Design Challenge – designing and making a set
As a set designer, you will see the design from concept right through to opening night. You’re really the caretaker for that set throughout the whole process. You’re the filter, visually, for everything that happens on that stage. I don’t want people to think they need to be architects or builders or have a degree in engineering in order to be a set designer, you don’t. You need to have an awareness of space and depth and you need to be a great storyteller, you need to know how to get people to believe in a space. The process of creating a new set involves lots of collaboration and lots of discussion to begin with. I first approach a brief by talking to the director about how he wants to approach the piece. Then we do lots of research. I look at films. I look at music videos. I look at other people’s work. I look at other performances. I research past productions and themes within the piece. I research genre, period, architecture. I go to libraries I google, and then I have meetings with the director and we look at how we want to approach the piece and how we want to approach the design. Eventually, fast forwarding, we start producing a scale model. The scale model is a tool for us to work out how the performers are going to move and interact in the space. Eventually that model becomes a tool that we send to the builders in order for them to create the set in real life. A set can help to tell the story of an opera or a ballet by either being architecturally naturalistic, so it provides a recognisable backdrop, or it could be poetic and abstract, it can be providing a colour, or a mood, or a feeling. Essentially there isn’t any difference in how a set can work for opera or ballet or for straight theatre or for an installation. It’s really about supporting the art work that the director is making and hopefully the atmosphere that you create informs the character as to the world they live in and, therefore, what kind of person they are. Because if you know the world you live in, you know who you are. If you’re interested in a career in set deign, a degree is definitely useful. There are lots of great courses, I trained at Central Saint Martins. I don’t think it’s essential to have a degree, you’ve just got to have a lot of exposure to theatre, and the people that I work with on a daily basis come from all different walks of life and have had all different experiences, and it’s those different experiences that create interesting theatre, because everyone brings their own story to the table. I think as long as you have the basics, you have an understanding of scale, and shape, and space, I would say you’ve just got to volunteer in theatre and take every opportunity you can to work in theatre and tell stories. The best advice I can give to somebody designing their own set is to see as much theatre as they can, see as much of other peoples work as they can because the more you see, the more ideas you can feed upon. Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a completely original idea, all there is is an amalgamation of experiences that you’ve had, that you bring together into one cohesive final scene.