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Setting the Stage

UT’s scenic design program and Clarence Brown Theatre put Josafath Reynoso on a path to global recognition.

February 20, 2018 | Updated: April 01, 2021

Josafath Reynoso (’15) was planning on being an engineer when he started college in his native Mexico. But, he admits, “I spent every moment I had making, reading, discussing, and designing theater. Although I had no design or artistic education, I was really passionate about it.”

As he reached his last semester in engineering, Reynoso decided he had to pursue his love of scenography instead. After he earned a bachelor’s degree from the National School of Theatrical Arts in Mexico City, a former professor steered him toward UT’s Master of Fine Arts program in scenic design.

UT is one of only 13 universities nationwide with its own professional theater company. Named for a renowned Hollywood director and UT alumnus who believed that actors and designers learn best by working alongside professionals, the Clarence Brown Theatre is fully integrated into the Department of Theatre’s curriculum.

“The professional level of the theater productions at UT was a huge advantage for me,” Reynoso explains. “I had the opportunity to start designing with a professional-level staff and crew from the beginning.”

For The Threepenny Opera, Reynoso created a seedy and ominous demimonde of beggars and thieves in 18th-century London, a perfect setting for “Mack the Knife.”

“The set for The Threepenny Opera was a beautiful piece of work,” says Marianne Custer, professor emerita of costume design, “certainly as good as any professional designer we could hire at Clarence Brown Theatre.”

For Our Country’s Good, Reynoso evoked the harsh world of transport ships and gallows endured by English exiles heading for penal colonies in Australia in the 1790s. He displayed clever versatility in creating a New York apartment in the round for 4,000 Miles and a bunk room for British wartime nurses for Wrens.

In his final year of graduate school, Reynoso received design awards from the US Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) conference and the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC).

As a result of the SETC award, Triad Stage, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, hired Reynoso to design its production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Since the play takes place in a house where the characters’ secrets are exposed, Reynoso designed a set that both enclosed and exposed the actors in an open framework.

“I think this idea of hiding was with me from the very first reading,” Reynoso explains. “The characters are in this house where they’re trying to hide their secrets, and they are unable to and they’re never alone.”

Two years later, the design earned him the top prize for emerging set designer at World Stage Design, the most prestigious theater design competition on the planet.

“I wouldn’t have had access to Triad Stage if UT didn’t have such high standards for its students competing at SETC,” Reynoso says.

Now an assistant professor of scenic design at the University of Richmond, Reynoso has also worked as a designer in Israel, the Czech Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, and Mexico.

“Josafath Reynoso is exactly the type of next-generation designer this field needs,” says Kenton Yeager, head of UT’s graduate lighting design program. “He is open-minded, collaborative, creative, educated, tireless, and absolutely on fire with the passion to create transformative theater.”

Photos by Josafath Reynoso

Produced by The Office of Communications and Marketing

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