We caught up with Bob Bailey, a freelance Theatre Designer and Course Leader for the 3 week Summer course, Theatre and Screen Design. Bob, who trained at Central Saint Martins, has designed shows in London’s West End, Liverpool, Bristol, Plymouth, Birmingham, Sheffield and several productions for the Edinburgh Festival. We asked what he’s currently working on and how teaching the Summer course shapes his practice.
I find inspiration everywhere I look, which ensures I can keep my mind open to new (and old) things, ideas, principles and materials.
Summer Study Abroad 2019
What is your name and what do you teach?
My name is Bob Bailey and I teach Theatre and Screen design techniques, model making skills, costume Design, working to scale, creating stories, basic puppetry and mask making skills all whilst working as a Freelance Theatre Designer.
Could you tell us a little bit about something you've been working on recently as well as your wider practice?
I’ve been very lucky to have worked for some amazing companies, with some truly collaborative colleagues and on some beautifully crafted new writing. I’ve worked in a huge variety of venues from site specific to large opera houses, from Ireland to Scotland, Denmark to Germany, Austria to The Netherlands and all over England too. I worked as chief model maker on the musical film version of ‘Les Miserables’, have been an Art Director and Designed for TV.
RNCM's The Pilgrim's Progress © Bob Bailey
I recently worked on a Vaughn Williams’ Opera ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. It has rarely been performed as, it has been suggested, a troublesome Opera to stage to a modern audience. The Director discussed setting the piece in 1917 (this is somewhat before anyone had heard of the film directed by Sam Mendes). Every named character was given a corresponding role set in the trenches. There were 275 costumes ranging from bombastic Generals, Nurses, injured Tommies to Music-Hall Divas, black marketeers, escaping families with their servants all watched by the central figure of The Pilgrim in the role as a 1st World War Deserter running from the horrors the humans inflict in one another.
The Set design consisted of a landscape of sloping faceted surfaces painted In graduates rusty to ochre colours, scratched with dry mud... trees stripped of their branches by the many bombs, barbed wire curled around posts, a dark horizon. At one point the dead rise up through the facets attempting to drag Pilgrim into Hell. Paul Nash’s cubist paintings had started this concept as had months of researching; sifting through horrific photographs, costume references, prop details.
Rent, Frankfurt © Bob Bailey
Tell us about one piece of creative work by another artist that has been on your mind lately.
Mona Hatoum is a Fine Artist whose work has always made me think, often taking my out of my comfort zone. She has challenged my spatial appreciation, made me look at materials in very different ways, has inspired me to work in fine detail and with a broad paintbrush, to question the politics, question the world we live in or ignore. A Fine Artist that has inspired a Theatre Designer - I see as many exhibitions, regardless of their genre, as I can. I find inspiration everywhere I look which ensures I can keep my mind open to new (and old) things, ideas, principles and materials.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
We are all plagiarists: it’s okay to steal ideas as long as it’s not laziness that drives this. Steal an idea but make it yours by combining it with other ideas. Research is key to a designer but our response to a brief needs input from our unique imaginations.
Student work, Summer Study Abroad 2019
How has teaching students on Summer Study Abroad informed your approach to your field?
Cultural attitudes are different, responses to the same brief are different; none are right or wrong - simply different. I’ve taken pleasure in knowing that the students whom I’ve taught are an inspiration in their own right.
What is the most important thing that students take away from your course?
Maybe a little profound but ‘Seeing the world a little differently’. Not to be scared in taking risks; learn and enjoy making ‘mistakes’. To question everything; to never stop learning about yourself or our world.
La Vie Parisienne © Bob Bailey
Bob's course Theatre and Screen Design has space available on Summer Study Abroad, starting 29 June until 17 July 2020. You’ll get to experience an amazing three week immersion into Bob's world, with other students from around the world. Get a different view of London with field trips to exciting shows and exhibitions.