As set and costume designer for the World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen, New York City-based Court Watson laid out set design after set design for NOCCA’s Theatre Design students. With credits including Jekyll & Hyde and West Side Story (Magdeburg, Germany), Frau Luna (Salzburger Landestheater), Rockville and Elton John’s AIDA the Musical (Amstetten, Austria), and Little Shop of Horrors and A Christmas Carol (Ford’s Theatre), the graduate of the Virginia Governor’s High School for the Arts and NYU began with technique. In short order, using his work as illustration, he had covered forced perspective, drafting, pin elevation, sketches, models, visible on-stage lighting, interior lighting, cross sections, revolving walls, negative images as drops, floating set pieces, research and costume design.
“There’s a moment of practicality to set design,” Watson emphasized to students. “If you as a set designer do not have a place to store set pieces during a show, it’s your fault. You have to be able to express why you think something will work. You have to know how much it will cost and how much time it will take to build and operate. You can’t just take the director down a prim rose path. The staging has to work to tell the story.”
The design of the World War II Museum’s Stage Canteen set gave Watson the chance to open students’ eyes to how life, politics and fashion all intersect at design. “The man in the first row will see an actress with a seam down the back of her leg and will remember the first time he danced with his wife. No one can teach you that. You learn to honor people’s feelings.”
Responding to a question, Watson spoke directly, “You will be asked to do something you don’t love but you have to figure out a way to do it. The best design work makes the audience feel something. It is not about beauty or ugliness. We’re storytellers, that’s what we do and if the story is within you, the job is easy.”