Junior set designer takes on first SDA production

After graduation, Eliot Ohlemeyer plans to serve in the army for eight years while also pursuing his artistic interests on the side. (Photo courtesy of Jon Joel)

As a child, Eliot Ohlemeyer was more interested in the background set of a production than those performing before it. 

“Since I was a little child, maybe four or five, I was always fascinated with theater [and] building,” Ohlemeyer said. “I would always have Legos and Lincoln Logs, toy soldiers, and I would just build, build, build. My parents would come in, and I was still building. I’ve always had a fascination with creating structures.” 

Ohlemeyer, now a junior in the BFA Theatre Design program at the School of Dramatic Arts, is designing the set of the upcoming show “Men on Boats” which premieres Oct. 3 in the McClintock Theatre. The play follows the true story of an 1869 expedition to chart the Green and Colorado rivers — the play, however, takes creative liberty with its casting.

“What I like about this story in particular is the journey that these women take,” Ohlemeyer said. “The play is about John Wesley Powell and his expedition down the Colorado. [But] what is unique about this play is that it is an all-female cast, but the cast [is] portraying the men on the boats.”

Along with stage design at SDA, Ohlemeyer is part of the ROTC program at USC. His experience in ROTC has helped him expand his artistic horizons by making videos for the group. It all started when he was called in by the head of Trojan Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Laura Skinner. 

“She called me in, sat me down and said, ‘All right Ohlemeyer … I need a recruitment video,’ and so I was like, ‘Roger, ma’am,’ walked out and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know how to make a video,’” Ohlemeyer said. “But you know, I’m here at USC, the No. 1 film school is here on campus. I will network and try to find people who can help me.” 

Ohlemeyer knew it was important to produce high quality content and was fortunate enough to use skills acquired through a film management course. These videos helped Ohlemeyer market himself as a video creator for future ROTC films. Ohlemeyer’s work even drew the attention of the Commander of ROTC for the United States Army. 

“He came to USC, saw the product and was like, ‘Hey, do you want to make videos for me?’” Ohlemeyer said. “So that’s what I did this summer.” 

With the same team who helped produce his first video, Ohlemeyer spent five weeks at Fort Knox working on another recruitment campaign. 

“It was such a great experience,” Ohlemeyer said. “If given the chance, I would totally want to do something like this again.” 

As a student in the ROTC program, Ohlemeyer is committed to following his passion for the arts while simultaneously fulfilling his moral duty to his country. He hopes that by staying in Los Angeles for his service, he can be a role model for other service members that they too can follow artistic passions even within the army. 

But what ultimately drives Ohlemeyer to pursue his art is his passion for telling unique stories that have not yet been told. 

“There is a concept called ‘the Other,’ and it’s basically like a society term. It’s people or a thing that can be anything different from you or your experience per se, and it’s about highlighting the ‘other,’ telling its story,” Ohlemeyer said. “It’s about highlighting the differences or telling that story, so it can potentially make a change or make you think differently on a subject or an idea that may be relevant today or could be something that happened in the past.”

This is why he plans to continue developing his artistic passions even while serving his country.

“Part of the commitment with ROTC is that I have an eight-year mandatory service,” Ohlemeyer said. “I’m leaning toward going to the reserves — that way I can still drill with my unit here in Los Angeles while growing not only as an artist but also growing my career on the side.” 

The work Ohlemeyer has done has helped him realize his love of producing and the satisfaction of completing a job. Ohlemeyer created a production company with fellow Trojans Jon Joei, a sophomore majoring in cinematic arts,  film and television production, and Brian Femminella, a sophomore majoring in intelligence and cyber operations and political science. Once he graduates, Ohlemeyer wants to work to ensure that veterans also have the opportunity to pursue film and art. 

“I know that there are a lot of veterans who are fascinated [by] or work in the entertainment industry,” Ohlemeyer said. “Later down the line, I want to start a veteran, solely veteran production company per se, that is helping out people who just got out of service or are in service and that still have a fascination with telling stories.”