After nearly two decades teaching in College of Charleston's theater department, you would think Allen Lyndrup would be ready for a break from the stage. After all, who wouldn't be exhausted from shaping dozens of productions from The Drowsy Chaperone to Mad Gravity to Dancing at Lughnasa? Not Lyndrup. He is still involved in the local theater scene. In fact, he just received not one but two nominations from Theatre Charleston for his scenic design work this year on PURE's Other Desert Cities and The Birds.
Lydrup's passion for theater can be traced back to his rural upbringing in a small farming community in Illinois. "When I was a small boy, maybe five, someone got my brother a train kit as a Christmas gift. He wasn't very interested in it at all, but I started to build mountains for it, and I made the train a little world," he says. Although Lyndrup loved to build things from that point on, it wasn't until he went to a small liberal arts school, Wartburg College, in Waverly, Iowa that he became interested in theater.
"Since it was tiny, perhaps a 1,000 students or so, I could do all kinds of things I wouldn't have been able to do at a big school, because no one was any good at anything. I got involved with theater," he recalls. During school, Lydrup focused primarily on directing, not on what would become his calling card, set design. After graduate school at the University of Georgia, Allen found himself teaching theater at the University of Virginia and James Madison University before settling at the College of Charleston in 1991.
"The best one [I did for a community theater] was Other Desert Cities," says Lyndrup.
For his work in PURE's spring production Lyndrup crafted a stage with sharp edges — a modern wet bar, a stiff bean-shaped couch, cold metal dining room furniture, a twinkling Christmas tree, and a contemporary (and seemingly contrary) fireplace in the back wall — all of it designed to echo the rising family tension of the Wyeth family as they await the release of their daughter's tell-all memoir. And all of that had to be accomplished while evoking the Palm Springs desert where the play takes place. No easy task considering how hokey the idea could have come off, but Lyndrups' use of huge back windows made it appear as if the sunset was dipping into the sand.
"Allen is a true artist, and working with him is always an amazing, collaborative experience," says PURE's Sharon Graci, Other Desert Cities director. "Whatever you give him to work with, he manages to create something that truly reflects the performance."
Before he begins building, Lyndrup spends a lot of time sketching and drafting, though sometimes he gets lucky on the first read-through of a script and knows just how the set should look. "The best sets are the ones that come to me like a flash of light, where I can just see what to do, how everything should be," he says. Citing the creative collaboration that is a hallmark of his work, he looks back fondly on The Imaginary Invalid which he constructed for James Madison University. The Moliere play features the antics of a hypochondriac. "The director envisioned commedia dell'arte masks for the performers, so I built this operating room/living-room hybrid on stage and all the performers made their own masks for the play," he says.
Who knows what the next act will be for Lyndrup, but with PURE and others hoping to work with him, we'll likely be lucky to see more inventive sets from this stalwart of the Charleston stage.