In June 2020, Lawrence E. Moten III ’12 received an Antonyo Award for Best Scenic Design for the off- Broadway production Stew. The inaugural awards were presented by Broadway Black, which celebrates Black artists on and off Broadway.
“I think that this will create a greater demand and far more fertile ground for more Black set designers to find success in the landscape of New York City theatre.”Lawrence E. Moten III ’12
“I love that the Antonyo Awards celebrate and showcase Black artistry,” said Moten, who was a theatrical production arts major at IC. “It’s meaningful to so many because it shouts out, ‘We exist.’ More often than not, producers, directors, and institutions infer that they do not have Black creatives and storytellers because we are so few and far between. This award ceremony says that’s not true. I think that this will create a greater demand and far more fertile ground for more Black set designers to find success in the landscape of New York City theatre.”
Moten realized his passion for set design at 15 years old. He became fascinated when he learned that he could take what he envisioned in his head and make it real, turning his skill into a vocation.
“There was something so magical about the places that writers could take you and the things you could experience in the infinite space of your imagination,” he said. “I decided at 15 that this was what I wanted to pursue. I wanted to be a part of the team that brought stories to life.”
Moten was brought onto the production of Stew by its director, Colette Robert, whom he admired as a collaborator and storyteller. One of the crucial elements of production to Moten is establishing what he refers to as the “emotional plane” or “container” of the piece.
“I am trying to find the overarching feeling of the text,” he said. “What is it that the writer, or we the creative team, are trying to say about the piece, and how can I represent that larger idea visually? It takes a long time and a lot of research to figure that out. Stew is a naturalistic piece, so it was important to get the space right from a practical and dressing standpoint, and for the audience to emotionally understand the lives of the women in the play.”
When it comes to artistic style, Moten prefers abstraction. “Theatre is a collaborative art form, not only for the performers, designers, technicians, and everyone else who makes the show, but it’s collaborative with the audience as well. We ask you to join us on this 90-minute to two-and-a-half-hour journey, and I find that the most satisfying of those journeys are the ones in which I do not give you everything in the set. We ask you to suspend your disbelief and add your own imagination to ours to make the show that much more impactful,” he said.
“What I love about my job is I get to get up and play pretend every day,” said Moten. “More than this, I get to explore viewpoints and ways of life that are vastly different from the world that I live in. I get to practice active empathy every day. I think that has allowed me to expand my worldview far more than anything else.”
Moten credits Ithaca College for making him empathetic to the roles within scene design. It is a skill that he says made him a better designer and collaborator.
“What I loved about the BFA program at IC was the insistence that we start at the bottom. You have to work at every level of production so that you understand what you are asking people to do for you as a designer. My experiences in carpentry, paint, props, and costumes at IC made me a better scenic designer because I grew to understand how my choices will affect all of these departments, and I am therefore able to have effective, collaborative conversations with these artists,” said Moten.
Last October, Moten’s design for Stew was also nominated for a Henry Hewes Design Award.