By Colleen Cook
When you look at our staff list, the reality is that our titles are a little misleading. While we are each responsible for our primary job functions, each of our staff members possess unique and specialized skills and talents that overlap into many other areas of our organization, and are frequently showcased.
Mike Miller, for example, in addition to being President & CEO, is a talented sound engineer as well as a performer. Dauphne Maloney, in addition to being our Education Assistant and director of MY Theatre, is a skilled costumer. Her creations are seen in nearly every theatrical production on our stage. Steven Au is our very gifted graphic designer and also happens to be an outstanding violinist who frequently plays with our Mansfield Symphony. And Jason Kaufman isn’t just our Facilities Manager, he also happens to imagine and build incredible sets for our productions as a set designer and carpenter.
Jason’s designs have created beautiful sets like we saw this season in Beauty and the Beast and A Christmas Carol. You might know Jason from Main Street Books, or perhaps you’ve seen some of his sculptural work around town – one of our favorites is the heart sculpture at Relax, It’s Just Coffee. Or maybe you’ve just admired his work from our audience – who will ever forget the haunting beauty and intricacy of the willowy branches in Beauty and the Beast in Summer 2016?
Colleen Cook: When and how did you get into set building here at the Ren?
Jason Kaufman: The first set I worked on was Mary Poppins, I think. I wasn’t really lead on that, but I did pitch in quite a bit. I ended up as lead set builder when we had a staff member leave and we had a void where no one was really taking the lead and I just sort of ended up in that place. I really enjoy that position and I wanted to step into that. We had a really great intern for Mary Poppins, Abe Swanger, and he did such good work that we ended up hiring him and he became my assistant set builder. Abe is very skilled and our personalities meld very well, and we also have an unspoken understanding of what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we just know what needs done with very few words. It’s been a very seamless partnership.
CC: Can you tell us about your background in visual art?
JK: I’ve always been interested in art. I went to college at Kent State and I knew I wanted to do something in the arts. I thought maybe art education, but after a few classes I realized that wasn’t for me. I started taking all kinds of arts classes and landed in glassworking program at Kent. Their program is very sculptural-based, where you use glass with other materials, so less focused on craft-based vessels and blowing and more fine art based. I ended up getting a degree in studio crafts with a focus in glass-casting, and then I have a minor in fine arts.
CC: What’s one of the most challenging set pieces you’ve gotten to build to date?
JK: Definitely the revolve for the Sister Act set. It is built in a modular way, with a 12-foot wide disc that can be disassembled into 10 segments, made by creating our own tongue-and-groove pattern so they all slide within one another and are bolted together. But, that required a significant amount of engineering. Everything needed to fit precisely and has to be put back together exactly the same way each time. And then, once that was put together, we had to figure out how to motorize it, which took a lot of trial and error to get the gearing right on the motor and the drive wheel.
I had a lot of help from my dad Rick Turske, because I’m not as mechanically-inclined as he is. It was a lot of trial and error, and we actually found an old treadmill that we were able to remove the motor from and since the variable speed adjustment was already attached to that, we could use that. Once we got the gearing right with the wheel driving the turntable, it spins easily and smoothly. We’ve had five or six people on it spinning.
Here’s a sneak peek of the incredible revolving stage in action!