The Venue Fine Art & Gifts played host to scenic artist Don Geyra Tueday as he discussed his 30-year career working on Broadway, movie and TV productions.
Geyra started painting as a boy. His father was a scenic artist on Broadway and did television commercials in the 1960s, which Geyra said influenced him.
“He once told me, ‘The greatest compliment to a designer is being told that your work is so beautiful, you should be a painter,’” Geyra said. “I went straight to painting.”
Geyra moved to Bloomington to attend IU and graduated in 1977 with an MFA in painting.
After graduation, he moved to New York City and apprenticed at a Broadway shop for two years before joining a painter’s union.
He started first in Broadway, painting backdrops and scenery for shows. Eventually, he moved on to movies and TV and began working with some well-known actors and directors in the field, such as Nicholas Cage, Robert De Niro and Mike Nichols.
Geyra worked on the movie “I Am Legend” as a green screen backdrop painter.
He described the film’s backdrop as a two-acre canvas he worked on with 20 other scenic artists.
He said that while working on the movie “Zoolander,” he and the crew traveled to an unfamiliar location at 3 a.m.
As they walked through an abandoned building, Geyra said he approached a hole in the floor, yelled to everyone to stop and shined his light over it. The hole was 30 feet deep, and the bottom was concrete.
“There ended up being about eight of these holes that we had to patch up,” he said.
Geyra said many other instances put him in danger, especially when he was working on the film “Meet Joe Black.”
The crew was working in a building with a 30-foot-high scenery backdrop.
While working on the crown molding on the top, they were standing on scaffolding with no safety rails.
Geyra said he went back down the scaffolding to get something the crew needed and on the way back heard yelling from above.
He came running over and saw that a friend of his had fallen off the scaffolding.
They called 911, but the injuries ended up being minor.
Eventually, Geyra said he grew tired of New York, and he and his wife began looking to move to a quieter setting.
They decided to come back to Bloomington, and he works at the Musical Arts Center.
“Bloomington has welcomed me back,” he said. “It’s a great place to come back to. I love working with the students.”
Geyra said he is enjoying smaller-scale projects and other freelance work.
He said he hopes to help students while working at IU find a place in the scenic art field.
“It’s not an unreal thing to be from a small town in Indiana and become head scenic artist at the Metropolitan Opera,” he said. “It’s completely possible.”
Follow reporter Alison Graham on Twitter @AlisonGraham218.
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