Jerry D. Allen, associate professor of theater and scenographer (costume, scenic and lighting design) at Lycoming College, has performed, designed or participated in hundreds of productions in the past 44 years. His passion for the stage began at a very young age when he played a wise man in a Christmas church production. His interest in theater never waned and the scope of his involvement branched into the world behind the curtain as well as in front.
The Sun-Gazette recently got a chance to ask Allen about his lifelong involvement in theater.
KRISTA STORM: When and how did your interest in the performing arts begin?
JERRY ALLEN: I played Prince Charming in a fourth-grade production of "Sleeping Beauty." I was terrified because I had to kiss Sheryl Baker on the lips in order to awake her from her sleep.
I acted in plays in high school and when my older brother was cast in a production of "The King and I," I was allowed to come to rehearsal to watch. I was very intrigued by the process, but when they added the costumes and scenery, I was really totally fascinated.
When I went to college at Utah State University, I auditioned for a role in the theater department's first production of the season. It was a totally different experience than high school and I was having a very good time. When I went to the costume shop for measurements and fittings, there were costume designs on the wall showing what each character would be wearing. I wanted to know who did these and could I learn to do them. Since I took art in high school and was also taking art at the college, the professor told me that I could take a senior course in costume design. I was hooked.
KS: What inspires you as a designer? Color, texture, shape or is it more character-show based?
JA: It really depends on the show. If it has to be earthy, then color and texture. If it is to be elegant, then it is color and elegant textures. Some shows are character-based and then when the director has a "goofy" or unusual concept, it often becomes shape-and-color-based. I believe most people react to color first, then the shape and texture.
I'm drawn to elegant costumes and elegant scenic styles. While there are certain shows that are totally bizarre and strange, requiring bizarre and strange costumes and sets, they are probably the most fun to work on. They teach designers and students how to think outside the box.
KS: What play have you always wanted to direct or design?
JA: I've always liked directing comedies because I think the audience - both student and adult audiences - prefer to laugh and have a good time. I really like to direct musicals and turn-of-the-century comedies. As a designer, I'd love to costume "My Fair Lady" or "The King and I," if I had a huge budget and a gigantic work force.
KS: What is the best production-theater experience you have had?
JA: Having designed over 400 productions during my career, I'm certain that most have been a positive experience, but the cast of "The Rocky Horror Show" had the most fun and had a dynamic and positive working experience.
As a spectator I was totally engrossed in "Wicked," "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Mary Poppins."
KS: What do you like about working in the theater department at Lycoming? What other theaters have you worked with?
JA: I've always preferred working at small private institutions, such as the University of Puget Sound and Lycoming. The faculties are small, but the personalities and the creativeness of the people I have worked with are grand. The Lycoming College administration supports us, not only financially, but with their patronage.
Locally, I have worked with the Red Cross for their Fete de Cuisine. I have designed many costumes at the Barn Theatre at Keuka College; I have worked with a theater in Scranton. I supply costumes for many community theater productions, high schools and most recently, the production company of the Rollie House film shoot, both as an actor and a designer.
I have designed sets and costumes for a production in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR and acted in an experimental, award-winning film called "Left/Right," directed by a former Lycoming student. That was definitely a fun and new experience.
KS: If you could work with anyone, living or dead, famous or not, with whom would you like to work?
JA: I'm pretty open to working with anyone at this point of my career. I have worked with famous actors and directors and as long as they were sane and logical, I have enjoyed working with them. They all put their pants on the same way - one leg at a time.