“My parents always took me to art galleries and we were always seeing shows,” said Koscielniak, an associate professor of scenography and director of design and technology in UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance. “It was something that has always been a part of my life and captured my interest.”
But Koscielniak wasn’t sure how she wanted to be involved. In high school she was fly captain for a production of “Grease,” but she also spent a lot of time on her varied interests. In addition to theatre, she studied architecture, tool and die drafting, physics and engineering. She thought at that time that her future career would be in teaching French or industrial technology. But during her freshman year at Buffalo State College she got the theatre bug for good when she volunteered as a lightboard operator.
From there it was on to Chicago’s Northwestern University, where she obtained her MFA in set/lighting design and began teaching. She also worked professionally as a self-employed set and lighting designer, working with rising playwrights such as Naomi Iizuka and Sarah Ruhl.
“I was at a point where I was lighting about 12 shows a year and doing set design in between those projects,” she said. “And I was going in and doing either a stage management course or a design course and doing some design mentorship over at Northwestern. I always thought teaching would definitely be part of what I would do in addition to the creative activities—it’s kind of fortunate that I’ve never not been teaching since I left grad school.”
In 2002, a position in UB’s theatre department opened up and Koscielniak jumped at the opportunity to return to Buffalo. She helps the department produce eight productions per year, with 25 to 30 students fulfilling major creative roles, including direction, stage design and lighting design.
“What I do is help them learn to articulate their vision for the plays through visuals,” Koscielniak said. “We’re providing opportunities for them to work quickly and learn how not to be afraid of being wrong.”
Working with set designers, for instance, Koscielniak helps students develop three-dimensional art that not only matches the feel of the source material in terms of color and texture, but also meshes with the actors, the music, costumes and other factors, so that the production’s overarching story can be told.
“We’re offering a process for them to spatially solve the problem of a play,” she said. “But we’re also exposing them to a lot of different literature and a lot of opportunities to say ‘How would I solve this creative problem this time?’”
As a working professional in the field, Koscielniak helps to provide numerous opportunities for students to participate in community-based and professional productions in addition to departmental shows. The combination of plentiful opportunity and the diversity of roles that students are encouraged to accept has lead to shining success in national and international competitions.
Koscielniak has mentored three students whose works were selected for the Prague Quadrennial, a prestigious international exhibition held every four years since 1967, and more than two dozen student award-winners from Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival design competitions. Koscielniak has also been to Prague as a lighting designer, one of 11 selected to showcase her work in 2007. She has also had designs selected for the World Stage Design Exposition in Seoul (2009) and Toronto (2005).
Currently, she is exploring a project that would create a self-sustainable lighting system at Niagara Falls. She is working with other U.S. and Canadian scenographers to find ways to project images on the mist, forming a living museum.
“I’ve had a dream for a long time of relighting Niagara,” she said. “I’m looking at the role of the scenographer as one who preserves history and inspires change. As a theater person who is a visual storyteller, how do we serve the concept of a living museum in an extreme environment?”
The Falls relighting is a huge undertaking, especially on top of the roles Koscielniak juggles on a daily basis—freelancer, teacher, scholar, advisor, mentor. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m completely a workaholic,” she said. “I direct the program and I think it’s really important for me to keep designing professionally, so it’s balancing that plus conference participation. This weekend, instead of going to the movies, I’ll be trying to light Niagara Falls. That’s what I do.”
Last updated: June 19, 2013 3:32 am EST