For every play, opera or dance production that graces a stage at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, behind the curtains are students and faculty members whose wizardry with sound, lighting, hydraulic technology and even hammers and nails creates the scenery and invokes the ambiance for each production. Thomas Korder, Krannert’s technical director and a professor in the department of theater since 1989, is in charge of the scenery for shows produced by UI units. Korder, who earned degrees in theater design technology from Southern Methodist University and the University of Minnesota, worked for the Fort Worth Ballet and the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas. Currently, he is serving as the technical director for the United States’ entry for the 2007 Prague Quadrennial, an international showcase of scenography and theater architecture that will be at the Industrial Palace in Prague, in 2007. He also serves on Krannert’s Director’s Council, the Council of Academic Professionals and chairs the Chancellor’s Academic Professional Excellence Award Committee.
Tell me about your job.
There are two sides to KCPA, the presented events – typically professional artists and touring companies – and the produced events, which are produced in-house by UI units, such as the theater and dance departments and the School of Music. I work on the produced side. I’m in charge of the scenery and the students and staff (members) that are involved with it. The shows are really our labs; it’s where the students are doing the hands-on work. Several classes may be working on one production, as actors, designers and technicians.
I teach graduate courses in theater technology and a freshman Discovery class during spring semester. I try to get the freshmen to touch things, like focus a light, build the flats and experience the technology. These students are all non-theater majors, and it’s neat because they’re just wowed by everything. They tend to have a great amount of motivation, so you don’t have to push them to get them excited about it.
Were you the technical director for ‘The End of Cinematics’?
I was. It was kind of neat because it was very unique, and it had some special requirements because the production was going on the road. I went to the Mondavi Center at Davis, Calif., for a week, which was their first tour stop. I also went to Liverpool for a day to look at a theater and make sure the show could fit into it when it gets there in November.
What’s been the biggest challenge of the shows you’ve done?
Trying to keep up with technology and incorporate it into productions so that it doesn’t get in the way. We want to do some fun and interesting things and get students to see and experience it without it being gimmicky.
‘The End of Cinematics’ was a pretty good challenge because it had this bridge that went all the way across the stage and was supposed to have very little support underneath it. It all had to fit into a 53-foot semi trailer and get set up in a relatively short time.
James Zager, another UI faculty member in theater, wrote this adaptation that’s meant to be an introduction to Shakespeare for young actors. I did the lights for the production, which was co-produced by Parkland College and UI. It had only five scenes and a small budget, and I had to figure out things such as how to make the witches in Macbeth work with simple lighting. That was the technical opposite of ‘The End of Cinematics.’
What is the Prague Quadrennial?
Every four years, the Czech government puts on this international design exhibition. We’re going to build the United States’ exhibit, and eight students and a couple of faculty (members) will go to Prague and participate. We’ve just started some preliminary design work and will start building it in the fall. For the professional competition, designers from across the U.S. will submit work and it will be peer-rated and perhaps chosen for the exhibit. That work will all be collected here and we will build the thing that it goes into, although we don’t know at this time what that will be or how big it will be.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Home remodeling. Eleven years ago, my father and I designed and built my house in southeast Urbana with some help from subcontractors. We roughed it in, and I did all the electrical work, and we did all the trim work and painting inside. It seems like I’ve never stopped building it; I just keep doing different things to it. Right now, I’m finishing up new ceramic tile in the kitchen. Last summer, I made a patio with a fire pit out back.
My wife, Jean, and I are also part of a group of 10 people who enjoy traveling together. We went to Ireland. Last summer, we went to Italy. We’ll probably turn the Prague event into a group trip, too.