Set designer speaks on women in the art world


Arabella Hau/Iowa State Daily

Rachel Hauck, 2019 Tony-Award-winning set designer, speaks during a guided discussion in her lecture, “Knowing How to Break the Rules: Set Design on Broadway.” The lecture is part of the “HERoic: Gender Equity in the Arts” series.

Arabella Hau

An audience gathered to hear about the passions and innovations of 2019 Tony-Award-winning set designer Rachel Hauck on Wednesday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

The event focused on one of the two keynote speakers of the “HERoic: Gender Equity in the Arts” series, which was produced in celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage and innovating gender equity.

Hauk began her talk by referencing the theme of the lecture, “Knowing How to Break the Rules: Set Design on Broadway,” as she said there truly are no fundamental rules of design and every rule is different.

“I’ve always had the gift of breaking the rules,” Hauk said. “Theatre remakes its rules all the time. You can live in any kind of reality you create; it’s an immediate and live connection with the audience. You can establish a rule by saying that this chair that I’m sitting in is a throne and use it that way, and visually people will accept it. When I curl it over and make it into something else, you will come with me. There’s a whole different kind of abstraction that’s possible — there’s a poetic vocabulary in terms of imagery that’s possible.”

Hauck extended this idea by describing for the audience the life she lives as a successful set designer based in New York City, and how she made her way to where she is today.

Frequently working for many big-name female directors, Hauck mentioned they were some of the best thinkers she had worked with and they trusted her even before she had a body of work to help her obtain positions.

The statistic that 20 percent of scenic designers in regional theaters across the country are female roles was presented to the audience.

Hauck said that just as in any other field, men have been given more opportunity to do the work and therefore men continue to do the work. Hauck said she believes it’s not a male’s profession, but they’ve been given the opportunity more consistently.

Hauck also discussed the fact that the doors of opportunity for women and people of color have been closed in the industry but opportunities are slowly arising.

“It’s so wonderful, to me, that Iowa State is doing this,” said Maxfield Coenen, sophomore in performing arts. “And it’s not just Iowa State, it’s happening all over the world, which is wonderful because it’s giving a voice to what many have considered the voiceless for so long. It was talked about tonight, there was a big speech about underrepresented people, the women, the people of color and how rules are being broken without intentionally trying to break them and things are changing and it’s getting better. I’m super excited about that.”

Hauck’s ideas were tied together with the concept of urgency, explaining that given the times, people have things to say. With this, she said she believes there is urgency in needing to correct the record and look at the entirety of the issue through other lenses, rather than one singular lens.

“There are many in the generation right behind me, many, many women who are having much more opportunity, which is great,” Hauck said. “I think right behind them are even more [women] ready to equalize those numbers.”

Hauck compared the artists currently sharing their work that previously did not have the chance to do so to “tigers being let out of a cage,” as they tell their stories for the first time.

“The whole idea of empowering women and marginalized communities, it was all [in the lecture,]” said Olly Manning, a senior in music. “[…] We’re all moving forward and obviously it’s taking awhile, but we’re definitely moving in that direction and these lectures are definitely helping.”

Hauck is accredited with many awards for her set design work with plays and musicals, including a 2019 Tony Award for her contributions to the 2019 Tony-winning Best Musical, “Hadestown.” Hauck also recently worked on the Tony-nominated play “What the Constitution Means to Me.”