Thursday, 29 January 2009

An Interview With Libby Watson - Designer

It's all go in the auditorium at the moment as Up Against the Wall opens tonight. It's looking smashing and once again the space has been transformed. I have included a few sneak Add Imagepreview shots of the set but only enough to keep you guessing. (Set photography once again courtesy of Ian Tilton). The lady responsible for creating this funky 70s look is Libby Watson. Despite her overseeing many a costume (and believe me there are a fair few), towering platforms and afros a-gogo she took the time to answer a few questions for your reading pleasure...

How did you get into Theatre Design? And what advice would you have for people looking to work in this field?

I started as a student at the Bristol Old Vic theatre where I concentrated on carpentry and lighting design. I worked as a carpenter for a couple of years and then did a degree in theatre and film design at Wimbledon School of Art. I then assisted some big name designers on West End, Opera and Broadway. My first professional work was at Theatre Royal Stratford East and I have now designed over 80 shows.

My advice for people looking to work in this field is to get as much first hand experience as possible in all departments, from stage management to wardrobe etc.. A degree is the most formal way to train and gives you access to directors and designers. It is then a good idea to assist. At first you may be expected to work for free but if you have good skills in CAD (computer aided design) or technical drawing and high quality model making, it is possible to be in constant work and to be paid well. The other route is to try and work in fringe theatre, this can be challenging as the budgets tend to be tiny and designers are paid very little if at all.

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

I have worked many times with Paulette Randall (Director of Up Against the Wall). A couple of productions that stand out are Three Sisters for Birmingham Rep and Eclipse tour and Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson at the Tricycle. Both relied heavily on good visual research and a static set that was instantly evocative. Three Sisters was set in 1940’s Trinidad and Gem of the Ocean late 19th century Pittsburgh.

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

I like to work in all fields, but in the future I would like the challenge of designing more opera.

Can you describe a bit about the process you went through to design the set and costumes for Up Against the Wall and what you used for inspiration?

The process for this show is pretty much like any other. There are elements that need to be there, ie space for a band, enough floor space for choreography etc.. I worked with the Director, the MD and the choreographer and showed them ideas and possible solutions along with visual elements that I thought would contribute to a visual style.

A lot of the research came from blaxploitation films and books of the period. I used this material for both the set and for the costumes. I worked with a 1:25 model and produced a rough sketch model and then refined this to a completed model, which is identical to what you see on stage. I sketched costume ideas, which were then completed into full colour drawings after consultation with the choreographer and the Director.

What were the biggest challenges of designing for Up Against the Wall and what was most enjoyable about working on this production?

One of the biggest challenges for this show is to design something that is dynamic, but can accommodate the complications of the piece. The thrust space of the Octagon makes it more difficult to design a set that has moving parts, as there is little backstage space, no wings and no flying.

The play is very fast moving and we felt that a static set would be more appropriate. The costume changes were also a challenge, as with only 5 actors it leaves little time for anyone to go offstage and change. The most enjoyable part of the design process has been the hours of research and of course the music.


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