30 Under 30: Joe C. Klug, Scenic Designer

In celebration of LDI’s 30th anniversary—1988-2018—Live Design gives a shout out to 30 Under 30: thirty young movers and shakers who are changing paradigms, looking at things from new angles, and rapidly rising to the forefront of their field. From scenic, lighting, projection, and costume designers to technicians and programmers, as well as those who work for manufacturers, production companies, or rental shops, our 30 Under 30 are the harbingers of tomorrow.

Joe C. Klug is a proud member of USA 829 Freelance Designer and currently the Assistant Professor of Scenic Design at University of Arizona. He received his Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a Visual Artist, he is constantly trying to re-engage the audience with the story being told on stage through exploring and excavating the space and landscape of the production.

Name: Joe C. Klug 

Age: 28

City, State of residence: Tucson, Arizona 

Position/title: Scenic Designer/Assistant Professor of Scenic Design 

Employer (if not freelance): University of Arizona 

Current project(s): Merchant of Venice, Arizona Repertory Theatre; Once, Oregon Cabaret Theatre; The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Garden Theatre; Winter’s Tale, Henry IV Part 1, and My Fair Lady, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.

Most notable achievements: I think recently the most notable achievement for me was joining USA Scenic Artists last February. It has been a career-long goal to be at a point to make that jump or transition. I have always wanted to be part of the large theatre community conversation. The theatre is much larger than just me and the productions I am working on; it is about shaping the future and being part of those conversations. Joining USA Local 829 has allowed me to do just that.

When I started in this industry: I started in this industry as a Musical Theatre Performer. I worked backstage when I was not called for rehearsals. I then discovered that I was able to make my work backstage a career and could fulfill my love of theatre while using my hands and fell in love with scenic design. I never looked back. 

How I got into this industry: I got into this Industry because a senior in high school named Alex Coppaken brought me along to work on designs that he was doing at the time. He showed me that there was more to working backstage than building flats, platforms, and doing run crew. He introduced me to the artistic choices being made, and talked to me about how everything on stage had a purpose. He showed me the world of scenic design and changed my life forever.

Influences: Installation art; environment/immersive design; George Seurat, Monet, and the Impressionistic movement in general; I love how all three movements look at using space, and representing life in new ways. In my design work, I am constantly trying to find new or different ways to bring the work and stories to life on stage. 

Jeff Cowie, Derek McLane, Timothy Mackabee, Anna Louizos, Regina Garcia, Linda Buchanan, Christine Jones, Jo Winarski, Anne Mundell. These are just some of the designers that I have followed and admired from the beginning. Each has their own unique style that is just awe-inspiring. 

Worst advice I’ve ever heard: “This is the way we have always done it.” This is a phrase I have heard throughout my career as a young designer. It supports complacency and static energy. Every project should explore the possibilities and not be hampered by what has worked in the past. Nothing throws up a road block in the design process like this phrase. 

Best advice I’ve ever heard: When I was a Scenic Design fellow in 2012, Adam Zonder at the Hangar Theatre told us, “Run at the wall at full speed. Sometimes you will break through it. Sometimes you will hit it. However, when you break through, it will be magical.” This quote has shaped my design process and my work as an artist. You never know what will happen, but if you are too afraid to go for it, you will never find out what could have been. 

My favorite thing about the production industry: Every production is new. Every production brings with it new collaborators, a new space, a new challenge that is just waiting to be explored and discovered. No matter how many times you work on a production, there are always new discoveries waiting to be unearthed. 


Flora and Ulysses

Favorite design/programming/technical trick: Amazon Prime. I don’t know how people did what we do before. The fact that I can make a choice in tech or designer run, and have the item in hand two days later is spectacular. Not to mention that model making supplies are just a click away makes tight deadlines more bearable. 

Plans for the future: To keep designing and creating with the artists and colleagues that inspire and challenge me to go further and be more creative than ever before. I love what I do and exploring a design space is what makes me want to get up every morning. I can’t imagine a life where I don’t get to do that. 

Other interests/side gigs: Food. I am a total Foodie. When I have hit a wall with a project, or am having trouble breaking through the design process, I go get a nice meal or explore a new restaurant. There is something about it that is so comforting, and it helps me remember to walk away and take a moment to recharge my batteries and soul. 

Awards, honors: Region 5 Regional Scenic Design Award Winner 2010, 2011, and 2012; 2015 Prague Quadrennial USA Student Exhibit Designer; 2014 Broadwayworld Milwaukee Best Scenic Design Award for the Doyle and Debbie Show at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.

Organizations, memberships: USA Local 829 

Website if applicable: www.jckscenicdesigns.com

Check out Live Design/LDI's other 30 Under 30: