Theatre and Dance Department

By Katelyn Lugo '16, '18G

Passion for design

"Both of my parents were working artists — an opera singer and a jazz musician — so I started acting professionally on my third birthday. It was cheaper than a babysitter! Design found me when I was an undergraduate. I was naturally handy with tools, and my work study position was in the scene shop. The work I did there really informed how I approached moving on stage because I knew how everything was built. When I started to seriously focus on design, all the choices I made as a designer were informed by what muscle memory taught me when I was acting."

Prior to obtaining his Master of Fine Arts degree, says Shannon, "I left the corporate world and started what became my journey to Naz, landing here in 2010. I took about a 20% cut in salary with a 95% increase in happiness. This position was always my dream as a baby designer. In college, I had three amazing, mind-blowing professors who worked hard for me, and I believe I work really hard for my students. This is how I pay those professors back. I'm trying to do my miniscule bit to pay it forward and continue the art of theater."

Call me Allen

"I insist students call me Allen. I think I come off as genuine, and I believe students find that engaging. I never let myself forget what it's like to be that butt in the chair." Despite his casual attire and approachable manner, Shannon expects students to do their best.

Scene shop is for everyone

Shannon believes that working in the scene shop is beneficial to both theatre majors and non-majors. He has seen several non-major students use lab time in the shop as a de-stressor from their regular workload. Shannon has even hired a few to work in the shop part-time. Having non-majors in the shop allows theatre majors, who practically live in that space, to meet other students with different backgrounds, says Shannon.

Allen Shannon

Allen Shannon and students prepare scenery for 9 to 5, The Musical spring performance in Callahan Theater at Nazareth College

Hands-on work in the shop

Shannon says at a college like Naz, "Students get into the shop and start working hands-on right away and much sooner than at a larger college. They get direct and frequent access to full-time professors from day one. We teach students everything from carpentry and scene painting to equipment usage and electrics. They will get a really broad understanding of design, along with specialized knowledge depending on their degree program. This creates a really well-informed and well-rounded artist."

"Students have school work and lab work. When they have production work on top of all that, they have to learn time management and setting priorities. I think our students have a leg up because they have the opportunity to do things earlier on in their academic careers at Naz."

Learn to think

"Students have to know how to think and not be afraid to question. I'm not interested in what they believe, I'm interested in why they believe what they believe. They need to think for themselves." To truly understand theatre, "One must appreciate politics and religion, geography and geology, history and economics — for the literature to make sense," says Shannon. "We need to understand what created the art before we can give it a place to live onstage."

Courses I teach

  • Intro to Theatre Analysis
  • Scene Design I and II
  • Scene Painting
  • Styles and Ornamentation for the Theatre
  • Portfolio Seminar
  • Rendering for the Theatre

"Each course is specifically targeting a goal, and all of those various goals are critical to the artform and to learning in general. The common thread in all these courses is sound research and critical thought."

What else can Shannon do?

  • Act — "I've done several tours and innumerable shows, but my acting career, like Star Wars, is 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away!'"
  • Sing — "I sang on the cabaret and supper club circuits from age 12 with my father's band."
  • Dance, choreograph — "I was a faculty member at a large, well-established ballet school in Minneapolis for 25 years."
  • Sew — "I even got the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine once!"
  • Manage events — such as for the Marriott hotel chain, which used the organizational skills he acquired as a stage manager

Fun Fact

“I was a crummy student. I tell my students, ‘Don’t give me lame excuses. I’ve used them all.’ No one goes to college for two years and earns only 18 credits, but that was me. Getting a dose of the adult world is what changed me, made me grow up, and made me a better student. I see this ‘checkered academic past’ as a real asset to my teaching.”

Review of Shannon's work

"The first thing you'll notice when you walk in the theater is the imposing backdrop of the minimalist set, which you should pay attention to because the inscriptions themselves tell a story, many stories actually. Hat tip to scenic designer Allen Wright Shannon." — Michael Gamilla, managing director, ImageOut Film Festival, writing about The Normal Heart at Rochester's Jewish Community Center CenterStage, 2014

Intentional flaws

“My ‘signature detail’ on my work is that I always put in an intentional flaw, always a breach of logic. On one piece, a realistic kitchen, I purposefully left off a drawer handle on an end cabinet. That part of the unit was decor only and did not function in the play, so it didn't hinder the actors. I do this as an homage to a former professor/mentor who was a Cherokee Indian. In their culture, only the Great Spirit can achieve perfection and intentional flaws were added to woven items, etc. as tradition.”

Student perspective

"Allen's designs for the stage made me realize how integral set design is to helping tell the story. I learned so much from him. Allen has made me blush with his humor, taught me hard truths and life lessons with his calm, yet stern, tone of voice, and he's consoled me when I cried. He's methodical and logical. When there's a problem, he assesses the situation first instead of reacting. He exemplifies the notion of 'support your ideas with textual evidence' by always supporting himself with evidence. That's what makes him a great educator, but most importantly, a wonderful human."

— Josh Lau '13, now a production stage manager at the Eastman School of Music

Faculty Spotlights

Wondering who else you can learn from — and who will support and challenge you? Check out Faculty Spotlights.