Ever wondered what it takes to create the set for an acclaimed touring theatre production? Well, you’re in luck. Ahead of Swindon shows from Mon 6 – Sat 11 June designer Victoria Spearing takes us behind the scenes of passionate play Lotty’s War.
Where do you start with a design process?
What generally happens is I will read the script and the Director will have an initial conceptual idea. I will read the script with that idea in my head but also it’s important to have an open mind too, because things can change so quickly, as they have with Lotty! Ideas changed radically from our original conversations and the original sketches that I produced.
I suppose it’s the same with actors. You read a script and think ‘well this character could go left or it could go right’. Some Directors will give me images as an idea for starting points but others will just say ‘Do what you like, go for it!’
“Go and volunteer, ask questions, see how things are done.”
Which approach do you prefer?
I think it depends on how well I know the Director. Some Directors will want the set to be interactive. They want a moving living piece, whereas other Directors just want a backdrop for the play. With the former, which is how Bruce sees the set for Lotty, it’s often best having some conceptual guidance because he knows more precisely what he needs or wants the set to do. So, as in this case, I feel until I can unlock what the Director has in his or her head, it’s often hard to know what questions this set needs to answer. So, it takes a lot of discussion to understand where the creative heart of the production lies. For instance when I first read the play I felt the focus was the war and the occupation, but Bruce feels that the focus should be the relationships. Maybe that’s two opposing perspectives, I don’t know! But now I feel we are looking for that balance.
This play is going to be touring to theatres of such varying sizes. Are you going to have to create many variations of this set?
In some respect yes. It’s going to have to contract and expand depending on where we go. On the whole it’s going to look the same, and has to fulfil the same brief, but it will have to adjust to the venue as opposed to being an independent touring unit, which will mean lots of little additions and adjustments. It’s tricky thing to consider. It’s not as simple as taking a bit off stage right in one venue and adding a bit on in another. You don’t want to give people half a show in one venue. So I will need to condense rather than reduce. Reduction suggests losing something. I don’t want that.
How did you get into Theatre Design?
I enjoyed Art and Design at school and I was always good at it, but the reality is I thought I probably shouldn’t do a degree in it, as I don’t think I’ll be able to get a job after that! Funnily enough it was doing English at school, going to see plays and reading plays that I realised that I could turn my love of art into something that might be a real job! I did a lot of school plays and then started to get involved with things outside of school and my interest blossomed from there. I think I was like a lot of young people who enjoyed the backstage work. I realised I liked theatre but knew very early on that I had no interest in being on stage.
What advice would you give to young people who want to be Designers?
I think it’s important to get involved in real theatre. Go and volunteer, ask questions, see how things are done. As important as my degree was, I think there is that slightly cocooned University world. You have an imaginary but endless budget, you can build anything you want. It doesn’t ever need to tour or conform to any requirements. It’s important to see and understand the realities of a real brief early on. There are many ways into theatre design. A degree is obviously useful but not the be all and end all. I have a friend who dropped out of his first year course and went to apprentice with Cirque du Soleil.
For more on Lotty’s War and to book tickets to shows at the Wyvern Theatre from Mon 6 – Sat 11 June visit the Swindon Theatres website.