Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Madeline Achen

What is your role for this production of Waafrika 123 and what inspired you to join the design team?

I am the scenic designer for this production. When I read the script, I was really taken aback and moved by the story. The style is dreamlike, but the content is so real and personal and sharp that I could not put it down. I knew that I wanted to help create something incredible with this design team and give the performers a space that would support their storytelling.

How did you become a designer? What sorts of stories and productions do you find the most compelling to design for?

I’ve been sketching and scheming for as long as I remember. I always loved creating ground plans for impossible spaces: I’d challenge myself to figure out how I’d make a house with no ninety-degree angles, or how I’d put a house inside a silo or a theater inside a train car. I like to design with teams that are excited to try something new. Using scenic design to tell stories that are important, immediate, timely or timeless is the most interesting to me.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

I have so much to learn about so many perspectives and issues that I do not encounter on a daily basis. Every day, and every project, is an opportunity to confront the biases and assumptions that I either hold myself unintentionally or have experienced first-hand. I believe that the arts can help us re-learn empathy and understanding, and that empathy is one of the first steps to dismantling the systems that keep us from equality. I try to create art that inspires people to think critically about the world around them and how they exist within it.

Do you have any other projects coming up you’d be excited to share?

Yes! If you’d like to see me turn a bunch of odds and ends into a lifelike caribou and are looking for a show about family, healing, and a little bit of magic, I’ll be designing and puppeteering in Prancer at Lyric Arts this November and December. It’ll be a festive time for all ages.

When you’re not designing, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

When I am not working, I love to be outside wandering and climbing into precarious places, preferably in the company of animals. I also enjoy learning new styles of stage combat, shenanigans with friends and family, and scavenger hunts, which are really just a combination of all of my aforementioned passions.