Jeffrey Schmidt keeps busy designing theater sets, acting and directing

ANDY JACOBSOHN/DMN
ANDY JACOBSOHN/DMN
Jeffrey Schmidt, on the set he built for End Days, also keeps busy acting and directing.
By Lawson Taitte Theater Critic [email protected] Published: 17 February 2010 10:59 AM Updated: 26 November 2010 03:09 PM
Jeffrey Schmidt has compiled a sensational record in area theaters over the last year. He says it’s all because of the recession. Schmidt, 36, has been active on the Dallas theater scene since college. In Fort Worth’s Trinity Shakespeare Festival last June, he did some of his best acting ever as Orsino and Tybalt. The next month, The Old Woman in the Wood for the Drama Club in the Festival of Independent Theatres won awards and top 10 nods for Schmidt as writer, director and designer. He ended 2009 in a big way as director and designer of Theatre Three’s Talley’s Folly. Most years, though, Schmidt earns the greatest part of his income on-screen – a small role in the new TV series The Deep End recently, commercials, voice-overs, even industrial work. “A lot of people pay their bills off sexual harassment training videos in this town,” he quips. But the recent economic downturn reduced screen work for area actors by about 80 percent, Schmidt estimates. So he had time to really focus on his theatrical work. There’s a lot of that these days. He’s currently loading in sets he has designed and built for both Echo Theatre’s End Days and Theatre Three’s Bedroom Farce. He’s directing and designing Second Thought Theatre’s upcoming Lobster Alice, and he and partner Lydia Mackay are working on a new, entirely original show they are hoping will be in this year’s FIT. Schmidt learned to be handy at an early age. His first project with his dad was replacing the veneer on a piano. For a while, Schmidt worked as Theatre Three’s master carpenter, but he’s got so much else going on these days that he delegates as much of the actual building as possible. Schmidt’s two notable sets last year were both completely constructed from recycled materials – the one for Talley’s Folly all from paper. The soundboard from that piano will probably turn up onstage in that new show he’s writing. But he doesn’t want to make going green into too big a thing. “I don’t like to be labeled. I’ve always recycled as much as possible,” Schmidt says. “It’s partly economics – it’s frustrating how much gets wasted when you’re building something that will just last for six weeks. So much goes into the Dumpster. At this point, it shouldn’t be a novelty to recycle.” The actor-designer says that reusing materials – like the piece of Styrofoam that came with a new washing machine that is now a Starbucks sign on the set of End Days – doesn’t feel restrictive. It becomes part of the creative process That inventive imagination of his is one of the reasons Echo hired him. “For this play we had to come up with someone who was brilliantly creative and had out-of-the box ideas,” Echo producing partner Terri Ferguson says. The audience at End Days, which opens tonight, will see just how out-of-the-box Schmidt’s set is – literally. He has turned the performance space completely around, so that people will be watching from what is usually the stage. The surprise gets bigger after intermission, when the seating area has changed some more. “The operative words in interpreting this play were ‘bodies floating in space,’ ” Schmidt says. “But those columns in the space are killer. At least they keep people alert because you have to stretch to see around them.”Plan your life End Days continues through Feb. 27 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther. $15 to $25. 214-904-0500. www.echotheatre.org.