Students lend imagination to Stevens Center themed entertainment design project

A professor, a chancellor and a Disney Imagineer walk into a bar …

But the bar is closed. And it has been for a while. The former restaurant space on the ground floor of UNCSA’s Stevens Center has not greeted customers in several years and sits vacant as scores of patrons visit the Stevens Center for UNCSA and community performances each year.

Enter fourth-year undergraduate and third-year graduate Design & Production students in John Coyne’s Scenic Design IIIB class. 

“We were asked if we wanted to do a project that was different from our typical scenic design project,” said 2016 M.F.A. graduate Jenna Snyder.

A lesson in themed entertainment design

The themed entertainment industry (think your favorite theme parks) continues to grow and evolve, and well-trained artists are in high demand for companies like Disney Parks & Resorts, Universal Parks & Resorts and Sea World Parks & Entertainment. 

Design & Production graduates excel in many careers, but haven't had the option to gain essential themed entertainment training while enrolled at UNCSA. It's time for that to change.

The world is on fire when it comes to themed entertainment design ... it's something we can no longer ignore. 

Michael Kelley, Dean of Design & Production and UNCSA alumnus 

“The world is on fire when it comes to themed entertainment design ... it's something we can no longer ignore, said Michael Kelley, Dean of the School of Design & Production. Design is all about the storytelling.

The Stevens Center Master Plan project was offered through Coyne’s class as a way to test the waters: how will students handle a real-world entertainment design project with a client and professional advisor? (Spoiler alert: successfully!)

Students were asked to create a full design package for the empty space in the Stevens Center, including image research, drafting, colored renderings of the design and a three dimensional representation of the design without removing structurally integral architecture or the kitchen. 

This tall order was intensified by the addition of two key players in the project: Chancellor Lindsay Bierman as the project client and former Disney Imagineer Joe Kilanowski as the professional advisor. 

Chancellor Lindsay Bierman was brought into the project as the client and first point of contact for the students. He shared his vision for the space, which included emphasizing the connection between the school and the local community. Bierman’s master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Virginia and past employment with New York-based firm Robert A. M. Stern Architects made him an unusually qualified client.

It was very much like my own experience in architecture school where we had visiting jurors from all over the world. But I was on the other side of the table this time. 

Chancellor Lindsay Bierman

It was very much like my own experience in architecture school where we had visiting jurors from all over the world. But I was on the other side of the table this time, said Bierman.

Bierman served in leadership positions at Time Inc. for 17 years — including Founding Executive Editor of Cottage Living, Editor in Chief of Coastal Living, and as Editor in Chief of Southern Living — before joining UNCSA in 2014. In these roles, he regularly reviewed themed, interior and exterior design samples from renowned industry experts.

“All of them, every student, had good ideas for the space,” said Bierman, who was pleased that many design concepts extended beyond the restaurant to include the lobby area and exterior of the building. 

“A lot of the time, student projects are conceptual and theoretical, but this time we’re trying to solve a real world problem,” he added. “Starting with a real space and a real problem is hugely beneficial to student training.”

Joe Kilanowski was approached about the project by Design & Production Dean Michael Kelley. Both former Disney Imagineers, they worked together on theme park projects for Tokyo DisneySea and Shanghai Disney. When Kelley called, Kilanowski jumped at the opportunity to travel to North Carolina to visit the school and to serve as a sounding board for the students’ project pitches.

Sometimes people get stuck on one small idea and they don’t understand the value of a bigger picture. My job was to show the students how their ideas created a larger concept … to help them understand what they have and how to pull it together into one idea. 

Joe Kilanowski, former Disney Imagineer

Sometimes people get stuck on one small idea and they don’t understand the value of a bigger picture, said Kilanowski. My job was to show the students how their ideas created a larger concept … to help them understand what they have and how to pull it together into one idea. 

Underscoring the themed entertainment/narrative design-focused program exploration, Kilanowski's visit also included a master class, open to all Design & Production students, where he discussed his nearly 30-year career in the theme park industry.

From marquee to menu

“Our school is missing some essential spaces,” Snyder said. “I created three spaces with my project: an art gallery to make student work more accessible to the public, a store to allow people a space to purchase UNCSA-branded products and a café to serve tapas-style dishes.”

Her design recommended collecting tools of the trade from each conservatory — paint can light fixtures, ballet shoe valences, guitar case shelving, etc. — for the décor and incorporating photographs from UNCSA’s archives into the overall design.

2016 M.F.A. graduate Dustin Vandenberg drew inspiration from both near and far.

A lot of my inspiration was the school itself, especially the contemporary rebranding the school has undergone over the past year. Another big inspiration came from my time visiting New Orleans ... the over-street balconies that are a real staple of the French quarter.

Dustin’s over-street balcony rendering was a hit with project advisors, who helped guide him to bring continuity to his exterior and interior designs.

Another project incorporated art deco elements, while others considered nature or contemporary design. 

 
Jessica Cancino designDustin Vandenberg designdesignTony DiBernardo designJenna Snyder designJenna Snyder designJessica Cancino designJessica Cancino design

“I was surprised and glad to see some of the ideas expanding their concept beyond the restaurant and trying to solve some of the circulation problems within the building,” said Kilanowski. “They learned to approach the project from a higher elevation.”

Moving forward

Chancellor Bierman will incorporate student ideas into his presentation to the eventual design team for the Stevens Center renovation. “It put a lot of ideas on the table that we should seriously consider,” he said, “from signage on the exterior to furnishings on the interior.”

We take pride in our school and ownership of its spaces. Sometimes we can feel very separated from our community … and it was great to be a part of something that went beyond our studios and our traditional shows. 

Jenna Snyder, M.F.A. ’16 

We take pride in our school and ownership of its spaces, said Snyder. Sometimes we can feel very separated from our community … and it was great to be a part of something that went beyond our studios and our traditional shows. 

Joe Kilanowski summed up the experience with a visit to a bar that was open: Foothills Brewery, where he greeted students on his first night in town.

“There was so much positive energy and students with creativity. I truly believe that as we get older we get stuck in our ways. When you surround yourself with young energy and young talent, you’re energized as well.”

The creative imagination of students has the power to energize the Stevens Center Master Plan and create a memorable space to serve both UNCSA and the Winston-Salem community.

by Hannah Callaway

July 22, 2016