An Interview with the Designer -
How did you become a theatre designer?
I always knew I wanted a career in the arts, when friends at primary school used to say, “I want to be a ballet dancer or a nurse” I used to say, “when I grow up I am going to be an Art Student!”
In school I loved English Literature and Design, I was a bit of a bookworm. When I discovered there was a career to be made from bringing your own imaginings of places and characters to life I knew that was the career for me. I went on to achieve a degree in Costume Design at Edinburgh College of Art followed by a Post Graduate in Theatre Design at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. After 6 years of study I set out as a freelance Theatre Designer beginning my professional career with the Youth Theatre at The Bristol Old Vic. Since then I have worked all over the UK designing for theatre and opera and I have set up my studio base in the heart of the Pennines, an environment I find
Q: Can you tell us about your process for creating and developing a design?
It all comes back to the script. The first thing is to read it and make notes on both practical aspects of the action and also the mood, atmosphere, themes, locations, time period etc. Often images come to mind on my first read of the script so I always try to find myself a quiet spot to read and absorb the text. I then begin to collate research imagery that I can discuss with the director, in this case I looked at the work of fine artists working with the theme of WW1 and also at the ways we commemorate death in war memorials.
From this I go on to sketch ideas both two dimensionally on paper and three dimensionally in the form of a white card model. Further discussion is held with the director and many ideas may be thrown out or evolve further before going on to create a final 1:25 scale model and technical plans for how the set will sit within each venue.
Designers are problem solvers as well as creatives and should know when to compromise and when to stick up for their ideas. We are one part of a team of people who work together to give life to a show.
Want to be a theatre designer?
You must have a true passion to become a Theatre Designer. There is a saying that actors should not choose to be actors, they should only become actors if they simply cannot be anything else! I think this applies to all creative professions.
If this is the path for you then I would recommend getting some work experience first. People often think working in theatre is a glamorous profession and, whilst it is great fun, it is also hard work and can be quite solitary and there are also a lot of long hours sitting in the dark! So try it out first. Next, do your research and find a really good course to study on. Do as much work experience as you can afford to do
– this industry is largely about who you know and word of mouth so experience is your most valuable asset.
Q: Can you tell us how you work with a director to develop a design?
The collaborative relationship between designer and director is very important and there has to be a trust here in order for your vision to be realised on stage to the greatest success, the design and the direction should work together and complement one another. You hope to share a creative vision and feed off one another’s thoughts and feelings about the play. The design is ultimately there to serve the action of the piece and not get in the way of it, it should help to transport the actors and the audience to another world.
Q: Not About Heroes is a touring show. Does this present any challenges to your design?
The trickiest thing is that the venues we are touring to vary so much in scale. It was important to design a set that could be scaled up and down as needed without impacting on the blocking of the show itself. You also need to consider the ease of erecting and dismantling the set as there will only be a small crew touring with the show. I am a big fan of working in lighting effects to my sets and this is restricted to some degree by the fact we are touring to some non-theatre venues and our lighting rig is limited.
Q: Why do you think World War One poetry is still studied in schools today?
I think in this day and age war can often be over glamorised in video games and films. It is so important that our youth have some insight into the true reality of living through war; this is so poignantly depicted in the words of Wilfred Owen he certainly belongs on the syllabus.
We all have a responsibility to learn from the past and strive for peace whenever possible. We are exposed to a lot of negative press about society today and I believe we should learn to value the world we live in now and the freedom and opportunities we have that our great grandparents and grandparents did not have, but laid down their lives for. Unfortunately there are still many conflicts raging in this world but knowledge is power, our children need to be educated on the subject of war.
Q: What is your favourite moment of the play?
I am a sucker for an ending that packs a punch so I would have to say, without giving too much away, I look forward to the final scene.
‘The words of the poetry are so evocative I hope I have done them justice in my attempts to capture the world in which these two men were surviving.’