Northwestern MFA stage design students were among the winners of a special virtual studio version of the Prague Quadrennial, a showcase of the best theatre design from around the world. Third-year students Meeka Postman (costume design) and Joe Johnson (set design) competed with entries from around the globe in the showcase’s PQ Studio contest, focused on staging Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s The White Plague. The eerily prescient 1937 play depicts a pandemic that kills citizens older than 45, sending a panic through an unnamed country whose dictator uses it as an opportunity to go to war rather than find a cure.
“The Prague Quadrennial, in this time of the pandemic, wanted to allow designers from different schools and different programs from around the world the chance to respond to the current moment,” Postman said. “A lot of people just don’t have projects to work on. And a lot of us have a lot of thoughts about the world and what’s happening. This play was written in 1937 and has so many parallels to now. They found the perfect play in the perfect time.”
The PQ Studio contest tasked designers with submitting a total performance design, including a minimum of set/space design and costume design. Submissions could also include puppet, lighting, sound, and/or projected media design. The judges asked that designs reach beyond aesthetic beauty toward a genre-blurring, emotionally charged, and innovative end product.
Three Northwestern design teams worked on PQ projects, but only one team per university could be submitted to the competition. The teams met virtually every week for seven weeks, mentored by costume designer Ana Kuzmanic (GC04), associate professor of theatre, and director Mary Zimmerman (C82, GC85, GC94), Jaharis Family Foundation Chair in Performance Studies. Of the dozen winners worldwide, Northwestern was one of only three American winners, along with the Yale School of Drama and Carnegie Mellon University.