After nearly a week of instructing and collaborating with theater and set design students and instructors at Utah State University, Patrick Larsen ‘99 settles into a chair in a quiet corner of the University Inn, contemplating the journey home to Indonesia — a trip that takes on average 28 hours.
“It’s a long day, but I actually do like to fly,” the St. George native says.
Studio Bound, the creative company Larsen founded in 2015, is based in Singapore, a two-hour flight from his home in Bali where he resides with his wife, Kristie ‘00 and the couple’s five sons. So, travel is a must for Larsen who is revered around the world for his stunning stage designs, award-winning television sets and astonishing live events.
“When I’m flying, I sort of get into this zone where no one expects anything from you,” he explains. “They know you’re flying; your phone is off. And so, I take the opportunity to do a lot of reading and some sketching if have some projects and things on my mind.”
Taking advantage of a less-than-ideal situation is something that Larsen has become comfortable with. He and his family ended up Bali because a job he took in Singapore wasn’t the fit he thought it was, which led to him start Studio Bound. In 2018, he and Kristie searched Southeast Asia for another location to raise their family and settled in Bali, five minutes away from a dazzling beach.
“When we left New York, we came up with a family motto of: ‘Adventure. Experience. Growth,’” Larsen says. “We never really wanted to have ordinary lives, so that’s kind of what we use as a guide anytime we’re feeling ‘itchy,’ and that’s what happened in Singapore.”
That’s also what happened in New York City, where Larsen spent 10 years working for a creative agency while also freelancing as a set designer for Broadway productions. During that time, Larsen was nominated for a Canadian Gemini Award for Best Production Design or Art Direction for a television set for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., a project that led to him also creating a BBC set for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And in 2012, Larsen was part of a team that won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lighting Direction & Scenic Design for an NBC News project.
More recently, Larsen’s team designed a new Las Vegas show for illusionist Criss Angel and was part of the creative team behind the massive opening and closing ceremonies of Expo 2020 in Dubai.
“Patrick’s working with the best people in the world now on project with multi-million-dollar budgets for a set,” says USU professor of scene design Dennis Hassan. “What he did at the World Expo in Dubai was just phenomenal.”
Hassan has taught set design at Utah State for more than 30 years and first encountered Larsen in the mid ‘90s who uncertain what he wanted to study. But he had some experience with helping to build theater sets in high school, which led to him taking some set design classes from Hassan.
“Patrick was kind of just hanging out, but then he took some set design classes and he was great from the very beginning,” Hassan recalls.
It didn’t take long before he became “quite serious” about set design, Larsen says, and he proved it by winning an award at the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., for his set design for USU’s production of Holiday Memories.
“It was a small show, but Patrick used projection and scrim and distorted things and did basically everything he could do to enhance the story,” Hassan notes. “And as a result, he won a national award while competing against hundreds of other schools. And for an undergrad to do that is pretty phenomenal.”
On Sept. 15, Larsen delivered the Caine College of the Arts’ annual Dean’s Convocation talk at the Russell/Wanlass Performance Hall entitled “The Magical Science of Creativity,” and provided insight into his creative process.
“When I talk about my work to people, one of the staple questions that always comes up is, ‘How do you consistently come up with good ideas?’” Larsen noted. “… And about a decade ago, I embarked on this journey, I guess you could describe it was an obsession to find out an answer to this question. Because here I am doing it with a reasonable degree of success, and yet I don’t know how it’s done and I get anxiety every time I start working on a project because I wonder, Maybe this is the one where I’m not going to have an idea.”
“Think about the creative process as a quest,” Larsen added. “… We’re searching for the Holy Grail. Searching for something that’s not been seen or done before. And in that quest, the process is the journey itself. That’s the path that we’re on; it’s the journey we’re going to take.”
Later during his presentation, Larsen shared the path that he routinely takes when trying to come with ideas for a new project: Input: Conscious Effort (research/study, thinking, thought experiments, sketching, discussion); Processing: Sub-Conscious Associating (daydreaming, meditation, exercising, listening to music, browse art gallery); and Output: Manifestation of Idea (eureka, ideas, analyzation, critical feedback).
“Creativity, at the end of the day, is problem solving,” Larsen declared. “Creativity is creating solutions.”
During his visit to Logan, Larsen also reconnected with USU music professor and Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre director Michael Ballam, and he’s now going to help design sets for the UFOMT’s 2023 season. That will be a “full circle” moment for Larsen, who was involved with set designs for the opera, as well as for the Lyric Repertory Company, while a student at Utah State — the same type of student Larsen hopes he helped inspire “by realizing that I’m just a kid from Utah, too.”
By Jeff Hunter ’96
Opening portrait by Levi Sim