Renee Suprenant is retiring after serving Hillsdale Col­lege’s theater department to move to the East Coast. Hannah Kwapisz | Collegian

After three years working at Hillsdale College, Renee Sur­prenant is leaving to con­tinue to teach, design, and work in pro­fes­sional theater on the East Coast. 

Sur­prenant, the vis­iting assistant pro­fessor of design and tech­nical director in theater arts, has designed and created the sets for 12 shows during her time at Hillsdale. She credits her time at the college for learning how to teach others in the art she loves.

“I’m always leading these stu­dents in how to help me create my art, and it takes a lot of letting go some­times, and when you do let go, it can be a great expe­rience,” Sur­prenant said. “I’ve learned how to be a leader and also a col­lab­o­rator with my stu­dents, so it’s a fine line, but my time at Hillsdale has been very good for my devel­opment that way.”

Each set on which she worked brought new chal­lenges, Sur­prenant said.

“I love that I get to do so many projects that I’m pas­sionate about,” Sur­prenant said. “For me as a theater artist, it’s not so much that there’s one show I’d love to design…It’s always more about working with a director to come up with a unique pro­duction with a unique design. Then within that, I get to do these art and cre­ativity projects. I get to paint back­drops, which is one of my favorite things, and work those into designs. I get to do all sorts of building, set cre­ating, and tech­niques. I get to play with those, which has been a great explo­ration for me as an artist.” 

After com­pleting her graduate degree at Michigan State Uni­versity, Sur­prenant came to Hillsdale to replace Dave Griffith, the former designer and director who had worked at Hillsdale for about 40 years. Pro­fessor of Theater James Brandon said Sur­prenant was a refreshing addition to the department. 

“It’s good to have your artistic family change a little bit every so often, so bringing Renee in was useful in that regard,” Brandon said. “We’re going to miss her. It’s always tough to make tran­si­tions. I under­stand why she’s leaving and cer­tainly want the best for her.”

Michael Beyer, pro­duction manager and lighting director, said he’s enjoyed Surprenant’s youthful energy and has appre­ciated her talents.

“As a designer, she is a very, very tal­ented painter and very, very tal­ented designer — she has bril­liant ideas,” Beyer said. 

Brandon said he admires her tech­nical skills but also the way Sur­prenant doesn’t allow limited time and resources to cripple her creativity.

“You’re working with limited time, limited budget, and limited student workers, where what can you achieve in a five-to-seven-week rehearsal period is limited,” Brandon said. “The fact that you don’t let your cre­ativity be stifled by that reality is really important, and it’s some­thing that will serve her well moving forward.”

Sur­prenant said she is able to pick some­thing special of which she is proud from each of her dozen shows, but it’s impos­sible to pick a favorite. From working with a senior designer to create an expres­sionist design for “Woyzeck” in spring 2014 to painting “The Taming of the Shrew” backdrop for “Kiss Me Kate” this semester, Sur­prenant said she’s been able to explore her artistic abilities.

“I take a lot of pleasure in the small things that make up a set,” Sur­prenant said. “Other set designers might design the whole set, but they don’t nec­es­sarily build or paint it. I like that side so much, as well, so being able to do both of them has been a lot of work at times. It’s been exhausting, but I enjoy it, too.” 

Sur­prenant said the Hillsdale theater department was a great fit for her for the past three years.

“I love the cre­ative work I do and the department per­son­al­ities in the faculty and stu­dents,” Sur­prenant said. “I think we meshed really well together, and I felt like the work I did was appre­ciated, and I was able to bring people along with me as I did it, and I really enjoyed that.”