Lauren Snyder ’19 Designs Major Set for Winter Musical

After reading a poem about a saw in her Nobel Literature class, Lauren Snyder ’19 was the only one who raised her hand when the professor asked if anyone had ever used one. Still, one was a bit of an underestimate. For Snyder, saw was simply an umbrella term for all of the saws she’d learned to use in Gordon College’s on-campus woodshop. Knowing her way around a hand saw, table saw, jig saw, chop saw and MultiMaster was just something she’d picked up as a Gordon student after helping build many sets and props for the Theatre Department.

Since her early days of building benches for Blood and Gifts, she’s come a long way. As Gordon’s official master carpenter, she assembles and paints each set under the supervision of the technical director and oversees student builders. And this spring she landed the opportunity to design the entire set for the winter musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood—a play in which the audience determines the outcome and, more specifically, who the murderer is.

Standing inside the set she’s just designed to resemble an old music hall—replete with a red curtain, brass shell footlights and gold trim—Snyder says, “It feels surreal to me to have made this. It’s something that I never expected from my time at Gordon at all. Without Gordon, I don’t know that I would have found a passion for scenic design and carpentry at all.”

It’s rare that Lauren would have this opportunity at another college, even a small college like Gordon, simply because set design takes a lot of talent and a deep understanding of what it takes to produce a large-scale production like Drood. In other theatre programs, students aren’t normally this involved in the backstage work. “Instead, they often have the opportunity to design a set for a B-series play, not for a main stage show,” says Luke Miller, production manager and technical director for the Theatre Department. “But, I saw she could do it.”

The art and labor of set design is something Miller understands all too well as Gordon’s full-time set designer and builder. His position is not only a necessity at Gordon, but at many colleges with strong theatre programs. It requires a proficiency in computer drafting and a master’s degree in theatre arts with a focus in scenic design. Because set design highly specialized, most colleges don’t think about putting a student in charge.

But with Miller’s guidance, Snyder designed an impressive set and portfolio piece that now enables her to go to any theatre and say, “I designed the entire set—and everything in it.” She’ll be able to walk the artistic director and production manager through her artistic vision for the musical and how she communicated that vision to those involved in the overall design.

Although the set may look simple at a first glance, there’s a lot happening. Even Miller thought The Mystery of Edwin Drood was ambitious for a first set design. Not only does the play have to accommodate multiple endings (chosen 20 minutes into Act 2 by the audience), it has to quickly transform—between scene changes—into a nunnery, a house, a street corner, a graveyard, a train station and an opium den. In addition to designing how each scene moves from one to another, Snyder also had to think about props, and a color palette for the costume and lighting designers.

“People don’t realize how much goes into set design,” says Snyder. “It’s not like drawing a picture. You’re building everything from the ground up.”

With the help of Miller and six dedicated theatre majors, it took 250-plus hours to design and built out this set.

After graduation, Snyder is moving to Dallas and taking her portfolio with her. Even though she’s not yet sure what the future looks like, she has a pretty good hunch about who the murder is in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. If she had to choose from the available options, she’ll go with Rosa Budd (the most popular murderer at Gordon and on Broadway). But, if she goes off script, her honest verdict is that the murderer is mayor/auctioneer Mr. Thomas Sapsea.

“It’s not an option, but I think it was definitely Sapsea,” says Snyder. “He’s there for comic relief, so you can’t vote for him at the end, but I think he definitely did it.”