Student Spotlight: Julie Solomon ’17, set designer and musician
Julie Solomon '17 designed the set for the show "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf."
Julie Solomon ’17 is an integral member of Dartmouth’s theater department — she is its go-to person for set design, a passion she discovered in high school almost by accident. After not getting a part in her school play, she was invited to work on the set crew instead. It was then that she fell in love with set design and chose to continue pursuing it, excited to build props and even use power tools.
Solomon knew that she wanted to pursue theater and set design in college. For that reason, she debated looking into conservatory programs, but her parents convinced her that a liberal arts education would be beneficial, reminding her that graduate school was always an option. Reflecting on her time here so far, Solomon is glad she decided to come to Dartmouth because of the variety of opportunities available.
“Dartmouth has been great for me,” Solomon said. “People don’t really come here for theater, but it’s a great department ... all the professors are so great, and there are so many opportunities for designers especially.”
Solomon began designing sets at Dartmouth when she took Theater 40, “Technical Production,” a requirement for the theater major. Because the class involved spending many hours in the scene shop, Solomon was introduced to the department as well as fellow students and professors. While continuing to take theater production classes, Solomon also worked as a set designer on many shows.
Kyla Mermejo-Varga ’17, a fellow theater major and friend of Solomon’s, said that the two met while Solomon was taking Theater 40 and Mermejo-Varga was working in the scene shop. After their first term together, they continued to work on many of the same shows produced by the department, with Solomon as a set designer and Mermejo-Varga as a stage manager and prop designer.
“I’ve worked with her in a lot of different capacities,” Mermejo-Varga said. “[Solomon] is a great communicator, and people are lucky to have her around and work with her.”
Throughout her time at Dartmouth, Solomon has worked with both students and professionals and noted that she appreciates the opportunities available to her at Dartmouth, particularly when she is able to work on mainstage shows with professors and professionals.
In addition to set design, Solomon also tried directing at one point but felt slightly discouraged by the process. Despite this, professors encouraged Solomon to try directing again, and she will be doing so in her upcoming senior thesis.
Beyond the theater department, Solomon also participates in other student organizations at the College. She recently served as the musical director of the a cappella group the Dartmouth Sing Dynasty.
Danielle Piacentile ’17, a fellow member of the Sings who was president while Solomon was musical director, said that both of them took on leadership positions early on.
“We’ve worked in tandem for three years, and by the end, I think we really got the hang of it,” Piacentile said.
Piacentile added that Solomon has had a significant influence on the group.
“She has really done so much to make us a better group musically in a way that other musical directors haven’t,” Piacentile said.
Despite her love for music and singing, Solomon said she prefers being backstage as opposed to performing, which is why she is so interested in set design. Solomon is specifically interested in the idea of immersive theater, where the whole design of the space is taken into account.
“I think now what draws me to [set design] is the ability to create a world and really transport an audience to a totally different environment,” Solomon said.
In traditional shows, there is the stage, the proscenium arch and the house, where the audience sits. Immersive theater disrupts that construction and allows the audience to move throughout the space, Solomon explained.
Because of her interest in this concept, Solomon decided to explore immersive theater in her upcoming senior thesis.
Originally, Solomon wanted to use her work on the winter musical, “Urinetown,” as her thesis and focus on her technical skills, but her professors and advisors encouraged her to do a more creative thesis.
Inspired by the idea of gender and how gender affects how one acts in a certain space, she decided to explore this relationship in her thesis.
“[Solomon] is interested in how space and gender interact, how you own a space as a woman, how you own a space as a man,” said Daniel Kotlowitz, theater professor and one of Solomon’s advisors.
Solomon said she will be combining three works of Shakespeare — “As You Like It,” “Twelfth Night” and “The Merchant of Venice” — and exploring the possible motivations of the women who crossdress within these shows. She felt as if she needed to create a somewhat new product and interweave these stories have the conversations she wanted to have. There will be one scene from each show to separate monologues of the three different women that will weave the stories together.
“Each scene explores a different relationship of gender and space and identity and how that influences the way you interact with the world,” Solomon said.
There will be a space for each section: the forest of Arden, a living room inside of a giant birdcage and a courtroom. The audience will be onstage and move throughout the space during the show so they can be fully immersed in the experience.
Kotlowitz said that Solomon’s thesis is a very experimental project.
“There are a lot of things that we take for granted that we don’t normally worry about that on this production she has to actually think through,” Kotlowitz said.
For example, Solomon is still deciding on the best way to move the audience throughout the show.
“It has changed quite a bit from what it was originally, but I think the core of it is what it’s always been,” Kotlowitz said.
While Solomon is focusing on her thesis now, she is also thinking about plans for after graduation. She wants to continue working in theater after graduation, although she is still figuring out exactly how.
“I go back and forth between wanting to pursue a safer career in theater ... in a more office and salaried capacity or wanting to go try follow my passion and be a freelance artist and work in set design,” Solomon said.
Through conversations, her friends and other artists have encouraged her to at least try set design for a while.
“Take the leap and try the scary thing, and if it doesn’t work out, there’s always a safer option,” said Solomon, paraphrasing their advice.
Currently, she is planning on moving to New York after graduation and trying to make it in the world of theater.