Behind the Stages: Talking 'The Future is Here' with Scenic Designer, Mal Waggoner

Behind the Stages: Talking 'The Future is Here' with Scenic Designer, Mal Waggoner

It has been over a year since the Department of Theatre has been able to put on a show for an in-person audience, but the moment has finally arrived. The Future is Here: A Student One Act and Performance Festival will take place in-person, outside, masked, and socially distanced at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University. The festival features the work of talented student directors, designers, and technicians. One theatre major specifically, Mal Waggoner, was the scenic designer for all four student-directed pieces and got to spearhead the first live and last theatrical performance of the season.


Mal Waggoner is a junior majoring in Theatre Design and Technology, specializing in scenic design. Waggoner’s work as a scenic artist or painter has run the gambit for many shows at Auburn and The Theory of Relativity being Waggoner’s first look into being a charge artist.


In regard to the numerous productions worked on, Waggoner says, “a little community of painters, who all just help each other out regardless of who’s assigned to it.”


When finding out that the festival would be the first in-person show in the season, Waggoner was honored and excited to be tasked with the role. This is Waggoner’s first fully realized design for an Auburn stage.


Waggoner said, “I’ve done projects with all the paperwork and concept work before, but class projects have never been built out for a performance.” The festival provided a new experience for designers to finally see their piece in real life and used on a stage. Due to the nature of the festival, this process has been Waggoner’s “first show, but also second, third, etc., so I’ve gotten to learn four times as much making this come together than I normally would have.”


While online shows have still been happening, Waggoner found that the biggest problem was knowing that nobody would see it in person. Waggoner also commented on how the process of designing for an online production can be “a little bit heartbreaking” when spending so much time creating a design that may not be showcased on a stage. Waggoner discovered that the work is much more detail-oriented when working on an in-person show.  


For the festival, there will be two stages for four different one-acts, with both stages running shows simultaneously. The stages were built from scratch, which allowed Waggoner to design them. Unlike typical set design where you’re working within the architecture of a theatre and around what is already there, Waggoner had the freedom to adjust the shape of the stages to best suit each show.


This provided a lot of flexibility as well as the opportunity to “find interesting ways to play with that kind of space” as a designer. In working through the process, Waggoner says, “the biggest challenges were in the build, not the design.”


Since an outdoor stage must be ready to endure all sorts of weather, Waggoner was tasked with making everything resistant to the elements.  For example, the team has had to figure out how to get electricity to the stages, reinforce upper cabinets on sets so that they are wind resistant, and waterproof everything.


The design process itself, however, was no easy task. Waggoner had to design all four shows in a very short time frame. On top of that Waggoner worked with different directors for each production and “every director is different”. But within this, Waggoner got to learn “a lot of different styles I’d never encountered before.”


When reflecting on the work and the process of designing for the festival Waggoner says, “this has really brought back a lot of passion that I think had dwindled in the past year with no live theatre. Just seeing it happen, watching people you know in practicum work on it, this incredible team effort has been so amazing and inspiring.”


Waggoner encourages people to come to the festival stating, “the perfect show to see after a pandemic. We’ve got all sorts of different styles of theatre. All sorts of different types of performance. It’s going to be a really great way to see a lot of theatre in a short amount of time, and make up for the lost time.”

Last Updated: April 09, 2021