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Pushing Beyond Traditional Design

TEDxBoise stage design gives grad student a chance to explore design beyond traditional theater

On May 5, more than a dozen speakers will share their innovative ideas about leadership, gender roles and sexuality, capitalism and technology during the .

Illuminating their ideas and bringing the event theme to life is the stage set, designed by University of Idaho Master of Fine Arts student Jared Sorenson.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, the 29-year-old Sorenson is completing his first year as student in the scenic design program in the Department of Theatre Arts in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. His passion for scenic design goes back years, and he has a bachelor’s degree in theater production from Humboldt State University in California.

“Scenic design is helping to support the story that the actors are telling on stage,” Sorenson said. “It helps not just with location and time of day and other setting type things, it also helps reinforce the emotional arc of the story — it helps support what the audience is supposed to be feeling.”

Jared’s Breakthrough Moment

Jared Sorenson describes what goes into designing for stage productions.

Pushing His Boundaries

For TEDxBoise, Sorenson and his mentor/advisor Assistant Professor Jesse Dreikosen, head of design and technology for theater, were charged with creating a set that reflected the events theme, “Unchartered Territory: Putting Ideas on the Map.”

Projects like this one give design students a chance to explore the world of stage design outside of theater, Dreikosen said. He said opportunities to work with outside companies, like TEDxBoise, help students take the needed leap to truly excel in their craft.

“I believe if you don’t push the student – if there’s not a chance to really step out on that edge of their potential — they’re never going to take the leap,” Dreikosen said. “I teach traditional theater design, but I really do emphasize that there are opportunities outside of traditional theater to do design as well, and this was a great opportunity to expose Jared to.”

The challenge was deciding how to tell the story of TEDxBoise visually, without distracting from the speakers. Dreikosen pushed Sorenson to consider the various angles and viewpoints of the audiences involved, including camera angles. As a result, the design includes lower, stage-level elements that likely will only be seen by those watching the videos, and other higher elements that will be seen by those in the live audience.

“There are alternative avenues in design. This is Jared being able to expand his mind and think that design is all around us, and there are opportunities to be a designer outside of theater,” Dreikosen said. “I think that, when you talk about those breakthrough moments – this is his way to breaking out of doing theatrical design, and to think about design in a little bit of a different way. You’re still telling a story, and you need to communicate that story, because there’s a theme to the speakers. This is the thing that he’s discovering on this project.”

About TEDxBoise

TEDxBoise was started by Laura Hampikian and Thomas Lansing in 2015. TEDxBoise is an all-volunteer staffed, nonprofit organization. The event relies on the sponsorship of partners and general admission sales. For 2018, the University of Idaho is a platinum-level sponsor of the event.

Jesse Dreikosen
Jesse Dreikosen

Building on TEDxBoise’s Imagery

TEDxBoise provided the U of I team with overall imagery for the stage, such as compasses and a map motif. 

“We took that, and we sort of interpreted it to mean not only physical territory, but also science and the exploration that TED is known for,” Sorenson said. “We took that in a slightly futuristic way and did some staging that was supposed to be evocative of some topographical maps as well as being reminiscent of a deepening sky, and then a couple of other elements. There’s a compass on stage that’s a little futuristic looking.”

Sorenson designed the stage concept, with support from Dreikosen, and then built a 3-D model rendering of the set and a model. The team then worked to build the pieces in U of I’s theater scene shop. It will be transported to Boise and has to be set up the day before, and then torn down immediately after the event. 

“The way I approached this is looking at other TED stages, and then just at lots of images of things related to the theme — maps and compasses and galaxies,” Sorenson said. “There were several times where an idea crystalized, and then it started to develop and we would see how it would work. The one that stuck was the one we ended up going with.”

The stage theme came together in about a week, Sorenson said. Some elements are still unknown.

“I’m a little nervous, because we won’t have it in the space or see how the lighting is going to interact with it until we’re down there. But I’m also excited because I think it’s going to look really good,” Sorenson said.

Dreikosen is proud of the progress he has seen Sorenson make in his first year at U of I. 

“His design aesthetic has sort of done leaps and bounds since he got to us,” Dreikosen said. “I thought that would challenge his mind in a different way. And I think he’s exceeded that expectation.”

Jared Sorenson
Jared Sorenson


Take a peek inside the University of Idaho scene shop as Jared Sorenson creates a set for TedX Boise.

Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications and Marketing

Article published in May 2018.


University Communications and Marketing

Phone: 111-111-6291

Fax: 111-111-5841

Email: [email protected]

Web: Communications and Marketing

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