Meet Our Member of the Week: Anita Tripathi

May 10, 2024

We’re kicking off our Member of the Week segment by introducing our first Member in the spotlight: Anita Tripathi! Get to know her here by checking out her interview, and touring her portfolio!

Anita Tipathi currently works in the Theatre Department at Davidson College in North Carolina as the Associate Professor of Design and Technology and has been teaching in higher education for more than 15 years. She has designed scenery professionally for over 20 years at such venues as The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Greenbrier Valley Theatre, Playmakers Repertory Theatre, and The Virginia Stage Company. Anita also worked regionally as both a Properties Designer/Manager and Scenic Charge Painter and has assisted Tony Award-winning designer David Gallo on several productions. Her work has been featured as a finalist at the World Stage Design Exhibition in Cardiff, Wales and she also received a USITT Fellowship to support her research in India on modern scenic design in that country. She currently serves on the USITT Board of Directors. Anita holds an M.F.A. in Scene Design from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the professional design union, United Scenic Artists Local 829.  

Tell us a bit about yourself! As live entertainment technicians, we always talk about our work. But who are you, outside of your work in live entertainment? 

I’m a professor and a mom and an animal lover. If I couldn’t do this, I’d move to Kenya and spend my time on conservation. In fact, maybe there’s a way to combine both?!

Can you tell us about your journey into scenic design? What sparked your interest in this field? 

My undergrad degree is in Political Science and German. I’ve always been interested in theatre, but didn’t realize until later in life it could be a career choice. I love envisioning a world, coming up with an aesthetic, and delving into metaphor. I was fortunate enough to have a special professor in my life who encouraged me to pursue this field.

How do you approach the initial stages of a new project? What is your process for understanding a director's vision or a script and translating it into scenic design? 

Research, research, research. I love the initial stages because it’s the time of the process that is filled with so many “what if”s. It’s so exciting to try to capture a mood or a theme through images. Texture and color and scale are particularly interesting to me, so going down the rabbit hole of research in these areas is super exciting.

USITT emphasizes collaboration across different disciplines in theatre. How do you collaborate with other members of the production team, such as lighting designers, costume designers, and directors, to achieve a cohesive production? 

Communication and openness are key. And scary. That’s what we do as artists–put ourselves out there and ask questions of each other. Collaboration happens at its finest when we come up with an idea that is greater than all of our smaller ideas put together. Giving ourselves permission to not have the “right” answer is part of the collaborative journey.

Do you have a favorite project you’d like to tell us about? Or maybe a design moment you conceptualized that made a show magical? 

There are a few that stand out, but I especially love the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. In our concept meetings, the director kept making a motion with his hands, like a sort of turning in space. I don’t know exactly how that led to the research I came up with, but eventually, we created a sort of organic spiral on stage that enveloped a dual cantilevered turntable. The shape and rhythm of the piece really emphasized the movement, fragmentation, journey, and idea of reaching out from a cocoon. Combined with the feeling of worn wood and transformable props, we were able as audience members to visit 22 different locations, and still end up “at home.”

the miraculous journey 1


What’s some advice you’d give to designers or technicians who are just getting started? 

See as much theatre as you can. Pay careful attention to the world around you. Find joy in art. Ask questions of yourself and others. Whatever inspires you–do more of that whenever you can. Because that is how you invest in yourself as a creator.

What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a scenic designer? Conversely, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in this role? 

I get to define the world we tell the story in. How cool is that?! Also, that’s a huge challenge. In the American Regional Model, nothing really gets started without knowing what the space will look like–and that can be a lot of pressure.

How do you stay updated on emerging trends and techniques in scenic design? Are there any particular resources or communities you rely on for inspiration and learning? 

Absolutely–I rely heavily on USITT, actually. Attending the conference programming, staying in touch with professionals, and reading about trends in TD&T is all extremely helpful. And, like it or not, some social media helps because that’s where folks post the latest trends.

USITT offers numerous resources and opportunities for professional development. Can you share how being a member has benefited your career and artistic growth? 

Being a Member has given me access to the resources I mentioned above. But I have also been able to take advantage of grant funding. I received a fellowship about 10 years ago to research one of India’s preeminent scenographers, Khaled Choudhury. I was so privileged to travel there and ended up being the last person to interview him formally while he was alive. It’s because USITT values diversity and knowledge that I was able to have that experience. 

Are you working on any projects you’re excited about right now?

In a couple weeks, I will start meetings for the musical Grace for President at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. I designed the world premiere in 2016 and now they are bringing it back with an all-new creative team. I’m pumped for the challenge of re-conceiving such a fun and timely production.

Thank you so much to Anita for sharing her work with us! You can check out her online portfolio below. Make sure to apply to be our next Member of the Week!