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  • Sincerely, Southern

McClure’s Curtain Call: The Scenes of a Scenic Designer

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

By Jessica Vue, Sincerely, Southern staff

Bailey McClure is a freelance designer who resides in Brooklyn, New York. Photo courtesy of Bailey McClure.

While attending Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia, Bailey McClure pursued science, technology, engineering and math. She was also into theatre and acted in school plays. Gradually, Bailey became interested in the technical side of theatre, and during her senior year, while her classmates were interning at engineering laboratories, Bailey interned at the Alliance Theatre Scene Shop, where she fell in love with set design.

“I was terrified of the sewing machines, so that was out,” Bailey said. “I always loved architecture. Being able to take inspiration and take something from it spoke to me.”

Bailey attended Georgia Southern University in 2006 as a double major in international studies and theatre. She graduated five years later, in 2011.

Bailey jokingly called this her “Five-Year Plan,” during which she had to buckle down and choose a major. She ultimately chose theatre. Between taking more theatre classes than the could manage, acting, and working in the scene shop, majoring in theatre made the most sense to Bailey. She was so involved in theatre that she had practically avoided taking most of her core classes.

After taking stagecraft, a course taught by Professor of Theatre Kelly Berry, Bailey found her love of scene design.

From there, Berry said, things changed.

“We could really see how the work she was putting in to understanding the needs of script were being translated very well to creating an environment for the play,” Berry said.

Bailey saw Berry as her mentor, a theatre expert who took her under his wing and discouraged her from using her gender as a crutch, making her change the lights on set all by herself.

"He made me do projects by myself, so I would know how to do it on my own,” Bailey said. “I learned how to use tools to my advantage.”

Bailey met Professor of Theatre Lisa Abbott in the spring of 2008 while Abbott was interviewing for a job at Georgia Southern.

“She was one of the students who stood out and gave me the impression that I was going to enjoy working with the students here,” Abbott said. “She was really personable and excited and engaged.”

When Abbott directed her first production, “Proof,” at Georgia Southern that fall, Bailey assisted with the set design for the first time. The show took place on the back porch of a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house in Chicago.

Bailey met Professor of Theatre Lisa Abbott in the spring of 2008 while Abbott was interviewing for a job at Georgi assist with sets for “The Revenger’s Tragedy” and “The Tempest,” which she also assisted with directing.

She realizes her love of the behind the scenes work in theatre.

“Proof” was directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Lisa Abbott. The set was designed by Bailey McClure. Photo courtesy of Lisa Abbott.

While attending the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, a regional and national theatre competition, Bailey met theatre professor Stephen Judd, who became her next mentor. Intrigued by her set design for “The Revenger’s Tragedy,” Judd recruited her for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design program. Bailey was eventually accepted into the program with a full scholarship.

After saying her last goodbyes in Georgia Southern’s Black Box Theatre on graduation day, Bailey began her journey at USM.

During the three-year program, Bailey immersed herself into the work, attending classes, meetings and shop hours. She learned how to survive in the professional world, think on her feet, manage pressure and time, and communicate clearly, she said. Bailey continued to attend the Kennedy Center theater festival, where she would see Abbott and Berry again and show them her new work.

Bailey’s thesis project for her master’s program at the University of Southern Mississippi was a set for the play “The Government Inspector.” Photo courtesy of Bailey McClure.

After graduating from USM in 2014, Bailey moved to where the work was: Manhattan, New York. She first interned for David Gallo, a scenic designer who needed a model completed. Bailey accepted the opportunity, knowing how important it was to get her foot in the door and make connections. She had begun her life as a freelance set designer, eventually working on stages as well as film and television sets, such as “Sesame Street.”

Bailey was the art department coordinator for the 48th season of “Sesame Street” in the fall of 2016. Photo courtesy of Bailey McClure.

“Imagine that you’re looking across the room all the way, at the end of it,” Bailey said. “Overall, you see the same picture. You’re right in the room, instead of looking at the room. TV and film have much more detail. In theatre, you’re looking from a seat a hundred feet away. On TV, it’s six feet away from you.”

Described by her youngest sister as a person who “goes with the flow,” Bailey continues to juggle as many as four projects at a time as a freelancer and hopes to continue producing, working hard and getting better.

In February 2017, Bailey’s youngest sister, Blair, applied to only one school: Georgia Southern University. Although she grew up attending Bailey’s plays in high school and college, Blair intended to get an early childhood education degree with a minor in theatre. Blair switched the two around, however, to pursue her new career path: a high school theatre teacher, as her mom had predicted more than a decade ago.

When Bailey found out, she “about died laughing,” unsure if Georgia Southern could handle another McClure, which she says is her fault. Bailey remembers Blair and the family traveling to Statesboro to watch Bailey’s first show, “Hamlet.”

“She knew exactly what was happening. She knew more than me,” Bailey said, reminiscing about six or seven-year-old Blair.

When Blair switched her major, Bailey wasn’t surprised at all. She knew it would happen. It was just a matter of time. Although the two sisters look similar, Professor Berry holds Blair to the same standards as he held Bailey.

“Bailey set a high bar for us to push future students toward, which has served our program well for students that have followed her,” Berry said.

Berry and Abbott hope to have Bailey return for the 50th anniversary of the Communication Arts Department and provide set design for two shows this fall, including “Jesus Christ Superstar.” They also hope to have her mentor theatre students on campus, all of whom have heard about the greatest successes of Elizabeth ‘Bailey’ McClure.

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