Q&A with McHale Technical Designer Jeff Szymanowski


Courtesy of Colby Anderson

Jeff Szymanowski, an expert in design and carpentry, has 20 plus years of experience in the field of technical theatre.

What’s your job at McHale Performing Arts Center? 

My job title is Technical Director/Designer.

What inspired or motivated you to become a set designer?

I’ve always liked drawing, but I don’t really consider myself a ‘designer.” I’m more of a builder/carpenter. Usually, there’s a person that designs the set and a person that decides how the set is built. I’m building the sets I’m designing, so it’s difficult to remove the technical director aspect when I’m designing a set. A designer shouldn’t worry about how the set will be built.

What has been the most memorable set piece or design you’ve done for the high school?

I wasn’t a huge fan of “Seussical,” but I enjoyed designing the show. It was mainly a large Seuss-style arch with a floor painted to look similar to the cover of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You Will Go.” It wasn’t anything fancy, but it looked like it came right out of the Dr. Seuss books.

Do you ever partake in set designing outside of your job at McHale?

I do not design sets outside of McHale. However, I have spent the last 20 summers or so as the scenic artist for Shakespeare at Notre Dame. 

What has been the most memorable set piece or design you’ve done outside of McHale?

This boat was built by Szymanowski for Notre Dame’s production of “The Tempest.” (Courtesy of Jeff Szymanowski)

In 2017, Shakespeare at Notre Dame Produced “The Tempest.” The Tempest revolves around characters who have been shipwrecked on an island. I got to make a two-story, wooden “shipwreck” out of a couple of hundred pieces of 8-foot by 6-inch by 1-inch foam. I used a wire brush on each strip of foam to carve the wood grain. Then, they were coated with elastomeric before they were painted.

What was your time like at Notre Dame? What’s your favorite experience from there?

I don’t know if I have one specific favorite experience. When I started at Notre Dame, I wasn’t really a scenic painter. I painted some in college in class and for some shows, but it was very minor.  For the first couple of years, the sets were built and painted in Chicago, and we would just put them together. When that became expensive, we began building our own sets. I was able to learn scenic art from Scott Gerwitz, who might be one of the best scenic artists in Chicago. So, I got to learn how to be a scenic artist while getting paid for it.