From Forge to Stage: Senior Tanner Peck Presents Capstone to Great Success


It’s rarely a good idea to try and fit something into your schedule during finals week. Making room for anything extra in the middle of all the papers, projects, and presentations can be challenging, to say the least. However, there are some things you cannot miss- sometimes because you’re required, but other times because it’d simply be a shame not to. And sometimes, the person running it is your friend who’s presenting something they’ve worked on for months and they’ve invited you to come and see- so you do. This was the case during the previous spring finals week, when I put aside five classes’ worth of finals and walked to Coleman Recital Hall to watch Tanner Peck’s senior capstone presentation. It was well worth the disruption.

Tanner’s history with the Transylvania Theater Department is long and storied. He started as a freshman theater major in the fall of 2020, helping direct Transy’s online production of Railsplitter before going on to act in the spring radio play, Carmilla. Since then, Tanner has been involved in nearly every theatrical production organized by either the department or the Theater Guild, including Exit, Pursued by a Bear (2021), Darkened Doorsteps (2022), Angels in America (2023), The Tempest (2023), and most recently, Significant Other (2024). He’s mostly been an actor, although he’s also worked in directing (Railsplitter, 2020), producing (Fright Night, 2022-2023), and running crew (Little Women, 2022). He took a playwriting class in 2023, during which he wrote and presented several revised drafts, and has recently been working with Theater Instructor and costume Designer Melissa Gilbert to learn about costuming. It was this that he decided to focus his senior capstone presentation on, joking that he’d already done everything else.

Tanner began his presentation by explaining his background with the Transylvania Theater Department and Guild, as well as the kind of work he’d done for Gilbert in her costuming class this semester. He stated that for his project, he wanted to combine what he’d learned from those experiences with his own designs, things he’d worked on both in and outside of class. So, he took two scripts he’d written during the playwriting class last year and expanded on them, designing costumes based on the characters and the dynamics they’d represent. 

The first was LED Headlights, a short story about two romantic partners, Valerie and Cordelia, the former of whom spends most of the play arguing with her brother, Russell, who has just gotten into a car accident. The story is modern and depicts ordinary people, so the costumes themselves aren’t overly elaborate. It’s the details that are telling. For example, the difference in pajamas between Valerie and Cordelia (a t-shirt/pants and a robe, respectively) might tell us about their opposite personalities and how they complement each other. Unchecked bloodstains on Russell’s jeans clue the audience into his absentmindedness- a major element in the story. And it was the same for his second play, Photon White, a story about four crew members in space who are suddenly faced with the moral dilemma of reporting something that’s gone very wrong. Their outfits are blue-collar-worker-style uniforms, which means they’re all identical, except for their colors, which pop and clash in a way that makes their conflict all the more dynamic. And don’t forget the sugar glass in one of the helmets, designed to break the moment it is smashed against a character’s head. 

Tanner explained these concepts using sketches, Pinterest boards, and model mannequins, designs slowly developed over months of planning and practice. It was a great presentation; clearly, he had learned a lot. But what stuck out to me weren’t the technical aspects of his presentation, it was the way he emphasized that this was not an inaccessible skill. Costume design, Tanner explained, could be something as simple as picking out an outfit for tomorrow or helping your partner decide what to wear to a dance. You can do it while drawing, daydreaming, or even developing your own stories. He stressed that this isn’t something that only belongs to theater majors and professionals, and then demonstrated that by teaching his audience how to design characters in a program called Hero Forge, something he uses when planning his DnD campaigns. He encouraged his audience to use their imagination and try their hand at design. By the time I left, I had overheard several people talking excitedly about the characters they’d made.

If capstone presentations are meant to reflect how far one has come in developing one’s chosen academic interest, then Tanner has certainly done that. If capstone presentations are designed to help one experiment and improve their skills, then Tanner has done that too. His presentation was good from an academic standpoint, but his demonstration of his skills and encouragement of ours was where the presentation came into its own. Once, he mentioned to me that he was thinking about teaching theater after he graduated. I don’t know if this is still his plan, but I could see it in how excited he was to share these tools with his audience, how easily the words came once he started talking, and how his love of creating is clearly much more than academic. He spoke to the audience, and they responded- maybe not verbally, but they listened and engaged. And maybe I’m biased, but I think that’s about as successful as you can get. 

Tanner, my friend, good luck and Godspeed. You’re capable of great things.

Previous articleHannah Varel Named New Head Coach of Transylvania Women’s Basketball
Next articleTransy Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Win HCLC Championship; Advance to NCAA Tournament
Hello! I’m Peyton Dunaway. I’m a junior here at Transy and I’m currently majoring in WRC, although I’m considering a minor. I’m also involved with TUnity and the theater program, and I encourage everyone to come see a play of ours sometime. I’ve recently been working with the writing/editing team, and I’ve written a couple of stories already. I'm hoping to do lots more before I graduate next May. I don’t know if I’d like to write for a living, but I’ve always had a love for the medium, and I hope to keep falling in love with storytelling for the rest of my life.