La Roche sponsoring presentation by award-winning set designer

| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

When Donyale Werle comes to town on Oct. 24, she'll be talking about her favorite topic: trash.

The Brooklyn-based theatrical set designer will make sustainable practices her subject when she addresses design students and professionals at the Carnegie Science Center at 6:30 p.m. Werle is the guest speaker for this year's Design Dialogue Series hosted by La Roche College.

The presentation is titled “Design Realized: Developing Theatrical Environments through Concept, Lighting and Sustainable Practices.”

“A number of years ago, directors and producers on Broadway would be saying ‘You're totally crazy' and laughing in my face,” said Werle, 42. “Not everyone was on the ‘green' bandwagon then.”

No one is laughing at her anymore. Incorporating recyclables in set design can save money.

“Artisans' minds are opening up as they work with non-traditional materials,” she said.

Vicky Acerni, chairperson of the Design Dialogue Series and a 2008 La Roche interior design graduate, suggested that Werle visit Pittsburgh.

“She was always on top of the list,” said Acerni, 28, of Crafton.

With sustainability the emphasis in La Roche's Environmental Design class for juniors, interest in “reclaimed, repurposed and renewable items” was something the design faculty already had embraced.

Werle's story contains examples of creativity and castoffs.

She constructed a chandelier out of 500 cat food cans for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a musical in 2010. This design and others for the show earned her a Tony nomination.

“It was gross to clean those out,” said Werle, a native of Nashville, Tenn.

Last year, she earned her Tony Award for best scenic design for “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

Werle chose many items that had been used in “The Little Mermaid” Broadway production from a Disney warehouse in Rochester, N.Y. She picked up translucent panels and 150 boxes of scrap swatches – for free. After she created the set designs and constructed models, artisans at the Paper Mache Monkey Art & Design Studio and Showman Fabricators Inc. worked with wine corks and bottle caps, silverware and other found objects of plastic, cardboard, metal, twine and more to design the proscenium and other sets.

Showman Fabricators built the proscenium for Broadway and the tour. Paper Mache Monkey did the original off-Broadway one.

Werle's education in fine arts and experience in commercial art and industrial interiors came together with her family's environmental interests.

Even as a child, sustainability was in her vocabulary. All it took was for a gigantic set she helped to create for 13 months be trashed after only 13 performances.

“I can't contribute to a life like this,” she said.

She started over, recycling her talents and “linked her most passionate beliefs with her job.”

She continues her design work in New York and will share the message of “making something out of nothing.”

La Roche students will be able to engage in a question-and-answer session with Werle on campus on Oct. 25.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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