After stepping aside as chair of the performing arts department at Clemson, David Hartmann found that new doors opened – or rather, his favorite old ones.
Hartmann returned to two great interests: teaching and designing sets for plays.
“I’m loving it,” Hartmann said. “I wanted to get back to what drew me to higher education: to be a professor, to work with students. Not that you don’t do that as a department chair, but you’re handling the bills, the faculty searches.
“I’ve enjoyed getting back into the classroom, getting to know the students again,” he said.
Hartmann offered three courses this past fall.
“I was a little wary,” Hartmann said. “I hadn’t taught theater appreciation for 10 years.”
Hartmann exited the role of performing arts chair at Clemson University last summer after eight years precisely so he could return to teaching regularly. Becky Becker, most recently a professor of theater at Columbus State University in Georgia, began as the new chair in the fall of 2018 after a nationwide search.
Hartmann, an award-winning scenic designer, is also creating sets at Clemson and for professional theaters, such as Greenville’s Warehouse Theatre.
His handiwork can be seen in the Warehouse’s current play, “Christmas on the Rocks,” which gave Hartmann the chance to collaborate with director Chip Egan, dean emeritus of the Clemson College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
The edgy comedy — about a bartender confronted by several fictional characters from Christmas stories — has enjoyed a near sold-out run.
“It’s set in a bar, so I had to do a lot of thorough research on that,” Hartmann said with a laugh.
Hartmann wanted the set to resemble a neighborhood bar like Nick’s Tavern in Clemson or TV’s Cheers.
Reconnecting with design
A member of the Clemson faculty since 1990, Hartmann has a wealth of design experience, having worked on about 100 productions throughout the United States.
He’s enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with local theaters such as the Warehouse.
“They contacted me several times last year, but there just wasn’t time, so I always had to say no,” Hartmann said.
“I was getting worried,” he said. “Are they not going to call anymore? When you say no to people, you get a little worried!”
Hartmann not only designs scenery; he wields a hammer and paintbrush, building sets and painting them.
He also created a set last October for the Clemson Players’ production of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists,” which included a guillotine.
“That was a fun thing to design,” Hartmann said.
He’s looking forward next year to designing more Clemson sets, possibly including a musical.
Before that, in early January, he’ll create the set for the Lean Ensemble Theater’s production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” in Hilton Head.
Hartmann will be on sabbatical in the spring with plans to explore the latest in digital technology for theater.
He’ll look into computer programming for theater lighting boards. He’ll also study AutoCAD, a computer-aided design and drafting software application.
“I’m taking some AutoCAD classes because I’m old fashioned,” Hartmann said. “I still do a lot of drafting by hand and it means the shop takes my drawings and then they’ve got to adapt them.”
Plus, he has a research project in mind. He might address it as a conference presentation or perhaps a book: “So You Want to be a Department Chair (Performing Arts Edition).”
“It would be kind of a help book,” Hartmann said. “If someone was interesting in being a department chair, what would they need to know? What do I wish I had known before I got started?”
Hartmann received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater design from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a Master of Fine Arts in theater design from the University of Minnesota.
Hartmann gained early scenic design experience at Great America theme parks near Chicago and in California and later at Opryland, USA in Nashville.
“I’ve been blessed to make a living building, painting and designing shows since I was 16,” he said. “I’m pretty lucky.”
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