Kent Trumbull Student Creates ‘Green’ Set for Production of ‘Rent’

WARREN, Ohio – Kathalina “Kat” Thorpe plays many roles:  mom, graduate student, theater set designer, researcher and philanthropist. However, a persona she created brought her the happiest of moments.

Thorpe was attending the 2020 Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference when someone pointed to her and said, “You are the Worm Girl!”

It made her proud. Thorpe has worked hard to be recognized for this beloved character.

As a graduate student and teaching assistant at Kent State, she is also the technical designer for Kent State Trumbull Theatre’s production of “Rent.”

She agreed to do the task on one condition: she could build the set using sustainable and green strategies.

After all, it is her passion. Thorpe, aka “Worm Girl,” is dedicated to green research and to improving waste reduction within the theater.

“Theater is inherently wasteful because sets have to quickly go up and down,” she explained. “The crew and cast literally take a sledgehammer to everything created and then we wheel in three or four dumpsters and eventually that waste ends up in landfills. Theater cannot survive like this.”

Before coming to Kent State, Thorpe became involved with the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA). According to its website, this industry-wide initiative educates, motivates and inspires the theater community and its patrons to implement environmentally friendlier practices on Broadway and beyond.

For “Rent,” Thorpe and her assistant, Kenzie James, an undergraduate at Kent State, planned to create a set using 25% green solutions. As opening night neared, they estimated that number was closer to 50%.

She used wood from another play and screws instead of nails, so they could easily disassemble every piece of the set. She took foam bricks from another set and used leftover paint and sawdust to create the mortar. The cast will carry ‘90s-style pagers made from painted wood scraps. 

“This is all trial and error,” Thorpe said. “It’s fun to create these things that not only save money but help save the environment.”

She hopes theater departments can use money saved on purchasing energy-efficient necessities, like washing machines and lightbulbs. 

To become fully invested in the BGA, Thorpe needs a department head, and she is hoping that will be Eric Kildow, assistant professor and theater director at Kent Trumbull, whom she has known for years.

She first met Kildow she was working on her associate degree at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“Eric was my mentor in North Carolina, and he kept me going and provided me an opportunity to create my first set design,” she said. “I took many of my cues from Eric and he has inspired me to teach theater.”

After grad school, Thorpe plans to teach. As a graduate assistant, she enjoys working with undergrads and teaching them the discipline of theater, coupled with the rewards of environmentalism and community service. In one of her recent classes, students learned sewing and, in doing so, stitched together more than 50 stuffed animals to give to local foster children.

The Worm Girl persona stemmed from her two passions: theater and environmentalism.

Thorpe had been researching how effective earthworms are at breaking down costume scraps. Her ultimate goal is to see if they will break down synthetic fiber.

She has already found that these worms will compost natural fiber fabric waste. Last fall, her research earned a “Fan Favorite People’s Choice Award” at Kent State’s showcase. And she plans to continue her research and share her findings with the theater department and the fashion school.

Kent State Trumbull Theatre’s production of “Rent” has three performances remaining this weekend. For times and ticket information, click here.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.