How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I work as a freelance production designer mostly across Scotland, though I am lucky that my work in the past has also taken me to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Northern Ireland. I suppose that is what I love about my job; the variety of work that I am asked to collaborate on. Just recently I was working on a site specific production for NTS called Ignition and now I am at Dundee Rep designing Kora, an installation design into the Ustinov Rooms at The Bonnar Hall.
In the past year alone I have designed productions for dance, aerial, main house and touring theatre, site-specific productions and large-scale events that just happen for one night only. The most important part of my job though is always the people that I meet on each job, they are the heart and soul of each project and to work alongside other creative individuals is a joy in itself. You remember the journey you have been on and who you shared that journey with and it always brings a smile to my face.
What do you consider your best work and why?
That is a hard question as I have been involved in so many wonderful productions and you would like to think that every job you do is at that time the best you can do. However, I guess where I have been involved physically in the entire process, from initial meetings and spoken ideas to the development of those designs and the fabrication of them through to rehearsals and opening night, and something extra special tugged at my heart strings and I would do that same job all over again, then its special.
For me Tryst with Grid Iron was one such show. I remember taking the boat across to Engoyholmen just off the coast of Stavangar in Norway for the first time and it took my breath away. As myself, Jude Doherty and Ben Harrison walked about the island discussing the sites possibilities and its limitations the butterflies in my chest arrived and stayed until we opened. We rowed to work every day, we hung gigantic lace-like sails in the boatsheds, created three course meals inside a fish tank, sat ethereal mermaids on outcrop rocks and installed by hand a seven metre long crest of a wave out of 500 handmade pebbles and over 1,000 crystals. They kept the wave installation up after the company left, and named a boat in memory of the production…that was special!
I also think that work which challenges you and pushes your knowledge and abilities as a designer is special. This Side The Other Side, directed by Mark Murphy, for the opening ceremony for the European Capital of Culture in 2011 was such a show. It involved designing elements I had never seen in its realisation before, including a 200m fire drawing. The show happened just once and as I stood within the mass of 50,000 people I tried to get my camera out to capture the moment and my colleague whispered, “Put it away and view it through your own eyes…you will never see it again”. She was right and it occurred to me that that was the experience for most of the audiences at any production. It was a valuable lesson that has stayed with me since. On a different note I asked my daughter what the best job I had done was and she said having her…so maybe I am wrong!
What was your first ever job?
I worked in a Newsagents on a Sunday morning, from 7am – 1pm and earned £7.50 for the shift. I was 15. I loved it apart from the early mornings!
What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
I was very lucky to be offered a resident design position with Ken Alexander at The Byre Theatre. Over the summer there were five productions, one a month. It was set, costume, scenic art and props, an absolute challenge but an absolute joy. It was a very hands on job and that role within a team has stayed with me since. I stayed there for two years and learnt so, so much. Ken was a star for having faith in me. I took over the position from a wonderful designer called Janet Scarfe, who told me, “There are no flys and no wings and no money…but apart from that you can do anything you want.” I suppose it taught me about the process of creativity under all situations. It was a wonderful experience.
What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
There have been times that I have had to say no to projects but that is usually down to time clashes. I guess that’s just the life of a freelancer, it is frustrating as you want to be able to do all the work you are offered.
What’s your favourite set or show design?
It was actually a moment from a show. Years ago I went to see Dracula by Northern Ballet at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. Dracula strode magnificently down a ramp the width of the stage in what appeared to be a full-length black cloak until he reached the bottom and a wind machine caught him and you realised the cloak was the full length of the festival stage. It was blood red underneath and floated dramatically behind him. He glanced at the audience whilst undoing the neck and it streamed off behind him and disappeared. It was simple, powerful and beautiful and left my heart in my mouth!
What do you like the best about working in theatre?
I think every job is different; every day presents different challenges whether they are regarding set, costumes, props, the site, the performers, logistics, the budget… Last summer I was having a pyrotechnic demonstration with Walk The Plank as part of an R&D day for a project we were doing in collaboration with Cheshire dance. My daughter rang to ask when I would be leaving Manchester to come back to Perth; in the background she could hear the whoops of excitement as we watched the display. “I thought you were at work mum,” she questioned.” “I am” I replied. “Lucky you” she said. I guess she is right.
What advice would you give emerging female theatre designers in theatre today?
To try to see as many different types of theatre and performance design as possible. To treat every day as a school day and always take up new learning possibilities. To never be afraid to push the boundaries of design and the use of new materials, and never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
I have worked for many years alongside Rita Henderson, she is a wonderful Director and Choreographer and inspired me with her unlimited energy and creativity when I was starting out in theatre. I have never told her, but I guess I have now.