Lex Marcos’ set design for Bus Stop. • Photo by Deborah Hayes (dhayestheatre.weebly.com and debhayesphotography.com)

Lex Marcos is designing sets for shows around town, at Intiman and Theater Schmeater, among others, and his work will next be seen at ArtsWest and Washington Ensemble Theatre.

In the first three quarters of 2018, Marcos has completed four set design projects, and has a full slate of work planned for 2019, including a show with Sara Porkalob at Café Nordo next summer.

For Marcos, set design is both a great pleasure and a big responsibility. “I try to let my inner child in me to play, to be creative, curious and to just let go and embrace and occasionally laugh at my mistakes and move on,” he said. “At the same time, I take the role of a grown-up, knowing when to listen very carefully and hear my collaborators, to be responsive, and when to deliver the goods when they are due.”

Marcos initially took a roundabout way into set design. “I originally studied painting and art history,” Marcos said. “I also started as an actor while I was in my undergrad, and as I continued acting, I became more curious about stage scenery.”

Marcos credits his primary role model, director José Estrella of the Philippines, with encouraging his explorations. “She is a great collaborator and truly has a great eye in seeing designs,” he said. “Her intelligence, great talents, hard work, and character inspired me.”

But he learned more than design skills from Estrella. “How she leads, treats and protects her team and sees not only the artistic side of the production but at the same time the logistics and management side of it was admirable,” he said. “Also, she had the ability to stay calm and still during times of adversity and to remain objective when crucial decisions have to be made.”

Working with Estrella, Marcos learned that set design is more than just another visual art. “You are creating a visual environment or a world that characters in a given play would inhabit,” he said. “It requires script analysis, research, visual art skills, understanding of space, and technical skills among others. It entails continuous learning and mastery.”

Part of this learning includes the element of stage lighting. “When I do my design process, I try to imagine how the scenes are being lit,” Marcos said. “Lighting provides focus to the characters, enhances the color of the moving picture, the scenery, and the costumes.”

But lighting can also enhance a set design in other ways. A well-calibrated scenery and lighting can provide an evocative feeling in a moving picture or drama,” Marcos said. “It can draw different emotions.”

Emotion is at the heart of Marcos’s favorite set design project thus far, a show called “Umaaraw Umuulan Kinakasal ang Tikbalang,” adapted by Rody Vera from the children’s short story “The Magic Circle” by Gilda Cordero-Fernando. “I really like the story because it tells about love, kindness, and respect for Nature and other living creatures around us,” Marcos said. “The play reminds the children of all ages of our responsibility to take care of our environment.”

Despite the fulfillment that Marcos has found in creating set designs, it isn’t always easy. “Your work will always be criticized, of course,” he said. “I get affected easily and become disheartened by those people who for some reason seem like they do not want you to succeed.”

But Marcos found strategies for dealing with this disappointment. “I have learned to be firm and be resilient, keeping only a smaller circle of people whom I can trust,” he said. “I tried working with the same team that trusted me wherein I could fully express my full potential as a designer.”

The financial challenges of a low-paying field also spurred Marcos to develop a variety of earning options while still in the Philippines.

“I came from a very simple family and we are not well off,” he said. “I did some stage design for commercial events, and eventually did lighting design in some shows where I was the scenic designer. I acted in some plays, sometimes doing small roles in local TV that paid well. I exhibited and sold some paintings, I also did graphic designs for posters and ads here and there.”

Then Marcos decided to come attend graduate school at the University of Washington. “I think those experiences have equipped me to be here in the U.S.,” he said. “Now, I feel a different level of challenges but somehow similar, a new journey in a place wherein I am not in my comfort zone most of the time, but it is all right because I think I am more prepared to face the challenges.”

Through the course of his education and many job experiences, Marcos has gained some key insights. “I learned how to trust my hands more and my intuition. I need to take a piece of paper and a pencil while I am having a conversation with my director and start doing rough sketches,” he said. “I’m somehow instinctively interpreting striking words that I hear during preliminary design meetings. Later on, those drawings speak to me or help draw out some ideas that eventually will serve as a guide in creating my designs.”

Sometimes, Marcos has found, less can be more. “I’ve been learning to examine negative spaces areas that are not occupied by scenic elements,” he said, “which can be a potential place to contain energy and flow for characters in the stage.”

But what are some of the most important things that Marcos has discovered during his years as an artist? “I am fortunate to work on pieces that tackle Identity, gender, race, and cultural differences,” he said. “I also realized that there are a lot of great people in the theater community who are more than willing to devote their talents, time, and energy to create a platform that would help make our world a better place to live in.”

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