Although “behind the scenes” has become a cliché for many professions in the production realm, UCSB’s Theater & Dance Dept. offers students a hands-on opportunity to participate in the design aspects of theater.

UCSB’s theatrical design students undertake the task of creating the atmosphere of the student productions, including lights, costumes and sets. With a class of only 35 students, the theatrical design emphasis in UCSB’s theater major is a select program for those interested in an intensive and practical education in theatrical design and production. Students in the emphasis focus on one of the three elements – scenic design, lighting design or costume design.

Fourth-year design student Sarah Cogan said design, if done right, should go relatively unnoticed.

“Design is a silent art – you do not want people to be buzzing about the lights,” Cogan said.

For Cogan, the light board serves as her connection to the entire production, commanding the lighting network of nearly 200 different lights inside the Performing Arts Theater.

“The process [of design] itself is a collaboration [between] sound, scenic, costume and lighting and the basic idea is that all are moving together to create the same work,” Cogan said.

Faculty Costume Designer and Lecturer Ann Bruice said due to the program’s small size students can take advantage of smaller class sizes to fine-tune skills first-hand.

“Although [UCSB] has a big acting program, the design emphasis is fairly small and intimate,” Bruice said.

Bruice and many other others on the design faculty come from professional backgrounds in theater and television production, utilizing real-life experience to better equip students with the necessary skills to pursue careers in theatrical design. Bruice also said that students within the program often progress quickly.

“Because the program is largely undergraduate-based, we have the opportunity of seeing a lot of growth with our students in a short period of time,” she said.

The design emphasis is one of several paths in the theater major to prepare students professionally for a career both on and off the stage, with other emphases available in acting, directing, theater studies or playwriting. However, Cogan said what distinguishes this program from others on campus is its focus on hands-on instruction and practical application.

“I can walk away from this and virtually show people what I’ve learned to do,” Cogan said. “I even built my bed this year, and I know it’s because of this program.”

Overseeing the design of a play is the stage manager. Third-year theater design student Lauren Woods said the student stage manager attends all meetings between actors, designers and directors and coordinates between them to ensure the success of a play.

“Being a stage manager I get to watch the creative process from the very beginning,” Woods said. “I get to sit in the booth and get to see the audience’s reaction after it’s done, and that’s totally worth it in the end.”

Jumpstarting the 2007-08 season of drama and dance at UCSB is the production “Woyzeck.” Written by German doctor, political activist and playwright Georg Büchner, “Woyzeck” is a work that was never completed – the author died before he could finish it. “Woyzeck” premiered at UCSB last Friday and plays until Nov. 17 in the Performing Arts Theater. Tickets are $17 for general admission and $13 for students and seniors.

The upcoming student performance serves not only as practice for aspiring actors and actresses, but for the design students as well. Faculty member and scenic design lecturer Tal Sanders said students gain essential experience through class instruction as well as putting on productions.

“I think that the biggest issue for every designer is making choices that help translate the story we are presented and not presenting personal taste,” Sanders said. “It’s not about making it pretty, it’s about translating the texts historically.”

Faculty lighting designer Vickie Scott said she not only manages the lighting plots for the upcoming production, but also mentors and trains lighting students along the way.

“A light designer basically paints with lights,” Scott said. “There are 147 lights in the plot [for “Woyzeck”] and we’re not even using all of [the available] lights.”

Although the design program centers on theater production, some students have other aspirations. Fourth-year design student Rochelle Chavez said she wants to move from the stage to the screen, and that her experiences in the program will assist her in her future career.

“Actually, I’d like to go into film and television after I graduate for production design,” Chavez said. “The design program here at our school is hands-on, so it’s all practical for pursuing many different professions.”