SET DESIGNER: MISHA KACHMAN
Where are you from, originally, and when did you first develop an interest in theatre?
I was born and raised in what was technically Leningrad, USSR (it’s now St. Petersburg, Russia). I grew up as what one would describe as a classically-trained studio artist, and didn’t make a decision to go to a theatre school to study design (as opposed to going to the Fine Arts Academy to continue my training as a pure painter and graphic artist) until late in high school.
When and why did you decide to pursue theatre, professionally? How has your background shaped your career path?
I decided to be a designer while I was in high school, and I was deeply influenced by two close family friends who were my artistic mentors when I was a teenager. They both were career production designers for film and TV.
Define the Set Designer’s responsibilities, what is the scope of that work in relation to bringing a story to life on stage?
Set Designers’ responsibilities can be defined in two ways which are not mutually exclusive—1) very narrowly: to create a safe and convenient workplace for actors on which the play can be successfully executed; 2) quite broadly: to deliver an evocative visual response to the broad poetic and emotional themes of the story.
How do you find work as a Set Designer? What other work do you do outside of traditional theatre?
[I established my career] mostly through personal connections and thanks to the professional reputation that had been developed over the years… There is a number of directors for whom I am a go-to designer. I also work with an agent, but that’s not something that I would recommend to a young designer. I am also a tenured professor at University of Maryland.
What skills are necessary to being a Set Designer?
Painting, drawing, drafting (computer and hand-drafting), model-making, ability to deal with space and scale. You also have to be familiar with scenic technologies (production processes, rigging, state-of-the-art materials and techniques, automation, scenic painting, digital media etc.). Being a very organized individual is a must, otherwise you won’t work.
How do you connect to Aubergine?
I lost my mother last year under circumstances eerily reminiscent to what takes place in the play.
What challenges does this piece present for you? Any fun facts or insider tidbits you can share that you want to draw our patron’s attention to?
Scenic design is at its core alway site-specific—a site being a theatrical venue. Designing a set so that it works equally well in two different venues is always a huge challenge. (Editor’s Note: Being a co-production, Aubergine required a design that would function effectively at both Everyman Theatre and Olney Theatre Center.)
This production features interplay between the Set Designer and a Projection Designer? How did you work together to incorporate your two mediums for Aubergine?
Quite smoothly! My job was to design the set in such a way that allows for the digital media to live on it organically.
What is a play you would love to Set Design for?
Speaking of my most recent work, I am very proud of my work with director Yury Urnov on Kiss, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC, and at The Red Torch Theatre in Novosibirsk, Russia. I would love to design Richard Wagner’s opera, The Flying Dutchman.
What advice might you give someone interested in pursuing the profession of Set Design?
Become a real artist with your own vision and ideas, first, and learn the pertinent technical skills, second—otherwise you get overwhelmed by technical training and lose your voice. Also, try to shadow/attach yourself to a designer who you really admire. Ask that person to accept you as an apprentice.