Excellence in the Arts for Achievement awardee, Jill Carter, has been a fixture in the arts community in the Olympia area since the 1980s, when she attended The Evergreen State College (TESC). It was there that she met Bud Johansen, a faculty member, and founder of Johansen Dance Center and Ballet Northwest. Bud recognized Jill’s ability and helped open her mind to studying and working as a scenic designer.
While at Evergreen, her talent and hard work led to a one-year scenic design internship with the renowned American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. After her return to Olympia, she spent the next 18 years teaching students the craft of scenic design, first as assistant technical director, then technical director at TESC.
It seems that she’s designed in every theater in the area including Abby Players, Harlequin Productions, Ballet Northwest, and is currently the resident scenic designer for Olympia Family Theater. She worked on the crew at the Washington Center was a stage technician for about 15 years.
If you’ve seen the Ballet Northwest’s production of The Nutcracker, in the past 20 years, you’ve seen Jill’s work firsthand. She’s also designed their sets for the productions of Swan Lake and Coppelia. Jill estimates each set takes at least a year-and-a-half to design. Ken Johnson, co-artistic director for Ballet Northwest says, “Jill is able to rally and inspire professional artists and volunteers alike to maximize whatever resources she’s given to create the most magical theatrical experiences possible.”
She describes the creative process that it takes to create scenery for the stage. “It starts with lots of research to find a compatible style for the ballet, something that works with the costumes and theme.” Then she will build a ½ scale model of the full set for approval. Once approved and budgets secured, she will pull a crew together. The backdrops measure up to 50‘ x 25’, and a full ballet will need up to 14 of them. Once the crew is assembled, supplies are purchased and they begin to hand paint the fabric backdrops. “Because the canvas is so big,” Jill explains, “We lay the canvas on the floor to paint and put our brushes on a stick.”
She began her career when women were not common in technical theater positions. She remembers an electrician from a touring company approaching Roger McIntosh, production manager at the Washington Center. The electrician barked orders, “Send that woman downstairs to work costumes where she belongs.” Roger was respectful of the manager, and let him know, “Jill doesn’t have the skills needed to work in costuming, but if you want a skilled lighting technician, she’s your person.”
“I’ll never forget that,” Jill reminisces. “Roger was consistently key to giving me the confidence to be a woman in technical theater.”
Likewise, Jill has been passing her knowledge on and serving as a mentor. One of Jill’s favorite aspects of her career has been teaching students. A student she mentored in design a few years ago went on to design the new sets for Ballet Northwest’s Don Quixote. “It’s great to see your students learn and grow, and begin successful careers of their own.”
More recently, Jill has opened a graphic design business, integrating her creative process with the digital world. She works with Fremont Mischief Distillery in Seattle designing liquor labels and doing murals, signs, websites and so much more. Jill is an expert in creating an inviting environment. You can experience her thoughtful interior design at Swing Wine Bar, The Lucky Lunchbox, Olympia Family Theater, and Cascadia, all in downtown Olympia. “Jill is one of the most creative people I have ever known, says Jen Ryle, Artistic Director for Olympia Family Theater. “She is a skilled artist, designer, technician, and an excellent friend, mentor, and collaborator.”
The Washington Center is delighted to recognize Jill Carter at the 4th Annual CENTER Stage Awards & Gala on Thursday, July 25 for her achievement in the arts spanning her career.