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Royal Opera House Design Challenge

  • Written byUAL Awarding Body
  • Published date 30 July 2021

In preparation for the next academic year, we are pleased to be supporting the Royal Opera House (ROH) prestigious Design Challenge. Conceived as a ‘live brief’ project to engage young people studying Art and Design specialisms at Level 2 and above, the competition has been running for 10 consecutive years.

Sarah Waterman, Create and Design Project Manager for ROH, explains:

“ This annual competition is the ROH’s way of opening a window into the world of theatre design. Introducing students to the many possibilities for their own careers through being part of an authentic industry engagement project.

It offers students the option to design sets, costume, hair, wigs and make up or a marketing campaign for an opera or a ballet featuring in the ROH Season that year. The brief is set by a professional opera/theatre director, who sets the practical parameters and frames the brief by giving four possible approaches (or ‘visions’) to help the designers focus their interpretation.

The project has a very strong focus on the design process. We encourage the young designers to fully explore their chosen abstract through visual research, reflection, and prototyping, and to document this throughout the project. Also key to the competition, is the student designer’s ability to relay the narrative of their design decision-making process in a 90 second presentation – just like a professional designer’s portfolio pitch. This focus on process makes the competition a great fit for UAL qualifications as it requires the student to explore their own creative path whilst sticking to realistic parameters as a professional designer would.

We are also pleased to provide free CPD sessions for tutors and lecturers, where they can meet the director and a professional set designer. These sessions offer the chance to get to know the opera or ballet material, and to discover new techniques and tools to pass on to the students when back in the classroom or studio.

At the end of the process the students produce a final piece of work: a scale model, a costume or toile, a make-up demonstration, or an item from a marketing campaign. The tutor then undertakes to judge their cohort, using the criteria set by the ROH, after which they submit their finalists’ entries to us. All the submitted final designs are seen and scrutinised by judging panels of professional designers and creatives at the ROH. These panellists admit to looking forward to this as a highlight of their year, as it is so refreshing and inspiring to see work by these budding designers. Winners and ‘highly commended’ designers in each category are announced nationally and invited to a day at the Royal Opera House to celebrate their achievement and to mount an exhibition of their designs. During the day, they meet designers and makers and tour behind the scenes at the Covent Garden theatre.”

Participation in the programme is completely free.

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