Luke W. Robson is the designer for The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes, which is at Live Theatre from Tuesday 8 to Saturday 17 December 2016. He tells us about his design and inspiration.
Can you tell us where your ideas for the set came from?
My inspiration for the design came first and foremost from Nina Berry’s script. I was particularly fascinated by a section in which the two central characters discuss the way in which no two snowflakes could every possibly look exactly the same. What fascinated me about this theory is that it explains how the journey of an ordinary speck of dust through our atmosphere determines a snowflake’s gloriously idiosyncratic design. Beyond the script my reference points are always highly varied, I am particularly inspired by contemporary art instillations from the likes of Michael Sailstorfer, Ai Weiwei, Martin Creed and Cornelia Parker. I am also a big fan of the American architect Frank Gehry, whose work combines a playful experimentation with a respect for professional convention. His style often seems unfinished or crude, and displays a fascination with inexpensive or non-traditional materials. For The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes I became interested in the duality between a snowflake and the image of crumpled paper. Both start out life indistinguishable and overwhelmingly ‘ordinary’, as a single speck of dust in vast cloud, or a sheet of paper in a stack of thousands. Yet, just as no two snowflakes are alike, surely no two crumpled balls of paper could ever possibly be the same? It is this simple concept that I extrapolated into the eventual design for the show.
How different has it been creating a set largely from paper?
The design for Snowflakes is quite different from anything I have done before, which for me is very important. You never want to repeat yourself as a designer and with a whole world of inspiration and materials to choose from there is often no need to. Paper seemed to be the perfect material for the show and the only challenge was getting hold of a large enough sheet of it! In the end I called the Chairman of the British Origami Association and together we found a company in London that could produce paper to the enormous size we needed. I am sure that plenty more challenges will arise as we edge closer to the production, but so far everything has been fantastically straightforward and enjoyable.
The play is set in Live Theatre’s Studio Theatre. Were there other things to consider when using this particularly intimate space when coming up with the design?
Live Theatre’s Studio Theatre is certainly an interesting and challenging space. Although it is very intimate, it is also a surprisingly large and unusually shaped room, with a slanted back wall and smart wood flooring. Typically, a set designers job is to convert the stage area into the ‘world’ of the play, whatever that might be. With Snowflakes I knew from the very beginning that it was important to transform the Studio Theatre as a whole. I wanted to create an immersive environment from the moment the audience step into the room until they leave at the end of the performance. When I first showed the ‘modelbox’ design to director Max Roberts, his first question was, “is that our studio theatre?” The fact he didn’t recognise the otherwise familiar space in my design was a huge encouragement and I hope audiences are as equally confused and thrilled when they see the set for real.
What are you most exciting about seeing come to life?
When you have a set design that is entirely made from white materials, as we have for Snowflakes, there is always going to be a thrilling moment when you first throw light onto it. Unlike dark colours, white does not absorb light or colour, so whatever you shine on it, you will get right back. I can’t wait to see how the design looks with splashes of blue, turquoise and green reflecting from every surface. Moreover, it will be interesting to see how the space transforms when we turn on the hundred-or-so paper lanterns that will adorn the ceiling of the theatre. Ultimately, I am looking forward to seeing the jigsaw puzzle of set, light, projection, audio and performance all come together in front of an audience for the first time.
You are also a Live Lab Associate Artist. Can you tell us what that involves?
In February I became a Live Lab Associate Artist within my role as Resident Designer for Plane Paper Theatre, alongside Ellie Claughton (Producer) and Andrew Twyman (Director). The three of us have been visiting Live Theatre since we first came to Newcastle and it was a pleasure to be announced as Associate Artists. Over the past 6 months or so I have done graphic design for Snowflakes, The Savage and Broken Biscuits, for which I also assisted Set & Costume Designer Lilly Arnold. As well as designing the set for Snowflakes I will be revising my original design for Live Lab Elevator next February. The Associate Artist scheme has helped nurture and develops my design skills though professional practice and I look forward to continuing the association with Live Theatre into 2017 and beyond.
Luke W. Robson
The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes is on at Live Theatre from Thursday 8 to Saturday 17 December. Tickets are £10, £8 and can be bought at http://www.live.org.uk/whats-on-book/the-terminal-velocity-of-snowflakesor by calling our box office on (0191) 232 1232.
In 2016 Luke was Off West End Theatre Award nominated for Odd Shaped Balls (Old Red Lion) by Plane Paper Theatre, for whom he is Resident Designer. He is currently designing the opera Madame Butterfly (King’s Head Theatre) and The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes (Live Theatre). Previous designs include Live Lab Elevator (Live Theatre), FANS (Touring Production) and The Nether (Northern Stage). Luke is a graduate of the prestigious BFI Talent Campus at the National Film & Television School and has since directed the short film Electric Sheep for Channel 4’s Random Acts scheme. Luke is currently studying Fine Art at Newcastle University, the highest ranked institution in the UK for Art & Design
For more information please visit lukewrobson.com