Highlights Student Set Designer Creates Magical Moments on Stage
By Courtney Perry
Plays like “The Lion King” and “Les Miserable” feature elaborate set designs that require hours of work, planning and building in order to bring to life. Countless hours are spent working with directors and actors in order to create a world unlike our own. The person who creates these visuals is the set designer.
Alexander “Lex” Gernon, a senior majoring in Theatre Arts at Marquette University is the brain behind some of Marquette Theatre’s set designs. Throughout his four years at Marquette, Gernon has worked on numerous sets including the university’s latest student play, “Urinetown.”
“I always liked acting but, all of a sudden at ‘Phantom of the Opera’ watching that chandelier go above my head I was like ‘Wow that is so cool. That’s what I want to do,’” Gernon said of what inspired his decision to go into set design.
Growing up in Tacoma Washington., Gernon always had an interest in theater and design. He was the Scarecrow for his schools rendition of “The Wizard of Oz,” he also created multiple sets for his school plays and during his senior year of high school he painted the set for play “The Crucible.”
Gernon chose to attend Marquette University after his mother found the university’s theatre program through an internet search.
“My mom was literally googling ‘Jesuit universities with theater programs.’ She happened to find these videos for Marquette,” said Gernon.
The videos were from a play production of “J.B.,” the story of Job. From that video, Gernon decided that he wanted to visit the school. After two visits and learning that he could act, direct and design within the program, he chose to attend.
Although Gernon’s main focus is set design, he is also interested in other things. Among them is Theology as he thinks it is something that “everyone should understand.” He also likes art and traveling.
“I’m (also) bilingual. I went to Spain for a semester, that was huge for me,” said Gernon
Spain and Madrid acted as the inspiration for the “Urinetown” production that he helped to create. For the set, Gernon wanted to create a sight that would look as though it could take place in the past or the future.
“Madrid is very much an old city that has evolved and is still one of today’s cities,” he said. Graffiti is used for the design of “Urinetown” because it “is one of the most powerful images of Madrid,” according to Gernon.
Before a set is put together, there is an entire process that a designer must go through in order to reach the final result. That includes reading the script, doing research and holding meetings with the play’s director. The work of creating a set takes place months before an audience gets the chance to see the play for the first time.
On the opening night of “Urinetown,” Gernon said that seeing his design come to life in front of an audience was “magical.”
“Magical is my only word for it because there has been no show that has affected the audience, affected the cast, affected (the) Milwaukee community like this show,” Gernon said. He also added that Marquette theatre is putting themselves on the map as “a really cool school to go see theater at.”
"He has a very unique vision," said Terrence Morris, a Theatre Arts major at Marquette University. "We all got to see that with 'Urinetown'. It was just a phenomenal thing to just see someone's mind displayed right there (at) the theater," he added.
Once Gernon graduates from Marquette University, he will be attending Carnegie Mellon University in the fall to continue his set design studies.
Carnegie Mellon was number one on the list of schools that Gernon wanted to attend after Marquette. After two interviews with the university, he was accepted. The reason why he chose to attend Carnegie Mellon is because it is a school “about conversation.”
Gernon said , “I don’t want to screw up once I get to Carnegie Mellon,” once he begins school in the fall but more importantly, he hopes to learn from his mistakes in order to become better at what he does.
Gernon has many professional goals but, once he is completed with school. He expressed interest in working for Disney or even for the next “The Phantom of the Opera.” Working in New York, Seattle and Chicago are all possibilities for the set designer but, there is one thing he truly hopes to accomplish.
“I want to be a designer,” he concluded.