Broadway vet sets stage

Abigail Suddarth

Senior theatre arts major Christy Thompson sets up a “trap” for a pretend fire with Paul Weimer on the set of “The Grapes of Wrath” at the Performance Center.

After 30 years of designing sets for shows such as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Matilda the Musical,” “Spamalot” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Paul Weimer left Broadway to teach at USI.

Weimer graduated from Ohio Northern University with an undergraduate in art and theatre and then from University of Wisconsin-Madison with his MFA degree.

He moved to New York in 1985 to pursue a career in theatrical set design.

For one of his first jobs in New York Weimer worked as an assistant set designer for the original Broadway production of “The Phantom of the Opera.” He later worked on designing sets for two of its national tours and its Los Angeles production.

Several plays and musicals Weimer helped design won Tony Awards for set design.

“The designer of ‘Matilda’ was nice enough to mention me in his Tony Award speech and I was able to attend that ceremony with him,” the assistant professor of theatre said.

Weimer has met celebrities such as  Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Brightman, Michael Crawford, Patti LuPone and Kristin Chenoweth. Yet he said he doesn’t often get star-struck.

“What the public knows about them is just their public persona and that most of them have gotten to where they are because they work hard and they have talent-–obviously natural talent, a lot of it,” Weimer said.

Broadway isn’t much different from any other theatrical production, he said.

“There’s maybe more people involved, there’s more money involved I suppose, but no matter what happens, there’s never enough time and there’s never enough money,” Weimer said.

Weimer said the feeling of being on Broadway only sank in a few times.

While helping load the set for the original production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” Weimer saw the orchestra’s soundcheck.

“They came in early and they played the overture from the pit for the first time, and that was when I thought, ‘Oh, this is Broadway’,” Weimer said.

He considers his work on “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” to be one of his proudest moments.

“To be a part of that and see the director at work and the choreographer at work and the actors at work, I found very exciting and it reaffirmed why I got into the theatre in the first place,” Weimer said.

Weimer said he doesn’t have a particular style of design and instead allows the theater’s space, the budget of the show, the amount of time he’s given and most importantly the script to design the set.

“I try to look for the most essential things needed for a show and to strip away any excess or unneeded elements and so I guess I have a fairly clean style,” Weimer said. “But like I said, I don’t feel that I have a style that I impose on the work.”

Weimer started at the university in August.

Theatre arts major Arden Tiede contributed in Weimer’s student-centered interview.

“Instead of my lighting design class, it was him (Weimer) giving a pseudoscenic design class,” the junior said. “He gave a pretty well-grounded lecture about a scenic design using a very short text that we were all able to read and understand within the time slot allotted.”

Weimer will design all the upcoming shows performed in the Performance Center including “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Tartuffe.”

Weimer built most of “The Grapes of Wrath” set using only wood to give the set a natural look and to show how little the characters would have had.

“They’re building a truck that will stay onstage and it has to be moved around by some of the cast members,” Dulick said,  “but it’s going to be a really nice focal point for the whole thing.”