For most seniors, a thesis requires hours of sitting in the library, researching and writing up their findings. But for senior Lauren Coghlan, it meant constructing a cave inside the Ring Theater for the production of “Floyd Collins.”
Based on the true story of a man trapped in a Kentucky cave which led to extensive media attention, “Floyd Collins” captures the irony and truth of the American dreamer. Coghlan expertly concretized these broad textual themes, shaping them out of clay and Styrofoam. Emptying soda bottles and relabeling them, sewing a tent together and carving foam are all part of her daily duties.
The scenic design student has had a role in every single production for the last four years, but “Floyd Collins” is the first time she has designed a set for a main stage show at the University of Miami.
“The show that we gave her is not an easy show to do as a thesis project,” explained her professor April Soroko. “It’s one thing to do something in the round, than to tell somebody ‘Oh by the way, we have to make a cave.’ How do you deal with the configurations of the space?”
Coghlan started the project months ago with sketches and elevation models. Planning began in July, and discussions with the creative team started in November. With these painstaking projects, Coghlan says the most important quality, more than drawing skills, is a good attitude.
“You need to be positive. This is a hard process,” said Coghlan. “It can be really stressful, and you need to stay calm. And the second most important thing is being able to communicate with people.”
Coghlan, who discovered her artistic penchant in high school, knew this was her vocation.
“I wanted to be an artist, but I also wanted to be employed,” she said. “I felt like theater was a good opportunity for me to do that. You can make a good living out of doing this.”
Though her bachelor in fine arts focuses in scenic design, she also explores other mediums. She collaborates as an art director with graduate film students, completing the art direction for two short films, one of which won the UM Canes festival and will show at the Miami International Film Festival in March.
Compared to film, Coghlan says theater is harder because of the restrictions of space and the variations in visibility due to each seat’s unique line of sight.
A theater audience “can look anywhere on stage at any point. In film, you can create a very beautiful individual picture in just one space and that’s all you have to worry about,” she said.
What she loves from both is the collaborative aspect.
Though her degree in scenic design affords her extensive in-class learning, she says some things must be learned by doing.
“One of the things I’m learning most by doing this show, is that we work with so many different people that I have to maintain my artistic integrity, but at the same time be able to compromise with the lighting designer and the director and the choreographer. That’s a learned skill.”
Her dream job is to be a concept artist in the art department of a film, in what she calls “designing smaller parts of a bigger film.”
She also continually returns to the base, which is painting and graphic design work outside of theater.
She is thankful that UM’s theater program is small, allowing for a tight-knit group.
“I get to understand the actors difficulty. They are running the same scene for two hours now. It’s really difficult, but you don’t understand that until you’re part of the process.”
Soroko boasts Coghlan as a triple threat.
“She drafts beautifully, draws beautifully and can do all the hands-on stuff to realize those designs.”
But what separates her, Soroko says, is her desire to learn and her initiative to acquire new skills, such as face casting for statues.
“She has no fear,” Soroko said.