Theatre design students’ work comes together in a visually stunning final portfolio show
Have you ever wondered what goes into bringing a theatre production to life? Beyond the actors and directors there is a dedicated team of designers, technicians and stage crew that envision and create the sets, costumes, lighting and sound.
The University of Alberta’s Department of Drama has one of the best theatre design programs in Canada. Last week those designers proudly displayed their work in the 2015 Theatre Design Portfolio Show.
I spoke with several of the designers featured in this year’s show. MFA theatre designers Robyn Ayles and Zsofia Opra Szabo, as well as BFA theatre designer Alison Yanota graciously spent some time with me as they put the final touches on their displays.
What goes into designing a show? Can you tell me about your process?
Zsofia: That is a difficult question because everyone’s process is different. Sometimes I read the play and get an idea right away, but sometimes when you don’t have an idea you have to do lots of research. You read lots. Google and the library are our best friends. After researching I start sketching. Then we talk a lot with the director about the piece and start to figure things out together. For me, it helps if right away, I start to build a model and draw sketches. That’s when I really feel like I’m in the show and have started the process.
What is your favourite part of designing a show?
Robyn: Setting light levels. Being in the house with the set and my headphones on. Talking to the lighting operator and calling up each individual channel and each individual light and setting what the show is going to look like. It is a really exciting part of the process — a little bit lonely but not really lonely. You’re usually sitting with the stage manager and the director and there are just a few people. The house is very dark. It is all very quiet and intimate but at the same time it’s very broad and warm.
What would you tell someone thinking of theatre design to encourage them to pursue it?
Alison: I would tell them that theatre design isn’t just about making a pretty set. I’m someone who didn’t come into theatre from a young age. I came in as a visual artist who was looking for an outlet. I think what people don’t really understand is that theatre design can be anything you want it to be. So if you are more interested in the sculptural side, you’re basically taking a blank area of space and turning it into a world for a week, two weeks or however long that show is up. So I would say that it is definitely a wonderful option if you are creative and interested in working with many creative people.
All three designers expressed how they hoped that people who came to the show not only saw the beautiful art they’ve done, but that they also come away with a new appreciation for all of the work that goes in behind-the-scenes to bring a play to life.
You can find out more about theatre design at the Department of Drama here.