Architecture Students Behind the Scenes with the Lied Performing Arts Center

Architecture Students Behind the Scenes with the Lied Performing Arts Center

By Kerry McCulloug...

December 14, 2015


The backbone of the College of Architecture’s curriculum revolves around service learning opportunities. Assistant Professor Peter Olshavsky’s architecture students are experiencing this first hand.

His Spring Arch 211 and Fall Arch 210 design studios worked with the Lied Center for Performing Arts to design architectural elements that will be used in three or more scenes for the new musical Puddin’ and the Grumble by Becky Boesen and David von Kampen scheduled for March 10-20th at the Lied's newly renovated Johnny Carson Theater.

Puddin’ and the Grumble is an uplifting new family musical that explores overcoming the challenge of childhood hunger in our community.

Olshavsky was approached to collaborate by the Lied Center. This is not their first time working together. Last year Olshavsky’s architecture studio worked collaboratively on a project involving the Brooklyn-based dance company STREB that resulted in an exhibition and dance performance.

For Puddin' and the Grumble, the College of Architecture joined a growing list of project collaborators including the Lincoln Community Foundation (LCF), the Food Bank of Lincoln, the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

The project began when Lied Center Executive Director Bill Stephan attended a Lincoln “Vital Signs” meeting that addressed the socio-economic condition of the community. "Vital Signs" revealed that an average, 41 percent of students in Nebraska are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, whereas 92 percent of Lincoln’s Clinton Elementary School students are eligible.

“The story concept originated with Petra Wahlqvist and me, and was written by me and my creative partner, the composer David von Kampen. The Lied Center commissioned the work as a contribution to addressing hunger in Lincoln,” playwright Becky Boesen explained. She continued: “After we knew more about the shape of the projected, we contacted the kids at Clinton Elementary and spent a year teaching an after school club there so we could learn more about what it's like to be a 5th grader. The LCF quickly got behind the production with generous support.”

Since one of the objectives of the musical was to bring awareness to the problem of childhood hunger in Lincoln, the architecture students were asked to consider what their discipline could contribute.

The second-year architecture students spent portion of the 2015 spring semester conducting research and building prototypes. Since the project’s duration was longer than one semester, a new set of second-year students in the fall used the previous group’s research and prototypes as a foundation for their design work.

Their tasks also included a number of meetings with Boesen, Wahlqvist and actors about the nature of the story and ways to develop the stage props in collaboration with the entire creative team.

The students were open to ideas and suggestions, Boesen explained.  She was impressed with their professionalism and how they handled the project. “I think the students engaged in this project could work successfully for any client.”

The architectural elements most musical goers will see is a culmination of hours of design work, material testing, prototyping, and thoughtful construction.

“We jumped on it and pulled at it. We wanted to make sure it was durable and that it would last for all their shows,” commented student Craig Findlay.

As part of their efforts, the students designed an obtrusive, inflatable structure that billows out of Puddin’s backpack, evoking her uncontrollable and growing hunger. There is a second architectural, inflatable design which also creeps out of Puddin’s backpack that takes on a much more aggressive and imposing stance.

“They did a great job of taking the very abstract idea of hunger and gave it a physical form,” commented Brian Kelly, architectural critic and instructor. 

The playwright is equally pleased with their designs. “They're thoughtful, innovative and thorough,” commented Boesen. “The students are brilliant, unique and fearless.”

Students also created inflatable, transparent blocks with suspended, 3-D illustrations for a scene later in the musical. They used a modular design for maximum flexibility for the actors that also lends itself well to creating spatial configurations and qualities. Their use of light, shadows and scattered geometric forms creates an ominous and surreal tone for the stage, attempting to foster an appropriate atmosphere for the audience.

Apparent by the designs, the students spent plenty of late nights in the design studios.

“The play has such a strong message that we really wanted to pull through for them,” noted student Landon Beard. “It’s exciting to see our student work being used for a good cause,” commented Peter Olshavsky. “We’re all looking forward to seeing the final production.”

Architecture and musical enthusiasts can see the designs in action at the Lied Center for Performing Arts this March.