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Professor Todd Rosenthal Discusses Theatrical Design Process with PhD Students

Rosenthal shared examples of his set designs and discussed his conceptual process during the May 22 talk

School of Communication Professor Todd Rosenthal shared examples of his set designs and discussed his conceptual process during the May 22 talk.

Todd Rosenthal, professor of theatre in Northwestern University School of Communication, discussed the conceptual process set designers use to facilitate effective design collaboration as part of the Whole-Brain Leadership for PhD Students Seminar Series at Northwestern Engineering on May 22.

During his lunchtime talk, “The Spark of Inspiration: Jumpstarting the Theatrical Design Process,” held in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, Rosenthal presented examples of his own work in the theater, emphasizing the importance of maintaining an open mind throughout the design process.

“As a theater designer the ultimate result is the opening night performance, and until that point, you really don’t exactly know the result,” Rosenthal said. “It’s very important that you be comfortable being ignorant about what the final design is going to be.”

Rosenthal shared aspects of his design process which include research with photographers, painters, performers, and artists before creating detailed models for the shop teams which build the sets. Rosenthal utilizes both hand-drawn and computer-aided designs.

“Having a process in flux is really important,” he said. “It engages other people in your process, and it allows you not to be married to an idea.”

A recipient of the 2008 Tony Award for “August: Osage County,” Rosenthal’s designs have been seen on Broadway and in theaters around the world, including London’s National Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Guthrie, and many more.

Rosenthal’s talk is the final part of the PhD Seminar Series which invites scholars from outside the McCormick School of Engineering to introduce students to various disciplines, including history, philosophy, art, theater, economics, and law.

“If your thinking space is all in one domain, you will have some ideas, but if you expand it, you will have more ideas. So, that’s the whole point of this,” Dean Julio M. Ottino said. “Being in a place like Northwestern that has such richness of intellectual value, we wanted to expose you to the best components of different domains from philosophy to art to history to economic history, psychology, and law, and in this case, set design.”