Behind the scenes of theater: Set designing


Chloe Williams

Mina Perkins, senior theater design major, looks out from the top of the parking garage. Perkins designed the set for the mainstage production “Big Love” that took place in the parking garage.

This past fall semester, senior theater design major Mina Perkins took a memorable step in their theater journey when designing the set for Southeastern’s main-stage show “Big Love” as their first set design project. 

At first, the show was meant to premiere in the Vonnie Borden Theatre in D Vickers Hall. However, Hurricane Ida’s impact required aspects of the show to be altered, including the set. 

Perkins remembered the stresses that Ida added to this project when it came to creating the set and performing it in a completely different area than originally planned.  

“There were a lot of challenges to deal with after Ida, starting with being unsure how we could even keep the show going. Once we had the space, there were a lot of unique challenges to deal with like the low ceilings or the risk of weather damaging and knocking over the set. The parking garage in the end enhanced the experience of the show for sure, but there were a lot of elements that we had to consider in ways you wouldn’t for an indoor theater,” Perkins explained. 

They also mentioned that due to the loss of D Vickers, the production had also lost stocks of previous sets. This meant that every structure in “Big Love” was built specifically for the show. 

This was the first time Perkins had taken up the task of fully designing a set. While they have had experience in theater when working with Southeastern’s own costume shop and past experiences in acting, this was quite a change from what they have done previously. 

“This project was a huge shift from anything I’d previously worked on. No matter how much you prepare for work like this, there is no way to become used to such a collaborative project other than to be a part of it. The abstract nature of the show was a challenge for me, as I tend to create more naturalistic art so it was strange for me to find a way to create an environment that wasn’t someplace real, but also was,” they described.

They recalled that the inspiration for the set was found through a mixture of things but mainly elements of fauvism as well as the designer Adolphe Appia. Fauvism is a style of art that

emphasizes painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism.

Perkins also said that they were thankful for the help they found along the way from the faculty and crew who helped them throughout the design process. 

Watching their design slowly come to life over the months was exciting for them but was even more so when seeing their set premiere on opening night. 

Perkins said, “I had struggled with feeling like maybe what I’d imagined wouldn’t translate in reality, but seeing it all in context made me proud of it. Opening night was a huge success, and with the crowd and lights, it was a great experience. I also worried that the set would feel insignificant in the garage, but in the end that wasn’t the case.”

The two nights that “Big Love” played had an overall record-breaking turnout of over 700 audience members.

In regards to the aspect of set design, Perkins stated further that sometimes scenic design can be glossed over, especially when it resembles reality. 

They ask those who watch or work in theater to keep in mind that there is so much that goes into each element of a production and that it takes a team effort to bring a show to life.

In the immediate future, Perkins is interested in being involved in new productions on or around campus.

Later on in their life, they are considering a more technical career or a job touring with theater productions. 

“I’d like to pursue designing in the future because I’m passionate about visual elements of storytelling. I would like to get more experience in the field overall, so while I think design is fulfilling, I also enjoy working to bring someone else’s design to life and feel like doing the latter will really help improve my own design work in the long run,” Perkins concluded.

To see more of Perkins’s work, check out their Instagram @anti.mina to see their art and future projects.