In theater, it’s about setting the scene. In movies, it’s about creating a believable set. In the classroom, it’s about bringing real-life experiences back to students.
Theater professor Gordon Strain does it all.
Before teaching at Franklin College, Strain taught middle school and high school at Cincinnati County Day School in Ohio, and while getting his master in fine arts, he taught at Indiana University Bloomington.
Strain was working as a window designer in New York City when he applied to be a professor at Franklin College.
“It was between staying with the windows and this, and I choose Franklin,” he said. “It’s a better quality of life to live in Indiana than New York City.”
Strain has always dreamed of becoming a designer. He wanted to create the worlds other people acted in.
Being a scenic designer is thinking about making the set visually stimulating, while a production designer focuses on specific elements in a shot.
Strain just finished working as the production designer for “The Good Catholic,” a romantic comedy movie.
The movie will feature Danny Glover (known for his role in “The Color Purple”) and John McGinley (known for his roles in “Scrubs”).
The movie has several Indiana ties besides Strain, including producer and star of the film Zachary Spicer, writer and producer Paul Shoulberg and producer John Armstrong.
Senior Ian Mullen – who worked as an assistant production designer on the set of “The Good Catholic” – said shooting the film was 18 days of critical thinking and problem solving while working in Bloomington.
“[Strain] knew it was going to be hectic and high pressured, but he remained calm and got things done very quickly,” Mullen said. “While in his public speaking class, it was slow paced to make sure the process for our speeches were down.”
Strain said he enjoyed working as the production designer for the movie because it challenged him to think in different ways about design that would be better for the movie.
“I had done some small television stuff bt nothing as big as the movie,” Strain said.
Strain said he has no dream production off in the distance, and he is always looking forward to the next project that comes his way.
“I have to find things I enjoy about projects because it’s not easy, and it doesn’t pay well,” Strain said. “I look for the challenge, the people I’m working with and maybe it’s the location – there are lots of things that can be exciting about it.”
Depending on the project, Strain gets his inspiration from thinking spatially to determine how to fill spaces, from self-motivation or from the script.
Strain does not have a favorite project because every project has its quirks. For different reasons, he has had interesting, fun and exciting projects.
“When I was doing the Christmas windows, that was a lot of fun,” Strain said. “It was cool to know that millions of people were going to walk by the windows everyday.”
“Mary’s Wedding” was a play Strain did scenic design for at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT).
Strain also did a play for the government of Bermuda for their 400-year anniversary.
“It’s not a vacation on the beach,” Strain said. “It’s ‘I’m working hard in this theater, and I can’t go outside anyway because there’s a hurricane.’”
His advice to students going into the designing world is to be able to think quickly, think outside of the box, communicate your ideas and be able to mix your ideas with others.
“The biggest advice is be pleasant, be kind, be willing to listen, and collaborate on the project,” Strain said.
On March 9, the Franklin College theater department will open “The Hamlet Project.”
“Bridge and Tunnel,” the play Strain is doing the scenic design for, opens at the IRT March 29.