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Theatre Alum Returns to DU for Production of “Killer Joe”

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Jessica Comola

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Killer Joe Set

Sophie Smrcka and Lauren Mills on the set of "Killer Joe"

Lauren Mills (BA ’10) uses physical space to convey emotions and tell stories. After double majoring in theatre and anthropology, Mills has returned to the University of Denver as a scenic designer for the upcoming production of "Killer Joe," directed by Assistant Professor Ashley Lauren Hamilton.

“Our creative team is a wonderful mix of students, faculty and local professionals,” said Mills. “The whole process has been highly collaborative, which I love.”

Lauren Mills

A scenic designer, Mills explained, is responsible for everything from props to paint treatments — the only physical design components Mills doesn’t cover are costumes and lighting.

Mills’s first experience in this line of work was Scenic Design I, a required course for DU theatre majors. Though they were initially pursuing acting, scenic design opened up new avenues for Mills’s creative expression.

“I was hooked; I knew that was what I wanted to do. I started designing small senior thesis projects for the department and things snowballed from there.”

In 2020, Mills works as an experience designer — creating theme park rides, attractions, immersive experiences, museum exhibits and more. Clients include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Mills's education at DU helped them understand how design work contributes to a variety of fields and impacts a wide audience. 

“I would not be where I am today without DU, truly. DU gave me opportunities to explore a diverse range of interests, feed my curiosity and get a well-rounded education. I think I am the designer I am today because of it.”

After graduating, Mills earned an MFA in scenic design from Carnegie Mellon University, followed by a summer fellowship with the Chautauqua Theatre Company. This led them to freelance and assistant design work in New York. Now, Mills works in experience design for Themespace, based out of California.

Mills’s previous work includes design for episodes of "The TODAY Show" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers." Among numerous theatre productions, they worked on "The Time Machine," where they were nominated in 2017 as part of the design team for the New York Musical Festival's award for Best Overall Design.

“Design, pretty much no matter what field you are working in, is about the audience’s experience. How can I use space to convey an emotion and bring an audience into another world? I want to transport an audience and I believe good theatre, and good design, has the power to do that.”

"Killer Joe" is coming to the Byron Theatre February 27, 28, 29 and March 5, 6, 7 and 8. You can purchase tickets through The Newman Center.   

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