Visiting professor of Theatre and Artist in Residence Ian Zywica is finishing up his one-term visit to Knox. He received his B.A. in Technical Theatre in 2003 from Purdue University, and his M.F.A. in Scenic Design in 2006 from Florida State University. He spent the term working on Motti Lerner’s play “At Night’s End,” and has enjoyed his time at Knox.
The Knox Student: How did you end up at Knox?
Ian Zywica: I was actually installing a show at a rental house in Chicago, and I was working for Porchlight and bumped into people across the hall who were in the need of some basic tools. And being a carpenter and scenic designer, I have essentially all the tools, so I let them borrow some and came over and helped them out, and was introduced to Professor of Theatre Liz Carlin Metz [who is the Professor and Chair of Theater at Knox]. I teach night classes at community colleges sometimes, but I’ve always liked teaching so I’ll do it when the chance arises, and we got to talking.
TKS: What is your professional background?
IZ: I am a scenic designer and own a theatrical construction and scenic design LLC company. I’ve worked independently, or freelance, for the last several years, and I work in Chicago and the outlying area. At times I’ve had residency where I’m not their full-time scenic designer or technical director. I’m also a union member of local 476, which is the film, television, commercial union. You work a lot of crazy hours and [I worked on] the television show “Mob Doctor.” I worked on the build and pre-build. And a show that got cancelled last year was Playboy Club, and that I worked on extensively.
TKS: How did you get into theater?
IZ: I arrived at Purdue as a ceramicist. In high school, I took every ceramics course twice and I went there with the intention of building every kiln I could figure out how to build.
In high school, I went to the art institute pre-college program, so I would spend all day Sunday and take the train in and work, and when I got to Purdue, I remember I ran into a situation where I was in the theater department for something — I can’t even remember what it was, but I was talking to a professor and he said, “Do you know how to draw?” And I said, “Well, I’m pretty good at figure drawing. And landscape drawing I’m quite good at. Do you want me to bring in some of the stuff I did at the art institute?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I brought in a lot of my stuff and he said, “Do you know what scenic design is? It’s the person who designs the set for the plays. I think you need to take one of my classes.”
So I took one of his classes and I loved it. And that was my sophomore year of college, so I canceled all of my art classes and took all the tech classes I could get my hands on. I took the graduate design and scenic courses, and that’s when I decided I would go to grad school.
TKS: How do you like Knox?
IZ: It’s nice. It’s very different from what I’m used to. I went to Purdue for my undergraduate which, in comparison, was huge. And I went to Florida State, so both state schools.
My favorite part about being at Knox thus far is the family atmosphere. It’s very relaxed. It’s very nice to not only be able to interact with your students in class, but the department is small enough to be able to just walk around at night and help out and just being able to know everybody and what they’re doing, and I feel like because of that, there isn’t a need to put things on lockdown. The kids are welcome to come in here and work at all hours. I feel like that helps.
TKS: What are you plans for the future?
IZ: Well, I’ve been making some calls to see if I can pick up work. That’ s one thing about working freelance — the first year is amazingly scary. You don’t know where your next rent check’s coming from and some people don’t want to outright do it. There are moments of panic and fear, but if you keep yourself calm and keep work coming in and work very hard, more work will come in. But I have to say from experience, work becomes normal. There are great advantages to it.
TKS: What are you involved in on campus?
IZ: I’m involved in the show that’s onstage ‘At Night’s End’. I did the whole scenic design and I ended up being properties master. And essentially, I had to take care of the painting and I’m also essentially the technical director, which is a job I’m quite comfortable with. On the set was a combination of classroom labor, what I would call work study, and essentially people who want to become work studies. To be an employee of the theater, you have to come in without being paid, because the most important thing to find in an employee is someone who always shows up for their call, even more so than skill.