Our featured "Spotlight Series" alumni for the month of October 2019 is LeShae Nash, a 2009 CSU theatre graduate.
Digging deep into her career
A chat with LeShae Nash
By Jim Lynn
LeShae Nash certainly knows how to dig a well. Not sure the water is drinkable, though. A scenic designer and a 2009 CSU theatre graduate, Nash built a well for an episode of the popular television series The Walking Dead. In the well scene, the thirsty refugees find a working well, but before taking a sip they realize a zombie is living inside it. Suffice to say the rest of the scene will quench your thirst for gore. Nash took a moment recently to discuss her life since graduation and the things she loves the most about her varied work.
LeShae, first off, where did you grow up?
I'm from Cartersville, where I graduated from Woodland (High) School of the Performing Arts. I studied theatre as a concentration. I also took chorus, dance, and piano.
How did you become interested in set design?
I first became interested in design when I was in high school. I still have sketches from drawing out how the stage looked for a production. But my interest deepened while taking professor Steve Graver's courses, as well as professor Kim Manuel's (now at Graceland University in Missouri) courses. I gravitated toward painting and faux finishing.
What got you interested in CSU to begin with?
I was originally led to CSU for theatre education. The only two schools in the state of Georgia, at that time, that offered theatre ed were CSU and Valdosta State. I had a desire to teach and inspire young minds.
What did the CSU program do to prepare you for what you do now?
Without the boundless knowledge and skill of professor Manuel, I would never have grown as a scenic artist. I owe so much of my success to her. She cared about every student. Her patience and guidance were just the things I needed to grow as an artist. Once, she invited me to teach with her at a statewide, grade-school teacher's workshop. It was a little odd teaching people older than me, but Kim was encouraging. It was because of Kim that I had the courage to apply for a job re-creating the Haunted House at Six Flags Over Georgia. From there she was always a priceless reference when applying for other jobs. Eventually, I landed at IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 479, a film and television local, where I thrive today.
What would you like to say to current CSU theatre students that you wish someone had told you?
It's hard to say and even harder to hear, but theatre is not as easy as it is when you're in school. Out here you have to fight hard to get the jobs you want. But most important, it's all about networking. Our industry can be cut-throat! Without contacts and references, it can be extremely difficult to land gigs. Also, always show up early! On-time is late in this business, and never show up late. Always be respectful to everyone you encounter. That PA (production assistant) may end up being your assistant director one day, or your producer. Don't burn bridges. And continue your education when you're between gigs. Take classes on different crafts. Those teachers may see your initiative and help you network for job opportunities. My point is to work hard to impress everyone and leave a lasting impression. Even a bad impression lasts in this industry.
What is the philosophy that guides you? What do you wake up in the mornings thinking about?
My philosophy is that every day is something new and that I should approach it with an unbiased attitude.
What is the mission, or purpose, behind your work?
I thoroughly enjoy seeing my artwork on the big, silver screen. But what really drives me is fighting for my brothers and sisters in my union. For years now I've been a steward, which is someone who is on the front lines of a production. We have dialogue with crew members to see that their daily work life is satisfactory, which is a few hundred crew members on any given production I work on. We field questions, concerns, and grievances. And when we can't resolve them we send them up the chain into our local union for review. It's my mission to make sure all crew members under my wing are properly cared for and are receiving their contracted earnings. I want to further that as a career one day and fight for our union on a higher level. I hope that I can serve my brothers and sisters in the union office someday.
Have you ever considered whether it would be worth it to get an MFA?
I considered an MFA a few times. I was never in a place financially where that was an opportunity within my reach. Thanks to my union I'm finally making a wage that I have truly earned. I could go back to school now, but thankfully in my career, people are more interested in experience than diplomas.
Do you feel your current work lets you make use of your creative instincts?
I am creative on a daily basis and I love it. Every scenic artist puts their own flare and heart into their work. While most may look similar, especially in film, all art is different. I love every minute of it.
What's been your favorite, or most memorable, or most meaningful project so far?
There are many productions that I'm proud of. The most memorable one I spent two weeks inside of, literally. Season 3 of The Walking Dead we created a well. Make that two wells. One shorter well to be placed in the ground on location, and another very long well to be rigged inside our sound stage. I spent two weeks painting faux rocks and water lines, affixing moss and grime. When it finally aired on television it was a very proud moment and something I can always look back on.
What are you working on now?
I just finished working on the pilot for "The Outsider," which will be a television adaptation of Steven King's book "The Outsider" on HBO.
What is the one thing that's surprised you about your professional work?
You have to be on your toes all the time. That person who just wandered into your wet paint set? That has caution tape and do not enter signs on every doorway? They might be the director, or the designer, or the executive producer. You have to just let them do as they will! These people are all professionals, and if they choose to disregard a sign, you are not responsible for their actions. I've seen people try to stop someone, or get angry with people, and it never ends well. People remember the poor behaviors far easier than any of the good. You have to work twice as hard to leave good impressions on people.