Communications graduate William Boles set designs for the center stage

Alyssa Clough and Alyssa Clough

More often than not, performers in productions receivecritical acclaim while artists behind-the-scenes fade into the shadows, but not anymore. People are taking notice of William Boles.

Cool, confident, intellectual and phenomenally talented, the Communication graduate student encompasses what any set designer would aspire to become.

Now in his third and final year pursuing the Master of Fine Arts in the stage design programat the School of Communication, Boles has much to look forward to. This quarter, his set designs will be showcased in not one but two campus productions due to a scheduling mishap. Boles admitted this posed a challenge but is not complaining. With work completed on “The Bluest Eye,” opening Friday, he will be adding his talents to the campus production “Spring Awakening” opening Feb. 10.

“[They] are so nice because they’re very different pieces, so that was good for me as a set designer,” he said.

Though cautious to avoid offending any past collaborators, Boles chose his recent work in “The Bluest Eye” as his favorite set.

“The play has a really poetic quality to it,” Boles said. “During this time, the steel industry was really huge so the set is this merging of theater and steel architecture.”

While proud of his set design for “The Bluest Eye,” he admits insecurities when it comes to pulling together all aspects of a performance.

“There’s always that anxious moment when you first see the set being built and you realize that people are putting their time and money into this and it’s like having a baby! You hope it doesn’t turn out to be ugly,” Boles said.

Theater Prof. Rives Collins, director of “The Bluest Eye”, was willing to take that risk with Boles.

“He is not only a gifted artist, he is also a wonderful human being – kind, funny, trustworthy, smart; he will have a long and successful career, bringing great stories to life through the power of his visual imagery,” Collins said.

The Lakeland, Fla., native wasn’t always on the fast track to becoming a prominent set designer. After four years of musical theater in high school, he had his heart set on performing.

“But I’d always be making things on my own and drawing – I’d be sketching the set during rehearsal,” said Boles.

After some “terrible auditions” for college theatre programs, Boles found himself at a conference where he was planning to audition for more programs, and brought his drawing portfolio for fun. Something clicked when he discovered the set design scholarship wing.

“I was like, oh my goodness, these people are doing this for their job? I could do a lot better!” he said.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in scenic design and technology at University of Central Florida, Boles got as much experience as he could before pursuing a master’s degree.

He built up credentials ranging from designs in Sweden for “The Fantasticks,” where he faced language barriers, to his work under the notable designer Todd Rosenthal.

Despite a preference for warm weather, Boles ended up here in Chicago and decided to stay. The master’s program seemed like a low-stress environment where he could flourish as a designer without giving up three years of his life to neurotic anxiety. After arriving, Boles found just the motivation he needed.

“Just being surrounded by people who are very passionate about what they do, care a lot about what they do, it challenges you to step your game up,” he said.

While he’s getting ready to leave Northwestern, Boles is not quite ready to say goodbye to Chicago. With aspirations of freelance set design, he also has his sights set on expanding his business into commercial and corporate events and environments.

“There are many aspects of the process that are interesting,” he said. “Getting to see a small little model or your idea that started as something small in your head created into full scale, that’s cool.”

-Alyssa Clough