Student Spotlight: Stefnie Cerny Combines Her Love of Painting with Theatre Design

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Stefnie Cerny sits on a desk in her workspace holding a selection of paintbrushes.
As Stefnie Cerny packs up her workspace, she’ll be taking items now tacked to her wall, including black-and-white portraits of her screen idols, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, and a series of Polaroids that remind her of the best aspects of her life — her family, her friends, and her time as a student at Virginia Tech.

Stefnie Cerny had always loved theatre. Yet, until starting her studies at Virginia Tech, she had never imagined she could combine it with her greatest passion — painting.

Cerny will be graduating this month with a double major in studio art in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and in theatre design in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She will then join two theatre companies in Atlanta: The Lyric as a set painter and Serenbe Playhouse as a scenic charge.

Once she committed to both art and theatre at Virginia Tech, Cerny took advantage of every opportunity on campus and off, including a properties internship at Opera Steamboat in Colorado and a stint as a charge artist and scenic designer at Shawnee Summer Theatre in Indiana.

While she most enjoys being a charge artist — the person who oversees the painting of scenery — Cerny also served as set designer for a School of Performing Arts production last spring of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“My background in art gave me the language I needed to make the vision come to life, but the rest of it was me learning the technical side,” she said. “I spent an entire semester learning Vectorworks, a software package that helped me draft designs for the play.”

Cerny added that she knew the experience would help her later as she navigated her chosen career path.

“The production provided me with responsibility,” she said. “It also taught me how to fight for my ideas and to know when to back off; it taught me balance.”

Susanna Rinehart, chair of theatre and cinema in the School of Performing Arts, said she was not surprised to learn that Cerny would be graduating summa cum laude.

“Stefnie is remarkable,” Rinehart said. “Her extraordinary talent and creative intellect were instantly obvious when she joined the theatre design program. We consider it a privilege to work with a student like her and to provide her with challenging opportunities and all the creative tools and methodologies that will serve to deepen and expand her capabilities as an artist.

“The Lyric and Serenbe Playhouse will be lucky to have Stefnie, just as we have been.”

Cerny hopes eventually to work in film, and she said she would love to draw on the combined experiences of art and theatre to help her achieve that goal.

“I was meant to do this creative work at Virginia Tech,” she said. “I’m so happy that I did it here. It’s sad to be leaving, but at the same time I’m so excited to see what’s in store.”

Written by Taylor Dickerson, a senior majoring in professional and technical writing in the Department of English.

A rendering of Stefnie Cerny’s set design for “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
A rendering of Stefnie Cerny’s set design is followed by scenes from the School of Performing Arts’ production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Set design for Virginia Tech’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

 

 

Set design for Virginia Tech’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Set design for Virginia Tech’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Set design for Virginia Tech’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”