#BehindtheCurtain: Get to Know Duncan Engel

 In Blog, San Diego Broadway Shows

Where would the Baker and Little Red be without the woods, or Dorothy and her compatriots without Oz, or even Sweeney Todd without his barbershop? Our favorite musicals wouldn’t be nearly as spectacular if it weren’t for the incredible scenic designs that help create these characters’ worlds! So much work goes into designing the sets you see on the SDMT stage, so this week we can’t wait to shine the spotlight on Duncan Engel, our amazing scenic designer for our upcoming production of Urinetown! Duncan is an up and coming actor and scenic designer, and we’re so lucky to have him as part of the SDMT family. The set he has designed for Urinetown is truly breathtaking. This week, we had a chance to sit down with him to dig a little deeper into his creative design process and learn more about this young professional! Keep reading below to get to know Duncan a little better, and then make sure you get a ticket to come see all of his hard work come to life on the SDMT Stage!


What inspired you to get into set/scenic design for theatre? How long have you been working in theatre?

I was inspired to be a scenic designer by the amazing designers I have seen in shows on Broadway and as I have gotten to be a part of shows myself. The true magnitude of a set in establishing story, plot, and theme is something I love trying to create. I have been working in theatre as an actor for about 7 years and, more recently, designing for a year and a half.

Does Urinetown have any special meaning to you?

I had known of Urinetown before working on the show, but I had never really known the plot or heard the soundtrack.  After diving headfirst into the story I was surprisingly blown away by its hilarious comedy, quick wit, and unexpected twists. Its truly a great show and the cast is something unmissable. The show has a special place in my heart as it is a show to make people laugh. Laughter is something so powerful, and the show is overall a great time.

When you’re designing, where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration surprisingly from music. I find constructing a world from scratch requires brainstorming and visual inspiration as well as something more abstract. Music that connects me to the piece whether thematically or whatever it may be, allows me to feel what the space should feel like. For Urinetown, the music that inspired me was clunky, with basic percussion and rhythm, and as an effect a lot of the set is metal or appears heavy.

Do you have a favorite set or show you’ve ever worked on? If so, what is it?

My favorite set that I have been a part of creating has to be in a production of Pride and Prejudice that I did earlier this summer. I got the opportunity to work with a professional scenic designer who taught me a lot about the process. Initially, the director wanted the set to ‘misbehave’; a request that invited joyous creativity. In the end, the head designer and I decided on organic elements such as flowers, vines, and topiaries to grow throughout the show, creeping into the space and causing furniture to appear covered in ivy and books to have flowers blooming out of them; thus the Bennet’s house turned into a garden, a true misbehavior of the space. It has stuck with me because of the support I received from the cast and company as well as the experience it has given me!

If you could choose a dream show to design in the future, what would it be?

This question is extremely difficult. Being an actor and a designer, I tend to read plays with those two things in mind: what would be a good part to play? And how would I design the show? I feel like any Shakespeare play would be a jewel to design. The versatility of the source material design-wise is intriguing and really exciting. I would love to do a Midsummer set in the 80s or a Twelfth Night set on a plane-wrecked deserted island.

This show deals with a government restriction of toilet use. If you were to lead a dramatic revolution, what future restriction would you be fighting to end? Maybe an imposed limit of iced coffees? Or perhaps the government control of pet ownership?

I would revolt against a government restriction on peanut butter. Maybe there is a shortage of peanuts, it does not matter. Peanut Butter is for all people.

What are your dreams for the future?

I definitely want to keep on working within theatre. Currently, I am pursuing a BFA in acting and hope to work as an actor professionally from there. That being said, elements of design have taught me the beauty of expression and creativity. I hope to do something that fosters creativity in myself and in others.


Urinetown Creative Team:
Co-Director and Music Director: Van Angelo
Co-Director and Choreographer: Xavier J. Bush

CLICK HERE to buy tickets!


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