Kris Julio: Intentional Intersectionality Through Props

Porsche McGovern • Illuminations • January 10, 2019
Kris Julio. Photo Credit: G. Allen Aycock.

Kris Julio. Photo Credit: G. Allen Aycock.

I was introduced to Kris Julio through a mutual close friend via the Internet. Kris Julio is the Assistant Professor for Stage Properties in the School of Design & Production at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His professional experience includes work with Triad Stage, Majestic Scenic, Santa Fe Opera, National Black Theater Festival, Peppercorn Children’s Theater, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, American Conservatory Theater, and Contemporary American Theater Festival. With NETworks Presentations, Julio traveled as head of props for the national tours of Memphis the Musical and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Julio has a B.A. in theater arts from UC Santa Cruz and an M.F.A. in stage properties from UNCSA.

 Furniture adaptation and build for John Coyne’s scenic design - Deathtrap (Triad Stage) Written by Ira Levin. Directed by Bryan Conger. John Coyne (Scenic Design), Robert Perry (Lighting Design), Dina Perez (Costume Design), Jon Fredette (Sound Design). Photo Credit: Bert Vanderveen.

How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?

I don’t think it helped or harmed my career, but I put my headshot on my website, because I want companies to know who they’re getting. I have an ethnic last name, I’m covered in tattoos, and my pronouns are he/him although it may not look that way visually. I preface my identity to dispel any discomfort when I walk into the room.

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?
Since I was 20 and began working with a multicultural campus organization called Rainbow Theater at UC Santa Cruz, the biggest driving force in my career is caring about diversity in cultural spaces. That experience changed my outlook on the impact of sharing cultural stories. Since then, I try to push as hard as I can to make those stories happen.

Furniture adaptation and build for Artist, Elizabeth Alexander - Crumbs Under My Pillow; 2018 Installation at SECCA in 12x12: 12 Artists from the 12th State

18th Century American furniture reproduction – Ball and Claw foot carving (cherry)What would you like people of color considering or in the early stages of a theatre career to know?  Is there any advice you wish you’d be given?
Now that I’m an educator, I make an effort whenever possible to talk about intersectionality and the role of diversity and inclusion in the arts, but that’s an effort I make in my classroom that I know is sometimes not always the case at other programs, or in other curriculums. As far as general theater career advice – it’s about where you want to be, not just the job details that matters. Build a career around the life that suits you best, and chase what makes you happy. 

Who was a role model of yours in your respective field?
I’ve only been doing props for 10 years, but in my theatrical education and career, the first mentor I had was Kate Edmunds, a UC Santa Cruz scenic design faculty member. She had a can-do attitude about everything and insisted I develop my sense of curiosity about the world and how it influences design. Joe Weiss at UC Santa Cruz was the first person to trust me with tools in my hand. He trusted that I could pursue this as a career, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that. Howard Jones was a UNCSA Scenic Design and Scenic Art professor. He nurtured my growth as a person and an artisan. 

After I graduated from School of the Arts, I jumped at the opportunity to teach there. As part of the faculty I now work with Bland Wade, who was my graduate advisor – the head and founder of the Stage Properties program. When Eric Hart joined the department, it was another great addition to our team of faculty teaching in props. I get to work with guys who are my heroes every single day, who are so happy to share information. I really admire all my mentors for their humility. 

Custom furniture builds – Walnut Credenza & Upholstered Walnut Armchair

Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field? 
Back in college, Sherrice Mojgani said something that sticks with me to this day, “If you don’t do it, no one else will do it for you.” I ended up working with her in Rainbow Theater to make theater by, with, and for people of color. Don Williams was the director of the troupe and really encouraged us to support each other. It was also the first time I was able to go on outreach with a troupe and work with students who could identify with our performances. He would always encourage us to “lift someone else higher than yourself.” To me, that turned into peer mentorship, and now it’s how I approach teaching at a university.

Custom furniture builds – Upholstered Walnut Armchair







Is there any myth or misconception about working in props you’d like to dispel?
I think sometimes, props is simplified as hot glue arts and crafts, or thrift shopping for odds and ends. Props is visual storytelling through objects. You still have to understand theme, plot, character. You have to have reasons behind your choices. Props people need a library of information, and other artisans or technicians willing to talk them through things. The wonderful thing about Props is that the we’re always solving a new puzzle or troubleshooting a new idea for creating an item. The Props department can be an influential, dramaturgical resource for the odds and ends, physical things that inhabit the design.

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