Journal Title George Fox Journal Online

Bryan Boyd and the set for Macbeth
Theater professor Bryan Boyd says the process of creating art is like prayer. His peers say the results are inspired.
by Rob Felton |

Art & Soul

Four hours before opening night and Bryan Boyd presides over a stuffy auditorium vibrating with drama students — half-adult, half-children who preen, prance, shout, dance, hug, and mock fight. Boyd directs traffic, his voice ragged from a nagging cold. There is much to do. A light points the wrong direction, the stage dirt is polluted with white specks, the lights need to be programmed for each scene, extra props lay about, and photos of actors need to be framed and displayed in the entryway. In the middle of the stage, a backdrop is freshly painted. Two fans are flailing to speed the drying, but they puff at the ceiling. Boyd’s patience is strained. "Can someone point those at the screen?"

Trojan Woman
First performed 2,400 years ago, Trojan Women (2004) portrays the plight of women during the siege of Troy. Three centuries later, Boyd created a barren set that would reflect Euripides’s theme: the desolation of war. To encourage community reflection on the effects of war in Iraq, he reconfigured the actor-and-audience relationship in Wood-Mar Auditorium, sitting the audience on all four sides of the stage. "We wanted people to take the show in the context of our look across and see another audience member.”

Out of confusion will emerge art designed to touch the lives of an audience and, even more, the lives of these students now prancing about the auditorium. Boyd, the university’s scenic and lighting designer, has achieved remarkable art during his young career. The 33-year-old has won more than a dozen awards from the academic theater community. His peers at the Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland and at local universities seek him as a guest designer. This spring, the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., named him as one of its 35 Celebrated Teaching Artists.

At George Fox, Boyd teaches theater classes and is responsible for the scenery, lighting, and sound for three shows a year. He works with theater director Rhett Luedtke, one part-time costume designer, one part-time scene shop manager, 18 student employees, and a handful of volunteers. "It’s a community art-making experience," Boyd says. "We spend a lot of time in the design process. Rhett is great at pulling the best ideas from designers...letting it be a collaborative experience. The awards are also’s the whole program, not just my stuff."

While the last-minute preparations may be hectic, Boyd's work begins softly. A Quaker, he draws from the Quaker movement in his creative process. For more than three centuries, Quakers have emphasized the importance of community, waiting, and listening in their decision making. Long before any rehearsals begin, Boyd and the artistic team gather to begin the creative process.

Meritorious achievement awards

Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

Show University Award
Machinal (2005) George Fox University Scenic Design
Machinal (2005) George Fox University Lighting Design
Proof (2005) Western Washington University Scenic Design
Trojan Women (2004) George Fox University Scenic Design
A Piece of My Heart (2003) George Fox University Scenic Design
As You Like It (2003) George Fox University Scenic Design
Godspell (2002) George Fox University Scenic Design
The Marriage of Bette and Boo (2002) University of Portland Lighting Design
The Cherry Orchard (2001) University of Portland Scenic Design
Henry V (2000) University of Portland Scenic Design
Big River (1995) George Fox University Lighting Design
Fiddler on the Roof (1994) George Fox University Lighting Design
Macbeth (1994) George Fox University Lighting Design

In his words...

Engaging the story "Every member of the artistic team brings to the table a unique set of gifts and insights, as well as biases and blocks. Because Christ is present in our lives and desires to commune with us in our everyday activities, we can enter into a script mindful of what Christ might show us through it. Rather than relying on the director to create a vision for a show, each member of the artistic team carries the responsibility of bringing her whole self to the text in order to fully engage the story and listen for what lies at the core of the playwright’s message. Each individual must then be open to share those insights with the rest of the team."

The big idea "We start by distilling the script to its core dramatic question. The world of the show grows out of that concept. If we do that, the style of acting, lighting, and costumes will be unified."

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (2006) tells a supernatural 11th-century tale of prophecy, power, and murder. Boyd drew from the gloomy script to create a dark and earthy show. The set’s gentle curves reflected the script’s organic themes and the all-female cast.

Listening, waiting, wondering... "It is possible that there is some right way to present a show at a particular time and for a unique audience. Maybe there is some choice out there which would best communicate the show. And maybe, by listening closely for that way, we will find it together. This is what I do as a designer. It’s enormously intuitive and difficult to talk about. Maybe it’s just a style — a way of working. But for me it’s also a conviction.

"I always wondered as a student where you get ideas. I still don’t know. Most of the time, it’s like prayer...listening, waiting and wondering...rather than asserting ideas on something. I listen to the text. I listen to my collaborators. Out of that long process of listening, an idea may come in a dream, in the shower, or when I’m sitting and thinking. The idea happens to you rather than something you conjure up."

God’s role in the artistic process "As a Quaker artist, I believe that if I am mindful, God can dwell at the center of my artistic process — both in solitude and in community. The Creator of creators can be the source of inspiration and revelation to each person involved in an artistic team. Lives can be touched through story, no doubt, and it may be that God desires us to use our gifts well to tell a story in just the right way, so that God may collaborate with us to touch our audience.

"I believe that God, the Creator, is at work (and at play) with me in my art and in my vocation. Not that I’m always fulfilling God’s greatest desire and the world’s greatest need by designing the environment for a show, but I believe that God is the source of my inspiration, and that God is a collaborator with me in my artistic process."

Boyd created a box with four panels for the Broadway hit musical Godspell (2002). When Jesus arrives, all is black outside the box. The show builds to the crucifixion, when the background lights up and the box becomes black. Symbolically, the world is turned inside out and all can see beyond the box.

Research "Throughout the process I’m doing research. The big ideas come out of waiting, but the research informs that intuition. It creates an environment that the idea grows out of. I look for other works of art — other artists, architects, and photographers who have captured the qualities I’m looking for. I go and check out 50 books and look at the pictures. Is that a bad thing for a college professor to say?"

The value of theater "It is often said that fiction can carry the same weight as nonfiction and can communicate truths about the human condition with equal or better force. And if all truth is God’s truth, then it is not difficult to believe that God is interested in helping us tell the truth well through our stories."

Complete "The audience is our final collaborator. People come to the theater with their own experiences. I really like playwright Bertolt Brecht’s idea that a play isn’t over until the audience members go into their daily life and make different choices than they would have before. I hope that is what theater at George Fox is about."

Machinal Machinal

The tragedy Machinal (2005) is a 1920s expressionist play about a young woman crushed by the machinelike pressures of the industrialized world. To portray a world of machines, Boyd created a harsh, sterile, inhuman environment. Just as the machines of society threaten the protagonist, the huge ceiling — representing the machine — threatens to collapse on the woman at any moment.

Lighting allows a designer to create many different environments out of a neutral setting. It can communicate mood, time of day, season of year, and passage of time. For most shows, Boyd will program between 80 and 120 different lighting cues.

Boyd's "Quaker Corporate Discernment as a Model for Collaboration in Theatre" paper has been published by Northwest Theatre Review and Christianity and Theatre magazines.


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