It’s Tuesday, three days before opening night for the stage production “LEAR,” when the power goes out.
Lio Mercedes Sosa has been designing and building stage sets for the play, to be presented at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Fine Arts Center, for about a month. He has a few more details to complete, but a mechanical issue involving power lines outside the building has zapped his plans.
“OK, well, I guess that changes things,” sighed Sosa, a UTC senior theatre major.
His calm is something he’s learned and practiced in his theater work. It comes in especially handy on “LEAR,” the latest production of local troupe Obvious Dad.
To be presented in the 90-seat Jim G. Lewis Studio Theatre, “LEAR,” by playwright Young Jean Lee, is a combination of absurdist comedy and tragic drama that retells Shakespeare’s “King Lear” by focusing on his adult daughters.
“I love working with Obvious Dad,” Sosa said. “It feels almost like a family. Everybody talks to each other; everybody’s super-personal. There’s always a great energy about it, and that’s one of the most important parts.”
For the last three summers, UTC students and Obvious Dad have collaborated on several stage productions. Students work both behind the scenes and onstage. Some act; some build sets; some create and sew costumes; some design stage lighting.
“It gives them more experience,” said Steve Ray, associate head of the UTC Department of Performing Arts. “They get things to put on the resume with an organization that’s not their university. To be able to put Obvious Dad on their resume is really great for them.”
Blake Harris, artistic director at Obvious Dad, graduated from UTC in 2011. Using UTC students helps his alma mater, giving those students a chance to explore their career options.
“You may think your passion lies in acting, but once you’re inside the process, you may find that your passion is in set design or wardrobe or sound or lighting, all of which are crucial parts of the theater,” Harris said.
“If you know how to wrap cable, do wardrobe, run lights, set design, you’ve got a head start on theater students who only think of being onstage, onscreen or on TV,” he said. “There are lots of jobs in the world of theater. The vast majority are behind the scenes.”
A graduate of the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, Sosa’s ultimate goal is to work as a set designer in the film industry. He knows that his work on a variety of jobs with Obvious Dad gives him a wide range of opportunities if that plan doesn’t work out.
“I’m not afraid of getting into a new environment and not knowing how to do things because it’s more of just the ability to figure it all out,” he said.
The phrase “big choices” is familiar in the theater world, Sosa said, and can apply to everything presented on stage, from acting to set building to costume design to lighting ideas. Be daring, be bold, be unafraid, he said.
“Blake does a really good job of bringing that out of people and encouraging people to make those choices,” Sosa said.
It’s important that students learn there are many ways to use their creativity in a theater community, Harris said, and that they can do so without first being purposefully subjected to grueling experiences.
“Some people think you have to break them down to find the real artist,” he said. “No. You already are an artist.”
As evidenced by “LEAR,” Obvious Dad leans toward edgy and somewhat experimental productions. That’s another learning opportunity for students, Ray said.
“We do some progressive and innovative things, but we don’t usually go quite as far as they go,” he said, “so students are doing new pieces that are fun and exciting.”
Sosa, who also worked on the Obvious Dad production of “Sagittarius Ponderosa” in the summer of 2022, said the theater company is a flexible, “go with the flow” operation.
“At the end of the day, we get something beautiful onto the stage and that’s what matters.”
When: Friday-Sunday, Aug. 4-6, 11-13 and 18-20
Where: UTC Fine Arts Center’s Jim G. Lewis Studio Theatre
Location: The UTC Fine Arts Center is at the intersection of Dr. Roland Carter Street (formerly known as Vine Street) and Palmetto Street.
Tickets: $15, available at https://www.simpletix.com/e/lear-tickets-129315