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Scott Penner: Set and Costume Designer for The Last Resort

September 12, 2013

As a high school student in Toronto, Scott Penner had a passion for drama. In fact, he would dearly have loved to make a career of it. But there was a hitch.

 “I wasn’t a very good actor,” he says with a smile. “I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it tremendously, but I wouldn’t want to subject other people to my acting. So I thought, what other kind of stuff can you do in theatre if you’re not a good actor?”

Penner adjusted his aspirations accordingly. He devoted himself to designing sets and costumes for stage productions, and he gladly leaves the performance aspect to the men and women who act and sing and dance in the environments he creates for them.

Scott Penner

Set and Costume Designer Scott Penner

“It’s an adventure,” he says.

Penner has been a professional designer for some 10 years now, and his work has taken him as far west as Alberta and as far east as Prince Edward Island. It allows him to see the country, meet new people, collaborate with other theatre artists, and best of all, he says, “it’s a new project every few months.”

This season at the Globe, Penner is designing the set and costumes for The Last Resort, and also the set for Sleeping Beauty.

On projects where he’s designing both, the set comes first, the costumes afterwards. “Creating the environment helps me to decide what the people in that environment should be wearing,” he says. In either case, it invariably comes down to “problem solving.”

Needless to say, the problems change from show to show. Last season on Billy Bishop, Penner took the minimalist approach, creating a set which suggested an airplane hangar and leaving the rest to the audience’s imagination. The set for The Last Resort, on the other hand, is far more detailed, to the point where “we’re trying to integrate as much of the (theatre) space as we can.”

The play is set in the lobby of a hotel. Well, perhaps not as much a hotel as a rural lodge, and one that just happens to be, as Penner points out, “a bit tacky, a bit dated.”

The lobby is “decorated” with the likenesses of dead, stuffed animals, in Penner’s words “a very interesting taxidermy,” and filled out with rustic furniture that is rendered in a prairie aesthetic of colours and fabric. Think “Navajo, southwestern,” and you’ll get the idea. “A mish mash of images” is the way Penner describes it.

The costumes are modern-day and “pretty straightforward.” The challenge here was to design them in a manner that reflects the wide range of personalities of the characters, and believe you me, they are truly diverse in this play.

“It’s all over the place,” Penner says. “These are people who shouldn’t be hanging out together, but they are, because they’re stuck in this hotel. That’s where much of the humour comes from.”

And, because The Last Resort is a musical, there can’t be anything in the costumes that might get in the way of the singing and dancing. Penner comes prepared, mostly by keeping an open mind. “There is always the expectation when you’re doing a musical that someone will be asked to dance on a table or jump off a counter.”

The Last Resort runs from September 18 – October 6, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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