. It is a constant challenge to think of new creative ways to re-purpose scenery from previous productions and conceive simple yet effective ways to communicate location and environment to an audience.
Another advantage of working on lower budget projects is the necessity to build up the artistic creative community in the Twin Ports area. Many of our community theaters and university theater departments collaborate on projects all year around by sharing props, furniture, set pieces, designers and even theater space.
Two of my scenic designs are currently on stage at the Duluth Playhouse: Peter Pan Jr. opens this Friday, July 27, in the Family Theatre at the Depot Building, and Toxic Avenger opens next Thursday, Aug. 2 in the Underground Theatre. You may view my murals at The Judy Garland – Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids or at Central Assemblies of God Church in Superior. The best way to keep up with my current projects is to visit my Instagram page @ashleywereley_design.
I am currently designing the set for Wizard of Oz Jr. which will be on stage in September at SOAR Arts in the Cities. I am also partnering with Brown Knows Design to build, paint and install another exhibit for the Judy Garland – Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, which also opens this September.
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