Set designer Jacqueline Penrod, a staple in the Chicago theatre scene, helps students create an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
“If you’re going to do theatre, Chicago is the place,” says veteran set designer Jacqueline Penrod, who’s been teaching at Columbia College Chicago since 1998. “We have over 200 theatres in town ... some of the highest quality contemporary theatre there is. And it’s accessible.” Penrod has been working in the local scene for more than 30 years, and she’s designed sets—often in collaboration with her husband Richard—for Lookingglass, Steppenwolf, and other local companies.
When did you know you wanted to be a set designer?
In high school. I went to New Trier, and I had an amazing teacher ... It was one of those things—I just knew. My teacher was willing to watch me make all my mistakes.
Is that something you do now, for your students?
It is, but it’s so hard! You don’t learn from someone fixing all your mistakes—you just don’t.
What’s unique about the Theatre Department at Columbia?
The students all get hands-on experience. We work with students in the classroom, but ... we are also right there with them in the theater. We get to share the excitement of seeing the shows come to life.
What’s your favorite thing about the work that you do, both as a set designer and a teacher?
I create a moment in time that never existed before, and share that with the whole audience ... I get to experience something that all the members of the production team crafted ... it only exists in that moment, and then it’s gone.
I also love when students suddenly see that they made something happen and they’ve affected people in a way that couldn’t happen anywhere else. It can only happen at the theater.