Five Friday Questions with Catherine Cornell

Catherine Cornell Ian Johnston

Catherine Cornell is a scenic designer, painter, and prop maker who landed in Seattle three years ago with a carry-on suitcase. Since then, she’s designed 17 shows, painted seven and propped five, including the acclaimed Master Harold…and the boys at West of Lenin and Undo at Annex (which won a Gregory for Best New Play). This summer she’ll design sets for the upcoming Slaughterhouse-Five at Book-It, Emboldened at Freehold Theatre and this fall she’ll do Buyer and Cellar at the Seattle Rep. Continuing our run of local tech whizzes, Cornell joined me for this installment of Five Friday Questions.

What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately?

A group of friends (all computer science engineers) playing Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a kind of social theatre and it’s beautiful to see people with no theatrical background come together to embody characters and create a story full of all of the things that make stories good: intriguing personalities, overwhelming odds, a good crescendo, and plenty of humor. Each week through the guise of a game, these people open up and allow others to discover surprising things about them. It reminds me that we all have good stories to tell if we’re bold enough to tell them.

What’s the best meal in Seattle?

Anything eaten by the water at sunset with good company.

Also, brunch. God, I love brunch. Sunday morning, you can find me at any number of places in Capitol Hill. Skillet is a must-eat if you haven’t been there before. Lost Lake is great for classic diner food (and they serve breakfast 24 hours a day). My mom loves the Sunday brunch show at Julia’s on Broadway. However, my favorite place, 611 Supreme, is no longer around. So if anyone knows where to get a spectacular crepe with gruyere, ham, and egg, let me know.

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad?

I need something with a beat. I grew up with Salsa music (my mom is Puerto Rican), so I listen to a lot of Celia Cruz. I also listen to a lot of classical music. I don’t know much about classical, but it’s good for being happy or sad. There’s a disgusting amount of Michael Bublé songs on my computer. I like listening to his “Lost” on the sad days. I wish I listened to more hip hop.

What’s the most crucial element of any production (and why)?

The script. It’s the foundation. And why we are telling the story. It’s the structure.

What’s the most useful thing anyone’s ever taught you about working in theatre?

How to maintain an impeccable portfolio. The quality of your work is important, but the presentation of it is just as critical. Anyone should be able to flip through the pages without me and get a clear sense for the quality of my skills and my aesthetic. Networking has gotten me into interviews, but my portfolio and what I have to say about my work is what has gotten me the jobs.

Also, “never stop designing.” That’s what my first professional director, Tim Ocel, told me. He led me to my first show in Seattle which led to every one after that. Sometimes, I’ve worked myself too hard, but each experience gives me exposure and knowledge, and I find that invaluable.