contributing editors

Kevin Morrissey
Los Angeles City College

leeKevin L Morrissey - (Department Chair, Scenic Designer) - recently joined the faculty of Los Angeles City College after teaching and designing for 10 years at University of California Riverside where he designed scenery, costumes, lighting and/or sound for over fifty productions including; Mother Courage, The Maids The Little Prince, Angels in America, The Visit, The Laramie Project, Into the Woods, Proof, Rocky Horror, Hamlet and Fool for Love. While at UCR Kevin taught hundreds of students over his ten years in classes like, Introduction to Design for Theatre, Film, and Television, Lighting Design, Scenic Design, Scene Painting, Drafting for Theatre, Film and Television, Scene Painting and Production Techniques for Theatre, Film and Television.

He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from De Paul University, where he designed scenery for both the main stage and the prestigious Children’s Theatre with the world premiere of The Dragon Who Lived Downstairs. While studying at DePaul, Kevin was an intern at the internationally renowned Metropolitan Opera in New York, working with noted designers Franco Zeffirelli, David Reppa, Zack Brown, and Ralf Langenfas.

After undergraduate school Kevin went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from New York University, studying with internationally recognized designers Oliver Smith, John Conklin, and Steven Hendrickson. While at NYU Kevin designed scenery for the graduate acting company twice for director Ron VanLieu: All My Sons and The Seagull, as well as production designing and costume designing several graduate thesis films, including the award winning short film Dinner with Malibu directed by Jon Carnoy.

Since graduating from NYU and relocating to the west coast, Kevin has worked extensively in educational theatre and in the entertainment industry as a designer for theatre, film, television, and industrial production. Kevin’s first film credit is as Assistant Art Director for the quirky film Ed and His Dead Mother, working for Production designer Eve Cauley and Art Director Philip Messina. The pilot for Babylon 5 was Kevin’s next position as assistant art director for production designer John Iacovelli. Kevin continued his connection to B5 over its five year run as both an assistant art director and also as a set designer.  Other television set designer credits include: Resurrection Blvd. and Crusade, as well as Frasier, Becker, Bram and Alice, and In-Laws working for production designer Roy Christopher.

Some of Kevin’s industrial design credits include: Big Red Honda Motorcycles 1995, MGM Grand Las Vegas, Frankie Avalon in Concert and Crystal Gale in concert for St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, Victorville, CA, as well as numerous shows for Microsoft and Apple Computers.

Kevin’s most recent feature film credits include: Set Designer for Elizabethtown directed by Cameron Crow, production Clay Griffith (release Fall 2005), Set Designer for Flight of the Phoenix, a remake of the 1965 classic starring Dennis Quaid. Other credits include Assistant Scenic Designer for the Emmy award-winning production of Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby, and Assistant to the Production and Costume Designer for Light Sleeper, Richard Hornung.

Kevin is a member of both IATSE Local 847, and Local 829 and is currently authoring a book on graphic standards for the entertainment industry with specific attention to the influence of computer-aided design.

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Editor’s Note: Chair of the Theatre Arts Department at Los Angeles City College, Kevin Morrissey is an artist by passion, aptitude, inclination and training, as are most artists, I think—although of course only the lucky ones are able to undergo appropriate training. Kevin feels very fortunate to have undergone appropriate training, and as Theatre Arts Chair, he strives—with his colleagues—to ensure that all of City’s Theatre Arts majors learn what they need to know to excel in their field. Certainly, City’s Theatre Academy, a full-time professional training conservatory for actors, technicians and costumers, was created in 1929 with this aim in mind: to train students to excel as professionals in the entertainment industry. In his first column for West, Kevin recalls his early training, the road that led him to the chairmanship of City’s Theatre Arts Department, and updates us regarding the latest productions of the Theatre Academy. Specializing in scenic design, Kevin also includes photos from some of his favorite productions with this column.

My Road to City’s Theatre Academy

As a young art student I studied with Harold Stevenson, an artist who had attended the Art Students League in the first half of the 20th century. Harold ran his school as a European atelier, modeled after the Renaissance guilds where young children were taken on as apprentices to train to the level of Journeyman and finally to Master Craftsman. The Theatre Academy at Los Angeles City College creates a similar environment in which students spend four or six semesters training to enter the entertainment industry.

I remember my time at Harold's studio when he placed a statue on a turntable and turned it every 15 seconds. While warming up, we were expected to capture the essence of a pose and the mass of a human form with a few charcoal lines. Although I went through pads and pads of paper, this was formative time that allowed my mind and body to make connections, to see form and to portray it on paper.

A few years later, as an undergraduate, I interned in the design office of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. On my first day I met the famous designer/director Franco Zeffirelli, who was beginning work on a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Maestro Zeffirelli had designed important operas with Maria Callas and directed the Burtons and Olivier in some of his numerous films. He was also a disciple of Visconti, having trained in the atelier system himself.

The Met is one of the greatest opera houses in the world, and during my time there, I saw firsthand how hundreds of professional artists created the amazing world of this opera house, from directing, singing and acting to scenery, props, lighting, lavish costumes and wigs, down to the front of house and backstage operations. All of these areas employed artists trained extensively before becoming among the best in their fields, most likely in that same "atelier" environment.

I joined the faculty of the Theatre Academy at Los Angeles City College in 2004, during the 75th anniversary of the school's inception in 1929. Because I studied at two of the country's top conservatories—The Goodman School of Drama at DePaul University and Tisch School of the Arts—I was excited to become a part of a faculty that believes in the same pedagogy of immersive training for artists. Art training is about nurturing the skills of individual artists. In the performing arts, repetition is crucial to success. Production is at the heart of any legitimate theatre program. Our production activities are so numerous that in just a few short years, I have designed scenery for more than 36 productions spanning theatre history from wing and drop scenery to stylized installation environments. Unfortunately, during today’s unprecedented financial crisis, the state legislature is considering the elimination of course repeatability, the future of our young artists is threatened. Our Department has been forced to make difficult choices to preserve the core of instruction and production.

In its 83-year history the Theatre Academy has produced numerous successful artists in all disciplines of the entertainment industry, from sound mixing and costume design to acting, directing and writing. Noted alumni include John Chuck, James Coburn, Mark Hammill, Morgan Freeman, Cindy Williams, Ray Aghayan, Justin Tanner, Michael Lembeck, Jose Quintero, Hugh O'Brian, Alan Arkin, Donna Reed and Paul Winfield. These successful and famous alumni share the same academic DNA as our current students: the tradition of conservatory training.

Since 1929 the Theatre Academy has produced nearly 1,000 productions, allowing our students to realize the theory from classes in the context of production and before an audience. In addition, the Theatre Academy has participated in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival since the inaugural year in 1969, with one of the first invited productions to participate. This association has continued recently with the production of Anton's Uncles, which was invited to both the regional and national festival in 2010. The play is a deconstruction of Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya. The play was so well received that it went on to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was recently scheduled to perform at South Coast Repertory in Orange County.

Currently our department is preparing to send our production to the KCACTF, Sam Shepard's The Unseen Hand, thus continuing the tradition of immersive and methodical training in the mold of medieval guilds and renaissance craftspeople.  In my next column, I’ll include photos from this production, and update you regarding other events at City’s Theatre Arts Department and Theatre Academy.  For now, let me remind you that auditions to enter the Academy Acting Program are February 4, 2012, and that you may purchase tickets for our upcoming productions at the Theatre Arts Department website.

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