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Ohio Northern Alumna Takes “Charge” at the Cleveland Play House


Jill DavisA way of life in the world of theater is often a challenge and a collaborative endeavor requiring individual achievement. A single production, for example, may assemble talented artists of playwrights, actors, musicians, designers, and experts in scene construction and lighting.

For one Ohio Northern graduate, she saw the theater as the most comprehensive of all the arts—and the most demanding and exciting.

Jill Davis (BFA ’94) of Cleveland, Ohio is the charge scenic artist at the Cleveland Play House where she has been since 2001. She has painted over 90 shows and has designed sets for many of the Cleveland Play House Children’s Shows and all of the sets for the Cleveland Playhouse–Case MFA Acting Program.

“In many ways, we are artists and designers,” explains Jill. Theatrical designers use the magic of sound, lighting, costume, and scenic design to transport audiences into new realms. “I create a major part of that experience.”

From surreal dreamscapes to realistic interiors, Jill has built spaces and universes that become the world of a drama on stage. “My work needs to deliver a creative pathway to live storytelling.”

Jill’s design process always begins with reading the play and meeting with the director to understand his or her interpretation of the play. Often times researching historical periods or investigating other issues takes a lot of her time as well. “Charge artists need to learn to apply a variety of skills to fully create a realized production,” said Jill.

Of times Jill works with other scenic artists and designers to plan and paint the scenery for the productions at the Playhouse. Sculpture and props also may be part of her job description.

“Most often, I am responsible for creating samples for the production with the approval of the designer,” explained Jill. “I have to organize all the elements for a show. It’s important to understand color theory, perception and materials.”

Jill has designed and painted many scenes for the Cleveland Play House Children’s Theatre including The Wind in the Willows, Jabberwocky, Puss in Boots, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Nutcracker and Follow the Seasons. She also has designed and painted scenes for the CASE/Cleveland Play House Graduate Ensemble including Angels in America, As You Like It, Big Love, Heartbreak House, The Little Foxes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Triumph of Love, The Real Thing, Hurlyburly, Bus Stop, Twelfth Night, and Hayfever. Her other credits for the Cleveland Play House include A Bright Room Called Day, Much Ado About Nothing, Shadow of a Gunman and Glass Menagerie.

Jill also was the scenic artist for the many Ohio Northern theater productions including Godspell, Pippin, Valguse Poik, Diary of Anne Frank, Six Women with Brain Death, Oklahoma!, Forever Plaid, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Nunsense, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, The King and I, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, and Pump Boys and Dinettes.

After graduating with a major in art from Ohio Northern, Jill earned a MFA degree in scene design from Temple University. She then went on to work for the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, which won the 1996 Tony Award for outstanding regional theatre.

She also was the charge artist at the Porthouse Theatre at Blossom Music Center in Ohio, the charge artist at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont, and the charge artist at the Playmakers Theatre in North Carolina.

The Cleveland Play House, which is comprised of many of the nation’s most accomplished theatrical professionals. Founded in 1915, The Cleveland Play House is the first permanently established professional theatre in the United States. More than 12 million people have attended over 1,400 productions at The Play House – including more than 130 American and/or World Premieres.

Today, The Cleveland Play House is an artist-driven theatre that serves the Greater Cleveland community by holding true to its mission: To produce plays of the highest professional standards that inspire, stimulate, and entertain our diverse audiences, and to conduct training and educational programs that enhance the quality of life for those we serve and help to insure the future of theatre.

Ohio Northern offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is recognized in the second edition of “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the best creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design or the University’s 2009-10 Arts Exhibition Season, contact the department at 419.772.2160.

image: Heartbreak House, designed and painted by Jill Davis.