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Lighting Up the Stage with Creativity and Innovation

Katherine Stepanek joins the CMU theatre department

In a significant development for Colorado Mesa University’s Department of Theatre Arts, Katherine Stepanek has taken up the role of Assistant Professor of Scenic and Lighting Design. Coming on board after a tenure as an adjunct professor at Maryville College, where she taught theatrical design and technology, Stepanek's vast experience also encompasses being a props artisan at the Clarence Brown Theatre as well as running her own design business.

Department Head Mo LaMee expressed enthusiasm about this new addition, highlighting the excitement that Stepanek's expertise brings to the team.

"Her dual specialization in both scenic and lighting design positions her as a unique talent,” said LaMee. “Those qualities are particularly valuable in our conservatory-like program."

Stepanek's enthusiasm is palpable as she begins her journey with the university. She's particularly thrilled about the prospect of inspiring and guiding young theatre artists in their creative pursuits.

“To be able to explore all the artistic opportunities as a college student is amazing,” she said. “And being able to support these students and encourage them to explore new ways to create art and theatre is fascinating.” 

She emphasized how collaborating with fellow artists who share her passion for theatre and education is invigorating, noting that CMU’s approach ensures students receive a comprehensive education that sets them apart.

“The university's emphasis on hands-on experience, combining classroom and production work ensures that students receive a well-rounded education that you can't find at other universities,” said Stepanek.

Within the realm of theatrical design and technology, Stepanek's expertise revolves around the process of conceptualizing and bringing environments to life, enriching the storytelling on stage through scenic and lighting elements. Be it reimagining historical settings or creating fantastical landscapes, Stepanek thrives on the challenge of translating theatrical scripts into dynamic visual environments. The heart of her work, however, lies in collaboration. She finds joy in brainstorming, exchanging ideas and witnessing how various design elements seamlessly blend to create a unified theatrical experience.

Outside of academia, Stepanek keeps herself engaged in professional projects. One noteworthy accomplishment was her recent scenic design for "The Reluctant Dragon," a world premiere production that turned an 1800s short story into a video game dreamscape.

“The script wasn't written yet when we started the design, so we literally got to make up the world as we went,” she said. “It was so much fun to just create a whole new world and have the script shift to meet our dreams.”

Even before her first semester at Colorado Mesa University began, she was busy designing the lighting and sets for the upcoming production of Dracula. Stepanek’s unique vision aims to transform the traditional gothic narrative into something unexpected, using German expressionism and Soviet brutalism for inspiration.

“Think big, oppressing, overwhelming feelings,” she explained. “Now make it clean, crisp and pure. As the story evolves, people turn and get betrayed and die horribly. So we will make that visually represented on the stage through lighting and special effects. Without giving away the ending, you go from a pure, innocent world to a bloody, dirty reality.”

Turning a gothic story on its head and adding a whole slew of bloody effects on a white stage is not an easy task. The crew heads, who are all CMU theatre design and technology majors, are trying new things and testing new techniques.

For patrons who come see the show, Stepanek says the theatre “will transform through lights. Normally, that's a responsibility that falls on the lighting designer. But this time, we have tricks hidden in the painting and the building of the set.”

Katherine Stepanek's journey at Colorado Mesa University is just beginning, but her impact is already evident. Her dedication to nurturing students' passion for their art, combined with her innovative design approach, promises to elevate the university's theatre department.

To purchase tickets to see Dracula, Stepanek’s first CMU production, visit

“I've only been here a week, and already I can see the passion and the crazy dedication that these students have for their art,” she said. “It's amazing, and I want to make sure they never lose that drive.”

  • The set of Dracula

    The set of Dracula.

  • The set of Dracula with lighting

    The set of Dracula with lighting.


Written by Laura Bradley