Steampunk visions, setting the scene for ‘Sweeney Todd’

Susan D. Holgersson is not new to the Augustana theatre department, but this is her first time diving into the blood and gore of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Holgersson is a scenic design artist who has worked with Augustana in the past, designing “Aesop’s (Oh So Slightly) Updated Fables” and “As You Like It” during the 2014-15 school year. She was asked back this year to design the set for the spring musical: “Sweeney Todd.”
The concept behind the set is, in Holgersson’s words, “steampunk, conceptual… blood.” For those who may not know, steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy in which 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery inspires the design. Think “what the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.”
Steampunk is something Jennifer Popple knows quite a bit about after using its influences when directing the highly-praised expressionist play, “Machinal.” Holgersson refers to Popple as an “inspirational director” and sites her as a large influence for the set design.
Holgersson states that she was also influenced by her interpretation of the script, the film Tim Burton directed based off the musical and even images from the internet. But Holgersson isn’t the sole designer of the set; she refers to it as a “collaborative effort” with Professor Jay Cranford.
Holgersson calls working with Cranford a “dynamic experience,” adding that he is a “very creative director that has images pouring out of his brain.” It’s Holgersson’s job to take Cranford’s visionary thoughts and create sets that work with the stage and budget available.
However this will be the last time any set designer needs to consider Potter Theatre as the theatre department will be acquiring a new space for the 2016-17 school year.
When Holgersson originally learned her craft, it was with a drafting board and pencils. She now translates a director’s needs into a set via a CAD program.
For the tech un-savvy, CAD or “computer-aided design” is the use of the computer for design and design documentation, effectively replacing the manual drafting process with something manual.
Holgersson cites CAD as an often frustrating and time consuming process but calls it a life saver when changes and mistakes occur, which she jokes “always do.”
Despite the many changes and mistakes that pop up over the course of a production, Holgersson is excited. Although she relayed to me that death and gore is “not [her] thing,” she declares Augustana’s creative team a system that “keeps [her] brain cranking.”
Holgersson states her favorite part of working on “Sweeney Todd” is the way it forces her to grow and become more innovative. “It stretches me,” she says of the challenge. Come April, Holgersson says that the Augustana community should prepared to view something “artistic, representational and twisted.”
Holgersson left me with this: expect “Sweeney Todd” to be full of “death, darkness and tragedy in a representational, not realistic, way.”