The theatre has been a staple for outstanding productions and high expectations at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) since its creation, but the performances are only one cog in the machine that churns out one breathtaking show after another.
Professor Steven Williams is head of design and production for the UNO Theatre and works alongside each crew to ensure every show is getting the creative aspects it needs to stand out. Williams has been a member of the UNO faculty for 23 years and was recruited after being recognized at a national conference as one of 17 outstanding designers from around the country.
“What really stood out to me were the facilities within the Weber Fine Arts Building and the passion of the students,” Williams said. “I was able to be an audience member for a production and was struck that it was all about the students. That is why I teach, because it is all about the students.”
Williams and his team begin the design process for each production set a full semester ahead of time. This gives them ample time to complete the research needed and collaborate with other designers and directors involved in the show. The crew takes time during their formal design meetings to share each of their visions for the production and respond to ideas with scaled models, costume renderings and storyboards.
“As a designer, I am constantly thinking about these worlds in terms of light,” Williams said. “When I read through the play for the first few times, I am creating these environments in my minds-eye and that is constantly bathed in light. It is impossible for me to separate the two.”
Williams has worked with every director in the theatre department and has designed nearly 100 productions during his time at UNO. Most recently, he helped with design for UNO’s production of “The Wolves,” a play that revealed the inner workings of a high school soccer team. This play was one of the many UNO put on as part of the Connection Series and theNational Theatre Conference, Women Playwrights Initiative, whichencouraged creative partnerships between the UNO Theatre and local artistic communities to highlight the work of women playwrights.
“I am very proud of UNO Theatre’s support of women playwrights,” Williams said. “For the last ten seasons, our faculty has been dedicated to producing these works that might not otherwise be produced. This entire season, UNO Theatre is celebrating the works of these remarkable women.”
Having received numerous awards from organizations such as the Theatre Arts Guild and the Omaha Entertainment and Arts (OEA), Williams works to bring something unique and innovative to the stage with each production.
As an educator at UNO, Williams strives to give students all the tools they need to succeed. Students in his stage and TV lighting class are given assignments as part of the lighting crew and light board operators during performances to allow them to put the theories they learn in class into practice. This gives the students an opportunity to put their lessons to the test and smooth out any areas in which they may be struggling.
“I enjoy the ‘Ah ha’ moments,” Williams said. “When you see a student struggling to grasp a new language such as lighting design, and you see that lightbulb and spark of interest. Regardless of their area of interest, I enjoy being witness to those moments. I enjoy when students learn to take risks, even if they fail. Those are the times that you can learn the most about the problem, but more importantly about yourself.”