Sense of Place

Feb. 29, 2012

“Here I am, almost 60, making doll houses for a career, and it’s great.”

University of Arizona Distinguished Professor Peter Beudert does much more than build doll houses. He is the head of design and technology at the School of Theatre, Film and Television. A member of United Scenic Artists, he works professionally both on campus and elsewhere.

Beudert describes his work as creating a sense of place, “wherein an actor performs for a short period of time, and people witness that performance. How much space is around it? Is that space darkness? Is it light? And does that somehow support the dramatic intent? So the restrictions then are not like architecture for living. It’s more like sculpture for the event.”

Beudert began his stage career setting up shows and working sound equipment for rock bands in the 1970s. One of his early jobs included working shows for a singer from his home state of Michigan named Bob Seeger. The experience was educational, to say the least.

“I learned a lot about performance and what it was to work as a team and do things quick and be, you know, resourceful,” he says. “I remember driving back from a gig somewhere in western Michigan and Bob decided that it was time to stop in Jackson and play a concert. You know, already done one that day, so let’s do another.”

From there, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival provided intensive on-the-job training, drafting and model building included.

“I love making them models, that’s the best part. You have all these ideas and you wonder: what is it really going to look like? And you start making it and you put it together and you assemble it, and at some point in the day you get to slow down and put the light on it, and you get to say, yeah, this looks pretty good, this might work. Then again,” he says, “sometimes you look and it’s time to start over.”

Benefits of Wallowing in the Mud

Beudert has a deep passion for developing new talent, and relishes watching students rise to the challenges inherent in theatre arts.

“I remember being here at three in the morning working with this student designer,” he recalls. “She still had this list of how to make this thing better, and I knew she was exhausted and the whole team was exhausted. But she knew, just a few more things, and it could be that much better. The student is working on Broadway now.”

According to Brent Gibbs, that’s one of Beudert’s greatest hallmarks as a teacher: challenging his students and letting them figure out their own way through a problem. He is the kind of professor who doesn’t give out the answers, but lets his students develop their own ideas.

“He steps in and helps them out when he needs to,” says Gibbs, “but he also lets them wallow around in the mud for a little while and figure their way out.”

Theatre production student Rachel Silverman has experienced that challenge firsthand.

“I’m his assistant for Julius Caesar,” she remembers, “and I asked him what do you want me to do for you as an assistant? And he’s like, what do you want to do? I was like, well, I never thought of what I want to do.”

With that door open, Silverman told Beudert she wanted to dig into drafting and model making. But along with exploring her own sensibilities, she also wanted to understand his creative process. He agreed, and the collaboration has been wonderful.

She smiles, “I’m just so excited to live in the mind of Peter Beudert.”

An Education Opening Opportunities

Beudert is leading UA theatre arts students into increasingly complex interdisciplinary territory. For the past six years, his department and electrical and computer engineering have been sharing students.

“It’s not just theatre students that are going from the University of Arizona to Las Vegas or to New York or to Los Angeles,” he says, “but it’s engineering students as well. I think we’ve created some unique and original experiences for these students, and the proof is they’re getting jobs.”

La Belle Vie

When he’s not building tiny furniture, or conferring with student designers, Beudert and his wife Lynn, a UA art professor, can be found fixing up an ancient farmhouse in the French countryside.

“Well I have this alter ego when I go to France,” he says. “I mason, I’m building stone walls and I’m mixing concrete, and I’m swearing in French. And I love it.”

When it comes to putting himself into a task – whether it’s building a doll-house sized set or restoring that French farmhouse, Beudert works as hard as he can, and is as honest as he can be with himself as he works through each job’s demands and problems.

“If it matches what it is you imagine,” he says, “then you’ve done the job well.”

Experience more at the UA School of Theatre, Film and Television.

View YouTube- "Sense of Place"