Titanic: A Fascination – Workshop

This past May, I returned to Just Buffalo Writing Center to teach her 2nd workshop! This time, I discussed something that has morbidly fascinated me for most of my life – The RMS Titanic.

To start off the workshop, the students discussed their own odd fascinations. One person collects dead leaves, another loved collects people’s weaknesses. After everyone had their turn, it finally became time for me to delve into my fascination, and explore the tale that is the Titanic.

Presenting the Tale of Titanic to the JBWC students

The RMS Titanic was considered to be the most luxurious ship of its time. Although the class system was still heavily prevalent, even the 3rd class accommodations were considered top notch. The 1st class had everything – from fabulous food, to a pool, to Turkish baths. It was named The Ship

Of Dreams for that reason, and also because of the promise of a new life for many individuals in 3rd class looking for the American Dream. How unfortunate that many of them were not given the opportunity to pursue it.

There are so many factors when it comes to the sinking of this fine vessel that it is as though the ship was tied to this destiny. Ignoring all ice warnings, Captain Smith went through the Atlantic at high speeds, thinking his many years of experience would help him see any icebergs before it was too late. The night of the sinking was a new moon and the water was calm, making it exceedingly difficult to see breaks in the water that would reveal the base of any iceberg. By the time one was seen, all they could do was swerve – a move that rendered the bulkhead system, which had given the ship its unsinkable reputation, useless and therefore making the sinking of the ship inevitable.

Captain Smith’s instructions for filling the lifeboats were interpreted quite differently on each side of the ship, leading many passengers to be turned away and the boats to be not filled to capacity. And there was already only enough lifeboats for half of the people onboard. Many of the ships nearby had either stopped operations for the night or mistook the ship for a steamboat vessel due to the effects of a cold water mirage. By the time the RMS Carpathia arrived to save the passengers, Titanic had already gone under and only the 703 in the lifeboats remained alive.

For many years after, the ship’s final resting place was a mystery. That is, until Robert Ballard’s discovery in the summer of 1985. He spent the entire following summer exploring the ship, marveling over how the crew’s nest still stood tall and discovering where the stern portion of Titanic had landed. Ballard has always believed that the ship is a gravesite, feeling that nothing there should be removed and has even left a memorial plaque on the end of the stern in honor of the many who met their fate there. He has spent a lot of time instead figuring out non-invasive technological ways to have Titanic be brought into classrooms. He has been the author of multiple Titanic books, and is highly respected in the oceanographic community.

After telling this riveting tale and answering a few questions, I left it up to the students to create some writing in response to the Titanic. I had brought a number of books from my Titanic collection, put on the Titanic soundtrack as the background music, and even presented a CGI video of Titanic sinking in real time. I suggested writing content such as poetry, diary entries, plays, or telling the life of any passenger. This resulted in some lovely pieces, and an intense discussion over whether it was really Titanic that sank that night. The 3 images below are just a few samples of the marvelous pieces created that day.

Thanks so much for reading! Feel free to leave a like and a comment down below on what you think.

Check out https://www.justbuffalo.org/ for more information on their other workshops, events, and other services.

Follow me here, on my writing blog https://breneewrites.wordpress.com/ , and on Instagram @brprather to keep up with my adventures.

Theatre Design Meets Storytelling: A Workshop

When I was doing my undergrad at University at Buffalo, I heard many colleagues in my program refer to their job as being a “storyteller”. It makes perfect sense. The stage, in my mind, is an entire novel, and each person’s job in that space is a piece to the story line. The director and playwright work together as writer and editor, the actors are the characters, and the designers create the descriptive imagery. Everyone aids the story through collaboration, which makes it such a beautiful, fascinating experience, especially for me as a writer.

Now, since graduating in 2015, I have been trying to figure out where I want my career to go. What kind of work do I want to do? What content do I want to create?

Finding the meeting ground between me as a writer, and me as a designer and artist, has been something I have been struggling to find. I have also been wanting to teach workshops. I really want to get hands on with people, have them express their stories to me through their words and their mighty pens.

In September 2016, I started volunteering at Just Buffalo Writing Center. The workshop coordinator, Robin Lee Jordan, was actually my Writing I professor at UB. It’s been so great catching up with her. Not to mention one of her assignments changed my life, so I am grateful to be able to work with her and all of the wonderful, talented students at the center. 

Originally, I had sent in some prompts on theatre design to be used to start off youth workshops, but they actually had a workshop slot open. Robin offered it to me, so I taught my first workshop EVER this past January!

Excerpt from Play (by JBWC students)

In order to design a story, you need…well, a story. I decided to have the students write the plays that they would be making design theoreticals for. I had them get into groups of 2-3 people and gave them the following parameters:

  • 2-3 pages front and back, with minimal stage direction
  • Keep the amount of characters to the amount in the group
  • Make sure to include at least one of the following – a meal, a midnight stroll, after school, during a snowstorm, or travelling somewhere new

Brainstorming, and basic concept statement

After they had finalized their plays, I asked them to tell me what they thought lighting, set, and costume design each did for the story. We then discussed which out of their suggestions were the most important to keep in mind when designing any story.

To show the students what goes into creating each design, from the initial concept statement and inspiration, to the final product, I used my realized designs as examples.

Also included were these two awesome videos on lighting design – the first having famous lighting designers Natasha Katz and Howell Binkley discussing what goes into lighting design, and the second by Opale actually showing how light changes someone’s face.

