By Amy Watts
Set Designer for Good Timin’
How did you first get interested in being a Set Designer?
I became interested in set design when I was at Sacred Heart High School in Newcastle. I had no idea that set design could be a career or that it even existed at all. I was not a drama student or really a huge theatre goer but I had a great passion for art.
It was not until a woman from Opera North came into school to get us involved in making a set and props for a children’s performance that I became intrigued.
She was explaining her job role to another student and hearing this I instantly knew that that was what I wanted to do.
What kind of education/training did you do for a career in theatre design?
From that point I have worked towards being a theatre designer. I became a member of the People’s Theatre to gather experience in all aspects of the theatre.
After school I then went onto Newcastle College where I specialised in 3D Design and from there I went to the University of Arts London where I studied Theatre Design: Design for Performance at Wimbledon College.
How did you get involved in Good Timin’?
To tell you how I got involved in Good Timin’ I have to go back to meeting Gary McCann, who is a regular designer at Live Theatre.
I was at the Royal Opera House having my Portfolio scrutinised, abused and generally ripped to shreds by a group of designers – all for my own good of course! Gary was one of the designers and noticed my accent. From this chance meeting I became his associate designer for Wet House as he wanted someone from the region with set design experience and I fitted the bill.
After Wet House, I went on to assist on Cooking with Elvis, another Gary McCann design. From working on these two shows, I got to know the theatre and the people that worked there. This is what led me to design Good Timin’.
What is the design process for creating a set design?
When designing a set you begin by reading the script and piecing together what is needed in terms of entrance and exits, rooms and so on. You find the themes that you find interesting and want to explore through the design. Then comes the tricky part – marrying your ideas with what is actually possible within the space you are working with, and the requirements of the script itself.
What themes in the show did you want to bring out in the design and what was the most challenging part of designing the set for Good Timin’?
When I began designing Good Timin’, I wanted the set to move physically, in the same way that the script pulls the audience from the 60s to the present day. These ideas drastically changed and, after conversations with the director, the theme of hoarding took hold and grew into the final design.
There were a lot of pratical constraints on the set design; as it was going to travel to Edinburgh the entire set needed to be able to come on and off stage in very short periods of time, but also needed to stand on Live Theatre’s main stage and not look out of place. This was the most challenging element of this design.
What kind of input from the creative team did you get and what were the implications of the feedback eg. how did the design change?
In creating the set for Good Timin’, I worked with the writer, Ian McLaughlin, and his ideas, as the play is an autobiographical piece and a greatly personal story so that needed to be respected. Ian wanted to include the imagery of his story throughout the production. This took the form of photographs projected onto white boxes arranged in a particular order.
Max Roberts, the director, had a certain vision for the set – he looked at the theme of hoarding, which changed my initial design. Practical necessities also informed my design.
What is your favourite part of being a Set Designer?
My favourite part of being a set designer is when you begin to see your creation becoming realised on stage, even in its very early stages. Excitement kicks in at seeing it used and enjoyed by the performers and audience.
What has been your favourite set design and why?
The most inspiring set I have recently seen was Jan Versweyveld’s design for A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic, which was simple but worked beautifully within its simplicity. The fact that there was just one prop needed throughout the full play and that the audience didn’t feel like they needed anything more was superb.
What advice do you have for students that would help them be prepared to become a Set Designer?
My advice for anyone preparing to be a set designer would be to grab any experience involved in theatre, even if it’s not involved on the sets itself. It is still a great help to have experience in any and all aspects of theatre as it helps you to understand what your constraints in other elements of the theatre are and get a full picture of the industry.
Another is to be social, get your name out there, always make sure to introduce yourself and always come across as willing to help and ready to get stuck in.
Don’t miss the return of Good Timin’ at Live Theatre from Wednesday 15 to Saturday 25 October.