Friday, 16 November 2007

An Interview with Dawn Allsopp (Designer)

Dawn Allsopp has worked with us, as a Designer, on a few productions over the years including Shining City and Kindertransport for which she was nominated for a Manchester Evening News award in 2004. I managed to grab a few minutes with her to ask a few questions and have included some of her rather lovely designs for A Christmas Carol.

If you could produce designs for any production, what would that production be?

I am not someone who has a great yearning to do something that has so far eluded me. I accept projects which fire up my imagination and instinctively I know will be fun and challenging to work on.

Can you describe a bit about the process you went through to design the set and costumes for A Christmas Carol.

Conrad Nelson (Director) and I met and discussed various ideas before beginning the design process. We talked in general terms about the pile of cash boxes leading from stage level and up to the shelf and specifically about the various locations we would need to include.

I then went away, gathered visual reference material and put together a rough model (see finished model below) and costume thoughts. At our next meeting with this model, we solidified some ideas, chucked out others and introduced new ones.

Photo of the set model of A Christmas Carol.
Designed by Dawn Allsopp

The process continued in that way, with each meeting the design becoming more refined until it arrived at what you see on the stage.

What were the biggest challenges of designing A Christmas Carol and what was most enjoyable about working on the production?

The biggest challenge within the play is to create a sense of flying, without anyone actually leaving the floor.

During the design process, the pile of cash boxes grew out of the stage floor and as they reached the shelf had become a jumble of small houses. These houses hem in Scrooge's bedroom area and help create a sense of an overcrowded city in which he works and lives.

In addition Scrooge's four poster bed moves when the down stage bed post is pushed. This sets the canopy swaying and creates a great sense of movement. With the bed swaying and specific lighting effects we get a fantastic sense of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present soaring high over a cityscape. All without ever leaving the ground!

It has been a great challenge and hugely enjoyable to work on an adaptation of a Dickens classic here at the Octagon.

Tell us about how you got into theatre design and do you have any advice you would offer to those interested in this type of career?

I trained in fashion and textile design and then did a post graduate year at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School on The Wardrobe course. I realised by the end of that year I wanted to design scenery as well as costumes, so spent two years working on small fringe projects in London, while earning a living working as a dresser on West End Musicals.

I was then lucky enough to get an assistant design job at The Palace Theatre in Westcliff on Sea, where I designed various main house shows and painted on all the shows. This job gave me a fantastic foundation on which to build.

Clearly my degree choice was in a different design discipline and I had to learn aspects of my job as I went through my career. I think now, if you want to go into theatre design then theatre design training is advisable as it is a very competitive market. There are a lot of courses to chose from and with most things you will need to do some research and pick the course that most suits your needs and expectations.

Which project have you undertaken that you are most proud of?

I designed a show in August 2005 for the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich called Sugar. This is a fantastic musical version of the film Some Like It Hot.

You've got a great period setting of the late 1920's and a terrific comic story of boys dressing as female musicians to escape the mob and a girl running away with the same band to find a millionaire husband in Miami.

With its great score and performed by a hugely talented company of actor/musicians this was an exceptional show and one I am really proud to have worked on.


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