UVU is brimming of professors who come from all walks of life with diverse backgrounds and experiences. The Theatre department has one of these gems who is a self-made mentor and worker who brings a range of experiences to the table.
Steve Purdy is that professor. After graduating from BYU in advertising Purdy returned to Los Angeles to find work. His brother had a connection in the film industry who recruited him to work in a paint shop. Luckily, Purdy enjoyed the labor which led him to make it his career and passion.
For 12 years, he worked on the crime drama series, Murder, She Wrote in the art department under the art director, Hub Braden. Afterwards, Purdy was enlisted by Universal Studios to work on a few Leave It to Beaver variations and a Psycho sequel. These experiences at Universal led to be his work on a select 80’s classic John Hughes movies which includes Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.
Purdy gives insights on his experience working on the set of The Breakfast Club. Shot in an actual Chicago high school, the famous library—where most of the film’s action is based—was built in the school’s gymnasium.
The statue in the center of the library was a recreation of a Henry Morris creation that Purdy worked on. Purdy painted it to look like the real statue which he says is his claim to fame in that movie.
With his experience comes a considerable amount of talent. Purdy claims that his style is to be more inventive with the paints and chemicals that he is working with to stretch the limits of what can be accomplished. Using this type of experimentation he gets the exact effects that he wants.
Art direction for film isn’t the same as other forms of artwork. “Scenic painting and painting for movies isn’t quite like art where everyone can say, ‘This is a Van Gough or this is a Kavinsky or this a Rembrandt,’” Purdy explains. “You are painting to create the effect illusion or the illusion that the production designer wants.”
Along with his work in Hollywood, Purdy traveled the world to work on movies. Specifically, he spent six months in Israel to work on a TV miniseries called Masada in the late 1970’s.
Unfortunately, family obligations ended his time working on Hollywood projects. He chose to move back to Utah in 2002 concluding his 26 year career in the industry.
His relocation led him to gain employment in UVU’s Theatre department teaching Stage Craft I, Intro to Design, Period Styles and Stagecraft. Although he appreciates the work for the department when he is needed, he finds more satisfaction in being a tutor for the students who work on their productions.
To add to his extensive resume, he is currently working on a few projects for the Theatre department and around the community. Purdy says, “We are excited to do The Taming of the Shrew with a John Hughes twist to it. It’s going to be updated; not set in Elizabethan England. The director, Lisa Hall Hagen, is exploring the same characteristics, relationships and tensions that John Hughes explored in Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.” Currently in production, The Taming of the Shrew is slated to open in April 2014.
UVU’s Noorda Theatre, an unusual square showcase, “Allows for you to be more inventive for what you would put up for scenery on a [traditional] proscenium stage,” Purdy says. “You work with elements that still help support the story but also allow the audience can see what is going on.”
Purdy is especially optimistic for the Theatre department. He says, “We do shows not to make money but for the [theater] students to learn from them, and hopefully for other students to learn from them.”
Similar to how the aesthetics of any given production can be left on the cutting room floor, so can so can unnoticed professor prodigies like Steve Purdy.
Photo: Laura Fox