A well-constructed set can be one of the leading characters in a play or musical. In August: Osage County, a three-story house tells as much about its inhabitants, the characters, as the characters say about each other. Katy Fetrow’s work on The Footlight Club’s production of August: Osage County earned her a 2013 Boston My Theatre Award Nomination for Best Set Design. Katy tells us that this was her first set design (!!), her emerging love for theatre as an adolescent and growing focus as a young adult, and some of her guilty pleasures.
Katy, it’s very nice to meet you. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself? Who are you? What do you do? Where do you live? What’s your favourite kind of ice cream?
Pleasure to meet you too Brian! I escaped from small town Ohio to Boston two years ago with some pretty exotic dreams. Boston – not so exotic, but an adventure nonetheless. Kent State University is my alma mater where I received a Bachelor of Arts, lost countless hours of sleep, and gained many battle wounds from encounters with Exact-o blades and table saws. I also blossomed into a pretty decent artist, humble musician (Is there such a thing?), and shoe-string traveler. Since then, interior design has paid my rent for my shoe-box apartment in Cambridge where Ben & Jerry are frequent visitors. I like shoes. ;)
Now that we have the hard stuff out of the way. Talk to us about your design for August: Osage County. How did you become involved in this production? How did you begin developing your design?
The first thing you need to know is that I love Google. I am one of those people that must shout to the world when Google posts a new Doodle. Can you say “Dream Job”? That being said, I naturally Googled community theatres around Boston with the hopes of ceasing my 5-year hiatus. A week after I was put on their volunteer list, I got the gig for August: Osage County and there was no sleep after that.
This is probably the time to say that this was my first set design job ever. Continuing, Google was my friend again in researching a play that I’d never seen before. The first and biggest challenge I quickly realized was how the hell was I going to fit a 3-story house into a 13’ proscenium? This question really drove my design as I modeled the stage and set in Google Sketch-up until the director, Frank Moffett, and I were both excited to start building.
How was your final design (and even the final product) different, if at all, from your original design? How much does the finished product look like your beginning drafts?
So, I had never been to The Footlight Club prior to my initial design. I came to my first production meeting WAY over-prepared. There was a model, renderings from like 4 different angles, samples of what I wanted the wallpaper to look like, etc. etc. They all appreciated my professionalism and enthusiasm, but there were some changes once I got to see my restrictions in person. The design that you saw on opening night was fairly close to my second effort.
What did you do to prepare to design such an involved set? What was the biggest challenge?
With a background in interior design, space planning is no stranger. I actually started placing furniture into my Sketch-up model to help visualize scale and the house grew up around it. Besides the height of the house , the quick learning curve was my biggest challenge.
Talk to us about your background in theatre. Do you typically work on production teams? Do you act? Direct? Produce? What is your role with The Footlight Club?
I used to really underappreciate the long line of musicians and performers I stem from. I was a brat. At 8 years old, it’s wasn’t “cool” to sit through your oldest sister’s operas and recitals. Most of my peers couldn’t even tell you what opera was!
This is when my mom took me to a set build for our local high school’s production of Anything Goes. I fell in love. I remember sitting Indian-style in the middle of a drop, while painting a large life boat light grey. This show and many others is where I learned a lot about painting, scale and human interaction with space. After all this time, it was still most rewarding to sit in that audience and watch Reno Sweeney, played by my other older sister, sing her heart out in front of that silly boat.
My sisters have always been my biggest supporters and my biggest inspiration. I followed in their footsteps acting and singing for fun through college. It wasn’t until The Footlight Club that I had my first opportunity to actually design a set, and I hope I can continue working with the company and their other volunteers.
What do you think makes The Footlight Club unique in the Boston community?
The pride they take in their history and their willingness to share theatre arts with anyone with a curiosity. Their veterans and volunteers were nurturing and patient. The cast were hard workers and they were always excited to see what was new in their “home.” Their sense of community is what has made and will continue producing wonderful theatre in the Boston area.
Are there any plays or musicals on which you would want to work? In what capacity?
All of them? Is that a good answer? I can’t pick just one! Throw anything at me and I’ll design it. I think it would be an amazing opportunity to design for an original production. The idea of starting from scratch is both terrifying and thrilling!
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
Prisma Color Markers. I buy one every time I visit an art store. They are not cheap, and I usually only use the marker once.
Tacky souvenirs – I just bought this awesome flamingo and palm tree ‘snow’ globe from my last trip to Miami. Yes!
Any bad movies or TV. Keeping up With the Kardashians carries the most shame.
If someone offered to videotape a day in your life, what would you want to show them?
There is no-such thing as ‘a day in the life of Katy.’ I wouldn’t take you to my favorite restaurant or around my tiny apartment. Every day is a new day, and I am always a different person. So I would want to explore somewhere unknown. I am my most curious and creative self when I am in a new place. My favorite self, and that’s all I’d need to show.
What is the most rewarding part about being a theatre designer? What is the most challenging or frustrating part?
I remember the feeling of performing on a well-designed set. It made the story feel more real. I enjoyed how the cast of August: Osage County interacted and really lived in this house. Near the end of our run, one of the cast members told me that I had created a new character for the show. It changed how I thought about set design, so I think that in itself is the most rewarding part.
I always like a good challenge! My inexperience was a little annoying, but I loved learning and got better at thinking on my feet when something went wrong! Creativity and an open mind are key !
If you could change anything about the Boston theatre scene, what would you do, and why?
I haven’t been a part of it long enough. Ask me in next year’s interview!
If you could turn back time (hope you get the reference), where would you go? What would you do?
Cher? Did I get it?! [Yes, she got it].
Although I’ve always enjoyed history, I don’t have a Doc Brown to come save me if I screw something up. I’ll leave history in the past and live in the present!
Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?
Sadly, no. Someone hire me!
Do you have anything else that you wish to share with our readers?
If you take care of your art, your art will take care of you.