Betsy Kieckhaefer is part of our Merc family as our resident stage artist extraordinaire, otherwise known as our set builder. She is the one responsible for the incredibly eye-popping sets built to help tell our stories. With a BFA degree in sculpture, Betsy has left her artistic mark on The Merc stage more often than not since arriving in the Methow Valley in late summer of 2016, as she says, almost by accident. Recently, she was interviewed by Phil Quevillon, all while working on the set of The Nutcracker. Her sculptural design work in between questions included deconstructing donated fake Christmas trees and creating a huge installation on the back wall, cutting out tremendous snowflakes, prepping our stage floor for a zany paint design reflecting Jane and Missi’s take on what a Nutcracker living room should look like, and putting the final touches on the set’s Christmas tree. You will see Betsy’s incredible artistic vision of The Nutcracker when it opens on Friday, December 2 and runs til Sunday, December 11. Tickets are on sale at mercplayhouse.org. This year, we’re featuring a silent auction during the run of the show.
Phil: When did you come to the valley? Betsy: I moved here in August of 2016.
Phil: How did you hear about The Merc Playhouse? Betsy: From Missi Smith, The Merc’s executive director. Soon after a conversation with her, I volunteered to create some set pieces for a show.
Phil: It was Peter Pan and since then, you’ve designed sets for lots of shows at The Merc. Describe some of your designs and features. Betsy: For Peter Pan, I designed and sculpted two pastel, leafless, and quite lonely trees. When I think about my creations, my focus has mostly been designing and building various types of trees for Merc sets. I built a tremendous tree for the children’s show Rikki Tikki Tavi, created a backdrop for Charlotte’s Web, which included a tree as part of the landscape, and with Rose Weagant, constructed a three dimensional backdrop, using a tree and roots motif, for Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Phil: Tell me about The Nutcracker. Betsy: I’m building trees again, as well as snowflakes. We’re talking big!
Phil: On a full show, how much goes into building a set? Betsy: I don’t keep track of time in terms of hours, but it takes weeks, working around other jobs. I loved creating the marble floor in The Real Inspector Hound, researching methods of design.. For other shows, I like to use recycled paper for various objects.
Phil: Besides volunteering as a set designer, you stepped a little out of your comfort zone and was cast in a readers’ theater production last year. What was that experience like? Betsy: Even though it was my first time on stage, It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. I was a juror in Twelve Angry Women. My character was supposed to be nervous, which worked out well. We are all so thrilled Betsy bumped into Missi 6 years ago. Thank you, Betsy, for sharing your passion for stage design with us!