It was then time for them to create their theoretical designs! In the real world, you don’t usually get to design your own content, so I made everyone switch plays and design the ones they were given. The students chose to create inspiration through collage. We did presentations for each and then ended the workshop with performances of the plays themselves sans designs.

Below is what was created for one of the plays the students wrote. The play was about two love-struck turtles going on a new adventure.

I am so proud of myself and so grateful that I got the opportunity to do this. I think the students really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to teach another workshop in the future!

Click here to see the piece I wrote about this workshop on Just Buffalo Writing Center’s blog! Also check out my writing blog here.

Introducing my new website #BReneeWrites!

Hello, everyone! I would like to let you all know about my latest internet creation, #BReneeWrites: The Recordings of a Blunder Jungle!

There, I will be showcasing my latest writing pieces, such as excerpts from my recent memoir project I am Mosaic. Hear Me Roar., some throwback pieces, analytical thoughts, adventures, and anything else that seems fitting.

Although #BReneeWrites will be very blog-heavy, this blog here will still be recording my theatre design adventures. There will most likely be some overlap, but if you are only here for my theatre design work, then honey, stay on this site!

For those interested in taking a look what is cooking on #BReneeWrites, then by all means, have a peak! And don’t be afraid to write a thought. Thank you!

Scenic Artist Adventures: Final Clean-Up

As the semester draws to a close, I reflect on my effect on the next generation. With that in mind, I decided to show the show paint shelves and the paint cart a little love. They were looking a little sad, so I figured a new coat of paint would do just the trick!

"Shwo Paint" Lettering - Sides - Stencils
“Show Paint” Lettering – Sides – Stencils

"Show Paint" Lettering - Top Shelf - Final
“Show Paint” Lettering – Top Shelf – Final

"Show Paint" Lettering- Sides - Final
“Show Paint” Lettering- Sides – Final

After all that was done, I decided to do a little clean-up and reorganization of Painting World. I swept. I had all the leftover glosses dumped down the sink, and the buckets that held them cleaned and put away. I even re-organized the bins again!

The area isn’t quite perfect, but it looks much better than it did when I first came into Paint World. I can’t believe that was almost 4 months ago….

It’s been such a wonderful last semester. Being Department Scenic Artist has been such an honor and a privilege. Here’s to new, exciting adventures and projects in the future!

Scenic Artist Adventures: Spring Awakening – Production Photos

And so my last show of the semester, as well as my last show here at UB, has finally come to end. Here, have a look at the finished product in these production photos –

Spring Awakening – Just before “Touch Me” – The Chairs


Spring Awakening – Just Before “Totally F*cked” – Gears and Portals

Spring Awakening – “Totally F*cked” – Gears and Portals

Twas a lovely show to work on. It was a great process, and I am really happy with how all of the scenic elements turned out!



Scenic Artist Adventures: Chairs For Days

In order to create a cohesive look for the chairs, I had to paint the chairs so that they were identical, despite each being built different.

Basing the colors off of 4 of the chairs being used, I painted the other 6 to match. I created a dark brown for the primer, and then added layers of orange, red, and blackish-brown washes. This not only helped match the coloring, but mimiced wood graining.


I finished it with a gloss to give it the shine it needed.

Gloss Added
Gloss Added

I repeated this technique with the piano bench being used.

Painted Bench - Final
Painted Bench – Final

Scenic Artist Adventures: Bring on the Gears!

As a part of the industrial aesthetic for Spring Awakening‘s set, Spencer decided he wanted to have three rusted gears hanging in the background. Here is what I did to create that look!

Scenic Artist Adventures: Let them build portals!

Having returned from Spring Break, it was back to sample making for Spring Awakening portals.

Grabbing a piece of scrap leuon covered in white primer, I played around with both the light wash and the medium wash.

Paint Samples - Portals - Light Wash
Paint Samples – Portals – Light Wash

Now that samples were done and washes were ready, it was time to start adding texture on the actual portals, which was a mixture of joint compound and saw dust to make the rough, concrete-esque texture that Spencer was going for.

After that dried, we primed the portals all white and then added the washes.

And with that, the portals were done! All was set for assembling and load-in for the portals.

Theatre Travels: Hello, Cincinnati! USITT 2015

So, this past week, instead of partaking in the usual Spring Break activities (i.e. sleeping in, visiting family, sweating to death in Florida), I decided to invest in going to my first USITT (The United States Institute for Theatre Technology).

Costumes of Cincinnati Ballet - Peter Pan
Costumes of Cincinnati Ballet – Peter Pan

Now, my goals for this trip were fairly simple – to enjoy some helpful workshops, have fun, get some swag, and figure out my plans post-graduation. I spent the week prior preparing my resume (which has been added as a sub-page under my about me page tab), creating business cards, and of course, making sure my wardrobe was perfected.

I attended with my good friends and colleagues Kassidy Coburn, Joseph A Franjoine, Spencer Harder, and Zach Bowen, as well as with my professor Jon Shimon. I stayed in a crappy motel with Kassidy, Joseph, and Spencer because we couldn’t afford the nicer hotels. We had to get up early for workshops. I had to get out of my shell and actually talk to people.

Costumes of the Cincinnati Ballet
Costumes of the Cincinnati Ballet



Me flying at the Foy Booth
Me flying at the Foy Booth

….I honestly don’t regret any of it.

A lot of wonderful experiences happened. I made some funny memories. And I got some opportunities presented to me. I am unsure as to what I’ll be doing next, but I have some things to consider now. If any of you out there are wondering whether the money for this trip is worth it, stop questioning. Just go!*