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Setting the Stage

Innovative scenic designs are earning global recognition for a UT alumnus.

February 20, 2018 | Updated: April 24, 2019

Josafath Reynoso (‘15) wasn’t planning a career in theater when he started college in his native Mexico. He was going to be an engineer.

But he admits, “I spent every moment I had making, reading, discussing, and designing theater. Although I had no design or artistic education, I was really passionate about it.”

As he reached his last semester in engineering, Reynoso decided he had to pursue his love of scenography instead.

After he earned a bachelor’s degree from the National School of Theatrical Arts in Mexico City, a former professor steered him toward UT’s MFA program in scenic design.

UT is one of only 13 universities nationwide with its own professional theater in the League of Resident Theatres. The Clarence Brown Theatre Company is fully integrated into the Department of Theatre’s curriculum.

Scenographers in UT’s highly competitive MFA program learn to create unique interpretations for professional and non-professional shows. They also work with renowned faculty and freelance designers at the Clarence Brown Theatre and abroad.

“The professional level of the theater productions at UT was a huge advantage for me,” Reynoso explains. “I had the opportunity to start designing with a professional-level staff and crew from the beginning.”

Reynoso’s scenic design credits at UT include The Threepenny Opera, 4,000 Miles, Wrens, and Our Country’s Good.

“The set for The Threepenny Opera was a beautiful piece of work, certainly as good as any professional designer we could hire at Clarence Brown Theatre,” says Marianne Custer, professor emerita of costume design.

In his final year of graduate school, Reynoso won design awards at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) conference and the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC).

As a result of the SETC award, Triad Stage company, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, hired Reynoso to design its production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Since the play takes place in a house where the characters’ secrets are exposed, Reynoso designed a set that both enclosed and exposed the actors in an open framework.

“I think this idea of hiding was with me from the very first reading,” Reynoso explains. “The characters are in this house where they’re trying to hide their secrets, and they are unable to and they’re never alone.”

Two years later, the design earned him the top prize for emerging set designer at World Stage Design, the most prestigious theater design competition on the planet.

“I wouldn’t have had access to Triad Stage if UT didn’t have such high standards for its students competing at SETC,” Reynoso says.

Now an assistant professor of scenic design at the University of Richmond, Reynoso has also worked as a designer in Israel, the Czech Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, and Mexico.

“Josafath Reynoso is exactly the type of next generation designer this field needs,” says Kenton Yeager, head of UT’s graduate lighting design program. “He is open minded, collaborative, creative, educated, tireless, and absolutely on fire with the passion to create transformative theater.”

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

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Photos by Josafath Reynoso

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