For Karl Eigsti, a visit to Goshen College is a chance to look at all of his work from over the years. It’s also an opportunity to connect with people.
Eigsti spent over 50 years as a set designer in theater and was involved in 20 Broadway shows, as well as Off-Broadway shows. This week, Eigsti is on campus, speaking in various classes about his work throughout his career.
The Hershberger Gallery is featuring Eigsti’s design concepts from Jan. 22 to Feb. 26. People are invited to browse through his designs, but the gallery is featuring work that Eigsti himself has not seen in years.
“[This visit] is a chance to see all of my work that has been boxed up for years,” Eigsti said. “I can revisit the things I did.”
Tuesday night, Eigsti was the featured lecturer at the Umble Master Class and the Eric Yake Kanagy Visiting Artist Program, a combined effort of the theater and visual arts departments.
Eigsti shared about his time designing sets for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows using story, and he spoke on the ways that theater has changed over the years; for example, Broadway shows were able to represent real people. For him, it was all about “the more you can put real life on stage, even though it’s fiction,” and that taught him a lot about theater.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “We fake the truth, but you have to be good enough that the audience believes it.”
While Eigsti is an artist, he is a set designer first, and the “artwork is what’s left over”.
“Our work is more of a byproduct of the work we do as artists in the theater, solving problems in set design,” he said.
Eigsti pointed out that a designer might design something for the theater, but it would need to be changed for the production to work. There were a few shows he did that they changed his entire original set design because “it just didn’t work.”
That’s why he recommends artists in the theater not to get too attached to the things they create.
“The people who were the most adaptable,” he said, “are the most successful.”
Story is important to Eigsti. He didn’t want to just create the design as something that was simply visual; he wanted it to help contribute to what the narrative of the show was all about.
Randy Horst, professor of art, spoke of the benefits of hearing from someone who has been extremely successful in their career.
“Their personal stories reinforce that life is often full of unexpected turns and chance meetings,” said Horst, “but also that it’s up to the individual to respond to those opportunities. It’s informative to hear him talk about how theater and the visual arts intersect in set design, particularly since some of our alumni and current students are interested in this career path. Karl also embodies the interdisciplinary approach we value here at Goshen College.”
Andrew Moeggenborg, associate professor of theater, was excited to hear from a fellow theatre designer.
“Some of the stories about challenges and how they were overcome in specific productions have been fascinating,” said Moeggenborg. “I also enjoy hearing some of his thoughts on teaching design and the methods he uses to do so. I feel like having him on campus is very educational not only for our theater students but for anyone who has ever wondered just how involved a theater design process can be.”
During his time on campus, Eigsti has spoken in two classes already. He is set to speak in two more. At 2:00 p.m. today, he will be sharing his career journey with the Communication and Theater Senior Seminar class in Church-Chapel, Room 112. On Friday, Feb. 3, he will be speaking at 12:00 p.m. on original stage designs in Umble Center, Room 132.
One of the things he was looking forward to about this visit was the opportunity to speak with people who are unsure about the future. He hopes that he can help people pursue their passion.