August 19, 2019

Kenny Horning: Set to Build

Teaching college students to build props and scenery can be rewarding … but risky. Just ask Klein Theatre Shop Foreman Kenny Horning.

Klein Theatre Shop Foreman Kenny Horning. Photo by Karen Pearlman

Klein Theatre Shop Foreman Kenny Horning. Photo by Karen Pearlman

Since his 2008 UMW début, he’s suffered all manner of minor catastrophes. During work on the Romeo & Juliet set, for example, a clunk in the head with a C-clamp nearly caused a concussion. He’s had a screw drilled through his fingernail, been shot with a runaway staple and re-broken a toe. Not to mention torn ligaments in his back, knees and shoulder.

While the job calls for caution, it demands creativity. That’s the part Horning likes best.

“I like construction more than anything else,” he said during a break from laying tile flooring – a first in all his years on the job – for God of Carnage, set to run Feb. 14 to 24. “I’m artistic. I can draw. I can paint. Building things comes easy for me, and it’s freeing.”

Set in an upscale Brooklyn apartment – hence the pristine marble floors – the comic drama’s backdrop is less complicated than many on which Horning has worked (save for the scene where a character vomits, a maneuver made possible with pneumatic air, a hose and some oatmeal).

That each day is different is awesome, said Horning, who once worked on a Pillsbury assembly line, stuffing frozen cookies into a box. “It s-u-u-u-u-cked.”

Q: What prepared you for your role as shop foreman?
A: I have an MFA from the University of Missouri in Kansas City. In school, I did a little bit of everything. I’ve been onstage, backstage, on crew, in the booth. I’ve stage-managed, hung lights. You name it, I’ve done it.

Q: What do you find most rewarding about your job?
A: It’s not monotonous. The projects change day to day.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: You never know what you’re going to deal with – student participation, physical designs, machines not working correctly, they’re all factors. 

Q: What’s the biggest set you’ve worked on at UMW?
A: Noises Off (a two-story, three-faced, “lazy Susan-like” set with walls that folded accordion-style and detached on casters). It was a 13-week build. Once [set designer and associate professor Julie Hodge] and I got it down to a science, we turned it over to student crews and taught them what to do.

Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of theatre?
A: In residency for grad school, I was a crew member for Blithe Spirit. My job was to crawl under the deck from offstage, put on a headset and do cues as a ghost. I had to bang underneath the table, hit some buttons to pop up the couch cushions, crawl out the other sideof the set and drop down the fireplace. I had to wedge myself into a hole under the set and army-crawl. It was the weirdest thing.

Q: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I actually watch WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). That’s how I connected with my father.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: KISS – keep it simple, stupid