Professional designer returns for MU theatre

Ron Naversen applies thorough research into visuals

"To Kill a Mockingbird" debuts Nov. 12 and runs through the 22nd.

Paige Lloyd

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In order to bring the beloved Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama to life, Helfaer Theatre called upon professional guest designer Ron Naversen for their second show of the season, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” running Nov. 12-22.

This will be the second visit for Naversen at Marquette since 2011. As a professor of scenic design at Southern Illinois University, he looks forward to working with Marquette and helping to create this play from another state.

“It’s very different designing a show from somewhere else,” Naversen said. “I’m not there from day to day to answer questions so we do a lot of emails, texting and phone calls. Even so, the faculty and staff have been so helpful.”

Planning for the production began in early spring when Naversen began corresponding with Marquette professor and director of the show, Jamie Cheatham. Creating a set requires research about the subjects and the story portrayed. Naversen completed this in many different ways, from rereading the novel to researching the natural wildlife of the area. Naversen even traveled to Mayfield, Alabama, the town that inspired Maycomb. The city has changed, but that doesn’t change the vision that Naversen maintains.

“Its renovations took away some of the same atmosphere it used to have, but it still has the prominent trees and fields,” Naversen said. “I still want to create this feeling so people can remember from the movie and from what they know of traveling through the south and this city.”

To create the atmosphere that Maycomb presented throughout the story, Naversen will include specific elements.

“I have been researching rabbit grass because that was something that often grew in the poor areas and we have been trying to recreate Spanish moss,” Naversen said.

Naversen hopes to embody the significance of the courthouse visually given its important role in the novel.

“The courthouse in the movie has very distinctive moulding around the doors and windows, so I am trying to recreate that and incorporate it into the Finch house as well.”

With few visits to Marquette, Naversen takes full advantage of the times he can work with the students and staff on campus.
“I was up there [in Milwaukee] for about a week to jump-start some of the set,” Naversen said. “I will be back in two weeks, just before opening night so that we can do all the fine-tuning. That will include adding textures to the wood siding and flooring, which is a part of designing that I really enjoy and hope to teach to some of the students.”

All of these elements will take time to come together, but Naversen is optimistic about the show and the set.

“These students are so dedicated, so with their help I really hope we can bring everyone into this atmosphere,” Naversen said. This set may be somewhat simple due to everyone painting their houses white and having gardens, but I look forward to creating a feeling of looking back from this set.”

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