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Remembering Joe Ziegahn

Joe Ziegahn was always drawing.

He’d use whatever was implement was at hand — a pencil, pen, magic marker.  All he needed was a scrap of paper.  Joe would draw anything:  caricatures.  Intricate shapes.  Theater set designs.

Those set plans were probably his favorite.  He spent his career as a Westport art teacher — 1st at Coleytown and Long Lots Junior High Schools, then at Staples — but his passion was designing and building sets.  For 2 decades, his Broadway talents graced the Staples stage.

Joe Ziegahn inspires himself for his "South Pacific" set. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Joe’s mark on Staples Players’ productions was immeasurable.  He created magic; he made actors and directors better — and he inspired a generation of students to make the technical aspect of theater their careers too.

In all the years I knew Joe, I never quite figured him out.  He grew up in South Dakota, and had a million stories of life in Sioux Falls — but I’m still not sure if he loved it, tolerated it, or hated it.

The same with his Swedish and German ancestry.  He was a quiet guy, usually, but once he started talking, he went on for quite a while.  When he finished, I tried to figure out where he stood.  I seldom could.

With his sets, though, there was never any doubt.  The Kit Kat Klub was pre-war Berlin.  When the Sharks and Jets rumbled, you felt you were right there, on their turf.  His “Children of Eden” design was as miraculous as anything God himself pulled off.

Joe Ziegahn died last night, after a long battle with cancer.  Wherever he is, he is probably drawing.  And drawing up plans to make the place look more interesting.

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