How to Be Creative Behind the Scenes | Raynette Halvorsen Smith


First and Only Woman Scenic Designer

Ep. 38 - Have you ever wondered how those fabulous scenes for plays are created?  Meet Raynette Halvorsen Smith, a retired Professor from Kent State University’s School of Theatre and Dance where she served as School Director from 1991-1996. In the early days, she wasn’t always welcomed as a woman and was a “first and only” woman scenic designer. Raynette shares her first-hand experience with the disparity in pay for women professors and the resulting changes, in part due to the efforts of Congresswoman Maxine Waters. She also discusses the advent of the birth control pill and how that opened up more doors for women to pursue their careers, as well as how the civil rights movement of the ’60s has impacted women’s lives today. She brings us up to date on how technology is involved in the creation of what goes on behind the scenes in theaters. Listen in to learn the importance of being resilient and persistent as a woman to make it in fields seen as male dominant. You will also learn the importance of creativity and tech skills to make it in a career as a scenic designer today.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to have the tenacity to go after what you want despite the challenges
  • Learning how to push through the challenges to make it in your career and life
  • The importance of having tech and creative skills for scenic design opportunities in the modern-day theater

"Now students have the opportunity to go to college and get into any profession they want. This is something our government view as a privilege, not a right. -Raynette Halvorsen Smith

In this episode you’ll discover:

Raynette explains how her mother’s career experience inspired her career choice [0:55]

She talks about her experience at Fullerton College and free tuition in California [2:45]

Why she became the first and only woman scenic designer [6:07]

The challenges women face when pursuing careers in theater scene design [8:35]

The collaborative relationship between video games environment and theater scenic design [10:12]

Raynette’s experience with low payment as a university teaching staff and culture as a woman [12:13]

The challenges she faced in her career and why she stayed persistent and resilient [15:52]

She talks about traveling for the job and the challenges she faced with it [19:47]

She explains the decisions she made to be able to manage her work-life balance [20:49]

Why you have to be a hard worker to manage to be a scenic designer [22:20]


Raynette received her MFA in Scene Design at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and is a member of the United Scenic Artists Association which she first joined while working professionally in Chicago.  She has served on the Board of Directors for USITT and as Forum Chair for The Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

Raynette’s work as a designer and scenic artist has taken her across the country to numerous theatre including the Arena Stage (Washington D.C.), Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival (Pittsburgh, PA), the Music Theatre of Wichita, the St Nicholas Theatre (Chicago) and CBS Television (Chicago).

She has designed scenery for Porthouse Theatre many times over the past 20 years.  Her most recent design was for Spelling Bee in the 2010 season.



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