HOUSTON -- Scenic design has become academic for Kevin Rigdon. Literally. He's currently creating the environs for Romeo and Juliet at the University of Houston School of Theatre, at which he began teaching this past fall semester. Shakespeare's love story runs Feb. 20 - March 1.
To Rigdon's credit are sets for some 100 Steppenwolf Theatre productions since he and high school classmates Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry helped found the famed Chicago troupe in 1976. He's designed sets for nearly two dozen Off-Broadway shows, and for 10 Broadway offerings. Among other New York highlights are many David Mamet plays, the 1996 revival of Sam Shepard's The Buried Child and the 1993 premiere of The Song of Jacob Zulu. Rigdon is also associate director of theatre at the Alley Theatre in Houston; his designs are in the double digits here too.
Rigdon's most recent New York work are sets for two of this season's smashes, The Old Neighborhood, by Mamet, and Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, a "magical" evening by the eponymous trickster.
Rigdon designed the lighting for the current national tour of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
And Ridgon conceived both sets and lighting for David Hare's latest, A Question of Mercy, which begins previews in late February at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Much honored, Rigdon has won everything but a Tony, having been nominated once, in 1990, for sets and lighting for The Grapes of Wrath.
"You always have the same goal, whether you're designing for commercial, regional, or university level: to best serve the playwright," Rigdon observed. "Absolutely in no way is the process different. The economics vary, but not the craft."
For a Broadway show, Rigdon estimated, a typical budget he's provided with is $100,000 plus. For regional theater, $25,000. For Off-Broadway, $10,000 - $15,000. For universities, $2,500.
"The results should be the same. But it's a question of degrees. At the university level, say, the scenery only has to hold up for a week."
What does Rigdon teach his students? "I can't teach someone to be a designer. You can design or you can't. I can teach people how to open up their eyes. To be aware that every decision they make has consequences. To take chances by recognizing that designing is creating problems and solving them."
Romeo and Juliet runs Feb. 20 - March 1 at the University of Houston. For tickets, $7 - $9, call (713) 743-2929.
-- By Peter Szatmary