In her 20 years as a designer and educator, Mary McClung has developed a firm belief in the magic of live theatre.
“Once, after a production, an audience member asked how I got a puppet’s eyes to blink,” said McClung, a professor of costume design in West Virginia University’s School of Theatre and Dance. “They were shocked to learn that the puppet’s eyes were only painted on and that the realism was achieved through skillful puppet manipulation.”
“That magic is evoked by successful theatre, and I remain delighted to be among the form’s contributing artists,” McClung said.
Her contributions to theatre have earned significant recognition in the form of the Mabel Devries Tanner Endowed Professorship in Theatre. The three-year position provides support for research and creativity by faculty in the School.
“Mary’s character designs have long garnered national recognition,” said Joshua Williamson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance. “The Tanner Professorship further acknowledges her contributions to theatre design and will help her offer even more advanced design instruction to our students.”
An alumna of WVU, McClung returned in 2007 to teach costume and puppetry design and make-up for the stage, as well as designing at least two productions a year. While she respects other media, she’s first and foremost a self-described “intense and passionate theatre artist.
“I say ‘intense’ because I like to think that the characters I create are ‘real,’” McClung explained. “While most people tend to think of costuming as just being about clothes, it is, in reality, about designing, sculpting, and creating a character.”
To do this, McClung explores the psyche and physical parameters of the character, letting the final design emerge after imagining what the character would do both inside and outside the script.
“In addition to Aristotelian analysis of the character, I might ask myself, ‘What is their favorite color and why?’ ‘What do they collect?’ ‘What is their worst and best memory?’” McClung said.
Some key techniques of her design process will be described in a forthcoming text, Foam Patterning and Construction Techniques: Turning 2D Designs into 3D Shapes (Taylor & Francis, 2016).
“The book focuses on how a design can be translated into foam using various techniques, including sculpting, patterning, scaling to size, and finishing,” McClung said. “Many of the projects in the book are centered on puppetry, mask and costuming.”
While she shares both techniques and passion for theatre with her students, she still considers herself a student of theatre. “I feel that my own education always remains an ongoing process,” she said. “While I know that I’ve mastered much of my craft and have successfully shared it through my design work and teaching, I also realize that I still have a great deal to learn.”
The Tanner Professorship will support McClung’s ongoing professional development. She’ll attend workshops and conferences, visit with artists working throughout the industry, and research new fabrication techniques. She also hopes to stage new performance pieces that will allow her to combine and showcase the art of costume and puppet design with different aspects of storytelling.
Stephen and Rita Tanner of Morgantown established the Mabel DeVries Tanner Professorship in Theatre in 2002. It was the first endowed professorship in the College of Creative Arts.
The professorship was created in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2016.
CONTACT: David Welsh, WVU College of Creative Arts
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