20 Under 25: Sarah Escarraz

Set designer, 18, St. Petersburg & Winston-Salem.

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Sarah Escarraz, designing woman. - Austin Witthuhn
Austin Witthuhn
Sarah Escarraz, designing woman.

Rare talent: Women set designers are still a rarity in American theater; in the 60-plus years of the Tony Awards, only six women have won an award for scenic design, one of them as part of a husband-wife team. But things are looking up: two of those women won in the last three years. And who knows? Someday Sarah Escarraz could find herself among their ranks.

Feeling the draft: Sarah, who's been enrolled in art-centered schools since kindergarten, used to think she'd be a costume designer. "But around my junior year [at PCCA], taking drafting classes and watching upperclassmen do scenic design, I enjoyed it so much more than costume. I loved reading the script and trying to think of ways to incorporate eveything within it.... I like seeing the set come from the piece of paper — the ground plan. I like the neatness of drafting — clean lines, no freehand."

The demon calls: After assisting on several PCCA productions, she took on a monster of a challenge for her first solo set design: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). The original NYC set was wondrously huge and complex; she wasn't about to top that, but she was confronted with creating a design that could encompass London street scenes, a townhouse, a barber shop above a bakery, and a lethal underground oven. "I didn't look at any other Sweeney Todd sets," she says, and despite recommendations, "I really didn't want to use a turntable." Instead she found ingenious ways to combine all the functions in one stationary construction. Her theater teacher at PCCA, Keven Renken, calls her "an amazingly talented designer."

Scottish play: Sarah was one of only two "techies" to accompany the troupe of PCCA actors who took a production of Songs for a New World to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009. She was the stage manager. "It was very difficult, but we kept it very simple. Sometimes simple is best."

On the male-dominated scenic design profession: "I think within the next couple of years I'll see more women involved. I see more girls in my design class [at North Carolina] than there are males."

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