Profile of a Sophomore: Molly Cornell

Sophomore Molly Cornell is a Theatre Major with a focus in Design at Loyola University Chicago. She is also an RA, a double minor in Studio Art and Women and Gender Studies, and a Scenic Artist for the Theatre Department at Loyola. After seeing her show We Are the Hopeful this week, I wanted to sit down and ask her a few questions.

George Orwell’s 1984, Loyola University Chicago 2018. Directed by Max Gustafson. Scenic Design by Molly Cornell. Photo courtesy of Molly Cornell.

What lead you to focus on design? Did you always know it’s what you wanted to do?

Going into college, I didn’t even know design was a field that was an option for me. However, I took Design I, a requirement for the theatre major at Loyola, and my life was honestly changed. It felt like a missing piece of my soul, that I didn’t even know was missing, was filled. It very quickly became my passion. Then, being at the right place at the right time, I had the chance to be the Scenic Designer for 1984 in the spring semester of my freshman year. It confirmed my interest, and since then, I haven’t considered doing anything else with my life. This year I had the opportunity to work on 4 shows, one of which was my very own project. We Are the Hopeful was a two-week exploration looking at the intersection of mental health and theatre through design. I led a team of designers, including myself, to create sound and lighting design-based pieces exploring any topic under the wide umbrella of mental health. It was incredibly rewarding, and I can’t wait to keep doing it for the rest of my life!

George Orwell’s 1984, Loyola University Chicago 2018. Directed by Max Gustafson. Scenic Design by Molly Cornell. Photo courtesy of Molly Cornell.

Are there assumptions that people have when you tell them you’re studying design? What’s something about theatre design that most people don’t know?

When I tell people I study design, most people assume I mean graphic design or interior design. I learned very quickly that a lot of people don’t know what theatrical design entails! I can’t blame them, since I was the dark, too. One thing most people don’t know is how much research goes into designing. A lot of people assume that the ideas just pop into your head, which can be true, but mostly it is a result of hours and hours of detailed research. You’ll never know what research image will end up being the pinnacle of your design!

Failure: A Love Story by Phillip Dawkins, Loyola University Chicago 2019. Directed by Mark Lococo. Scenic Design by Timothy Mann, assist. Molly Cornell. Photo courtesy of Molly Cornell.

What do you have planned for the next two years at Loyola? What productions are coming up that you are working on?

Most immediately, I will be spending the summer in Chicago interning at the studio of two of the best scenic designers in Chicago. One of them has even won a Tony! I am so incredibly grateful and blessed for such a wonderful opportunity. Next school year, I will be the Associate Scenic Designer on the musical Fun Home, which we have already started meetings for, and Associate Costume Designer for The Odyssey. I will also be serving as the Lighting/Sound Supervisor for a student parody production of RATS: The Musical (formally CATS by Andrew Lloyd Webber). It’s going to be a busy year, but I’m very excited for all the opportunities for further growth. My senior year, the current plan is for me to fully Scenic Design a Faculty-directed/designed Mainstage show, and probably work on another one as a Costume Designer as well. After that, I plan on taking a gap year before applying to schools to get my MFA in Scenic Design.

Domestic: Three Works by Women, Loyola University Chicago 2018. Directed by Sarah Gabel. Scenic Design by Molly Cornell. Photo courtesy of Molly Cornell.

Do you have any tips for people wanting to go into design? Where should they start? Where can they take it after college?

For those wanting to go into design, I highly suggest putting yourself out there. Talk to professors, express interest, and start finding a way to be a part of the design process. Classes can only get you so far; experience is where 75% of the learning happens. However, classes are really important for building a foundation. Take studio art classes, take theatre classes, as well as theatre history. It’s all really important to build your skills as a designer. After college, you can get your Master of Fine Arts in Design, or you can jump right into taking jobs. Here, it’s also important to understand a lot of different areas. If you love lighting design but don’t know how to hang and focus a light, it will be hard to get jobs in smaller theaters. Also, continue to see other shows. See what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to learn what not to do, just as much as what to do.

You can email Molly Cornell at [email protected] with any questions.