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Image from theatre performance of 'Reach Out and Touch Me'

BA Theatre Design students collaborate with directors for ‘New Directions’ theatre festival

Written by Sophie Kassay
Published date 15 March 2019

New Directions is a theatre festival showcasing new work created by third year students from the BA Theatre Design course at Wimbledon College of Arts in collaboration with emerging directors and performance makers from the Young People's Program at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

Designers and directors worked in pairs with staff from Wimbledon and the Lyric to generate a new performance from scratch and were supported to develop these ideas into fully staged shows. These were performed in the theatre at Wimbledon College of Arts in February 2019 with one of the four plays devised for the project also selected to be staged at the Lyric as part of its annual festival of emerging artists, Evolution.

The project was borne out of Course Leader Lucy Algar’s working relationship with the Lyric, specifically with Nicholai La Barrie, who leads their young people’s programme. “We have shared values and ambitions, and for a while now have been looking for opportunities to bring our networks together.” she explains. “His young directors were really keen to work on live briefs with designers, so it made perfect sense to become partners.”

An image of the theatre production of 'Golden Child' designed by Aleksandra Stareva
'Golden Child' designed by Aleksandra Stareva - Credit: Aleksandra Stareva

This year’s plays explored a wide range of contemporary themes, including immigration, feminism and what it means to be a young person in 2019.

“Theatre reflects society and that’s what this project is about.” Lucy continues. “This is the place in the course where the students really get the opportunity to explore their own moral, ethical and political interests.”

“On our course, it’s so important to make live work, and projects like this ensure that our students leave with the skills and connections they need to start their careers in the industry. Some students really thrive working with a live brief and you just can’t get the same energy and results from speculative work.”

We spoke to three of the four designers, Fil Miranda, Aleksandra Stareva and Yeonsoo ‘Soo’ Cho, about their productions, design concepts and the key skills they’ve learned from working on a project of this scale.

Image of a concept sketch of a theatre set
Design sketch of 'Golden Child' designed by Aleksandra Stareva - Credit: Aleksandra Stareva

Can you tell us about your productions and how the design elements relate to this?

Fil: The name of my show is Pupa, deriving from the idea of transformation. It’s about a young girl who is having a party because she’s leaving for university in a different country. Throughout the show she has to face unresolved issues in her past and is transformed into a new, happier being.

One of the biggest design elements is the fact that it’s set in the protagonist’s bedroom. The flooring is very important within this piece because it’s made up of segmented sections of different carpets which represent her fragmented psyche. Certain colours within the carpet represent different emotions and stages of grief. During the final act she interacts quite heavily with the flooring and you start to see the impact of her burdensome emotions.

Aleksandra: Our piece is called Golden Child and focuses on the Sri Lankan Tamil community in the UK. It is a heart-warming story about first and second-generation immigrants and the intergenerational relationships between parents and children.

When my director and I were talking about Sri Lanka we both kept returning to sunsets as a visual motif that we wanted to include in the piece, so I am creating stained glass windows that are painted like sunsets. We are playing with the idea that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, reflecting that the family in the production has moved from east to west. To create a homely feeling, the audience will sit on rugs instead of normal theatre seating. All of the rugs we are using have a story behind them, including some from the director’s house and some special ones from Bulgaria which have been sent by my mum. We will also be serving tea to the audience during the show.

Soo: Our show is called Reach Out and Touch Me, and it’s a solo show. The character is analysing what sex means to her. It’s quite comical and we use a lot of playful elements to tell the story, so for production, I’m using very strong, symbolic images of phallic shapes. I am making a lot of tubes in different sizes and textures to create this phallic world for my character, and she is going to explore how it affects her during the show.

Image from theatre performance of 'Reach Out and Touch Me'
'Reach Out and Touch Me' designed by Soo Cho - Credit: Yeonsoo Cho

What techniques did you use to create your sets?

Fil: For the flooring, I discovered that brightly coloured carpets are quite hard to find. So I dyed beige carpets the specific colours that I wanted in the dye room on campus. Jess, the technician, was extremely helpful and we were able to do it within a day. The colours came out beautifully and were exactly what I wanted. The set also features a bed, so I used the wood workshop to help form the dowel joints for that which is a great new skill I was happy to learn.

Aleksandra: Most of my show is sourced props so there hasn’t been that much making, but all the college staff have been really helpful in giving me ideas. I cut the windows myself in my studio, but beforehand I asked for advice from the technicians in woodwork. We are also experimenting with some recordings of monologues in our shows and I used the sound studio on campus to record one of our actors performing. It was so easy using the software and equipment there, because the technician Jack demonstrated everything beforehand. I wouldn't have managed without his help!

Soo: I took my initial design sketches to the workshops and the technicians there gave me really wise advice about what kind of materials could be used to make the tubes and where they could be made. They are mostly made from sponge and insulation, because I needed to create something very light but very strong.

A model of a theatre set, featuring chairs, a bed, and carpet
Scale model of 'Pupa' by Fil Miranda - Credit: Fil Miranda

What are some of the key skills you’ve learned by working on this project?

Aleksandra: Time management is a big part of working on a live project. We all have dreams of what we want the shows to look like but with limited time to create our sets, they don’t always end up the way you imagined them. It’s a lot of hard work and you have to have a clear plan of what you want to achieve and how you will make it happen. New Directions is also very different to our other projects because we’ve been paired with a director to find a shared interest and create something from scratch together. It’s been a really good process, learning to help someone trust your decisions.

Fil: The process isn’t always straightforward, and differing opinions do arise, so I would say a skill that I’ve learned is holding back a little bit. Because it is a collaborative project, you can’t just run away with your ideas and have full control. Compromise is a big part of collaboration - the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s all about give and take.

Learn more about studying BA Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Arts.