Dusty Terrell at work creating massive park drop for “Hello Dolly!” at Riverside Theatre.


When “Sister Act” finishes its run this weekend, it will mark the end of Riverside Theatre’s most artistically successful season yet. Every single show mounted at that professional Vero Beach theater was fantastic thanks to great direction, performances, music, choreography and design; and, of course, thanks in no small part to Riverside’s always excellent production values.

Dusty Stutsman Terrell

Dusty Stutsman Terrell

Much of the credit has got to go to behind the scenes artist Dusty Stutsman Terrell, formerly with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Denver Center Theater Company — two very highly regarded organizations.

In 2011, she was offered jobs at both Riverside Theatre and at the Tony Award winning Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. She chose Riverside, she says, because she would have the opportunity to give full voice to her passion — painting scenic drops.

So, she became Riverside Theatre’s “charge artist.” As such, she waves her magic wand and brings to life the beautiful designs created by a show’s scenic designer, which means drops and scenic units. She and her team are responsible for some terrific huge stage props and the most gorgeous array of drops I’ve ever seen in a season. If you’re a Riverside Theatre patron, you have seen her work in many shows, including “The Music Man,” “Swingin’ on a Star” and “Hello Dolly!”

Here’s a video of work she has done over the years.


Ms. Terrell will start in June to make drops for Riverside’s upcoming season. She and her team will use special ordered unbleached natural muslin so the huge drops won’t have seams. The paint is a special formulated scenic paint made of acrylic latex and highly pigmented. Mostly, she orders primary, secondary and tertiary colors which she then mixes herself for all the sumptuous hues.

Take a look at this Grant Wood-inspired drop she made for Allen D. Cornell’s design for “The Music Man” and you can see the exquisite range of hues.

Drop created by Dusty Terrell for "The Music Man" at Riverside Theatre.

Drop created by Dusty Terrell for “The Music Man” at Riverside Theatre.

After the drops are created, if they are to be used soon, they’re hung in the fly loft. That’s what she expects will be the case for the drops for Riverside’s season Oct. 25 opener “Ring of Fire.” The rest are carefully folded and kept in laundry hampers.

Ms. Terrell says fold lines are generally not a problem at Riverside because of Florida’s humidity. Moreover, the drops are not heavily painted in order to avoid cracks and chips that could happen to latex paint. Instead of paint, dyes are used on translucent drops which change with the lighting design.

Any slight fold lines will disappear in about a week after the drops are hung. If there are some stubborn lines, the back of the drop gets misted with hot water.

“If it’s really bad, sometimes we have to steam them, but I haven’t had to do that here, knock on wood,” she says.

Riverside Theatre patrons are indeed fortunate to have such a terrific, talented artist like Dusty Terrell bringing stunning professional work to the stage. We can hardly wait to see what she makes next season. (By the way, click here to see what next season includes.)

BONUS: Below you’ll find video of work she and her team did for “Sister Act,” which runs through at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach. Tickets begin at $35. Call 772-231-6990, or visit or simply click onto the ad on the right side of this page to show Riverside your appreciation for its support of Brevard Culture.