Setting the stage

Design and technology student Anna Hunter works behind the scenes designing sets, making props and managing the stage during Wright State theatre productions.

Students in Wright State University’s theatre program are often associated with acting, singing and dancing. But for them to put on a show, they need students like Anna Hunter.

Hunter is one of those who work behind the scenes, designing and building sets, procuring and making props, and managing the actors’ entrances and exits. She will graduate at the end of Spring Semester, but not before leaving behind a legacy beyond that of most of her peers.

Hunter will graduate on April 27 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre design and technology, with concentrations in stage management, props and set designs, and a minor in German.

Hunter was born and raised in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her parents are Wright State alumni who moved to Colorado in 2000: Jill (Tonkin) Simpson received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1992 and Joseph Hunter received a bachelor’s degree in material science and engineering in 1993.

“In high school, I had no interests beyond theater,” Hunter said. “It was the first activity I did that I connected with.”

Her interest was not as a performer but in the props used on stage to help tell the story. When it came time for college trips, she visited Colorado schools but none of them were quite what she wanted.

Then she joined her mother on a trip to visit family in Dayton in summer 2019.

“She wanted to take a walk down memory lane,” Hunter said.

After taking a campus tour of Wright State, Hunter returned later that summer to attend a Wright State open house and learn more about the theatre program.

What made the open house noteworthy was the attention she received.

“I hadn’t been to a campus yet that paid that much attention to every single student,” she said. “That was the most individual attention I’ve received at any other university.”

She also was impressed by the attention to props in the theatre program. Witnessing an exchange among those in a theatre production crew, she said, “They were looking for a wheelchair, and the question was asked, ‘Modern or vintage?’ They wanted vintage. ‘Good or bad condition?’ I was impressed by the attention to detail.”

As a first-year student at Wright State, she was required to take acting and dance classes but then shifted to design and technology.

“I was very, very lucky that in high school we had a student-run theater, and we did pretty much all the work – set building, props crafting, handling budgets and painting. I got a lot of hands-on experience in high school,” she said.

That experience came in handy for Hunter, who served as a stage manager and prop master and designed the sets for “Kelly the Destroyer,” “A Doll’s House” and “A Doll’s House, Part Two.”

“I love set design,” she said. “There are all these qualifications you have to meet, entrances and exits, times of day and the positions the actors have to be in, and make an interesting space for them to be in and making it visually good for the audience. I enjoy the elements that go into that.”

For the last three years, Anna Hunter has helped plan and produce ArtsGala, the College of Liberal Arts’ annual scholarship fundraiser for fine and performing arts students.

Designing and building a set is like producing a 3D picture, she said.

“It’s sculpture. It’s construction. It’s drawing. It’s painting — a lot of different art forms,” Hunter said.

Hunter also developed a distinction unique among her classmates. She has been the only student involved in planning and producing the three past ArtsGalas, the College of Liberal Arts’ annual scholarship fundraiser for fine and performing arts students. Other students volunteer and perform the night of the gala, but Hunter’s involvement starts months before.

Her duties have included organizing student volunteers, contacting everyone by email to let them know details and the dress code, and coordinating rehearsal schedules.

“The day itself is fairly stressful and there are fires to put out,” Hunter said, “but it’s worth it when patrons come out of a performance and they’re oohing and aahing and have huge smiles. It’s a great sense of accomplishment.”

While Hunter will graduate in April, her academic career is not quite over. She is going to Germany next month in a student Ambassador Program. She minors in German, as a nod to her mother, who has been a longtime teacher of German.

“It’s valuable to know another language,” Hunter said.

Her theatrical summit is linked to her German studies, with Wright State’s 2023 production of “Cabaret,” in which she was a prop designer.

“I built the toy box and the fruit stand, and backstage I managed the props crew and made sure things were where they needed to be,” she said. “It was a beautiful production. I’m really proud to have been a part of that team.”

The musical is about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany leading up to World War II. The end featured an American flag with a swastika, which left some audiences silent. The message is about a rise in hatred.

“One reason we did ‘Cabaret’ is that (its message) still is applicable,” Hunter said, “and it’s important to continue telling these stories while we have the ability to do so.”

Aside from “Cabaret,” Hunter said she will also remember the independence students had while working on projects.

“A lot of times we were told to build it or paint it or fix it,” she said. “We learned through doing, which personally is my learning style. To have the ability to sort of mess up and create things even if they came out wrong was a big thing in my education. All the professors are good at allowing space for learning.”

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