Theatre set design gets a second act at ISU

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Twelve years ago the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, a non-profit organization, needed a set designer for their production of Marriage of Figaro. Enter Rob Sunderman, associate professor of theatre at Iowa State University. Sunderman designed the set in 2003, and for the last three years has been the set designer for the company’s annual opera production.

This Don Giovanni set design will be transformed for ISU Theatre’s production of Les Miserables. Photo courtesy of Rob Merritt.

The partnership has been a win-win for ISU’s Department of Theatre and the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, said Sunderman. For Cedar Rapids, the support from local professors and artists such as Sunderman keeps the opera theatre going. For Iowa State, the theatre department gets the option to buy the set design for an upcoming campus production, he said.

Most recently, the Don Giovanni set design, which Sunderman created for the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre production on January 16 and 18, 2015, will be transformed for ISU Theatre’s Les Misérables production in April.

“It hones my skills more when I can do ‘outside’ productions,” he said. It’s scholarly work for him, but he said it’s also good experience for the couple of students that assist him with set design, scenic painting and construction.

In May, he and his student help will start designing the set for the 2016 Cedar Rapids production of La Traviata, which will possibly be reused and transformed for a future ISU production. Purchasing these sets saves money and time needed for construction of new scenic elements, said Jane Cox, director of ISU Theatre.

“Also, since part of Iowa State’s land-grant mission is to share the talents and expertise of its faculty and staff with the state as a whole, Rob is contributing to an important goal of the university which has existed since its founding,” said Cox.

Sunderman has received a number of design awards, most recently a Merit Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for his set design for ISU Theatre’s fall 2014 production of Crimes of the Heart. He teaches courses on scenic design, production and stagecraft.

Visit ISU Theatre for the Les Misérables schedule and other upcoming productions. ISU Theatre is an academic department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Rob Sunderman, Theatre ( Laura Wille, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications (