LivingArts: Technically Speaking

Many of us know how insanely competitive the performing arts sector is, or let’s face it, any arts industry. But how do we cope? What do we do to stay afloat? How do we survive these gruelling circumstances?

We need to adapt. Well, a lot of us do. We need to become multi-faceted: honing our skills not only in performance, but learning new ones in producing, costuming, lighting and set design, and anything that keeps us relevant and sharp. We must continue finding ways to make ourselves as desirable, useful, and effective as possible in order to keep creating work or just to stay active within the industry.  So the question is, if you are an actor or director, why would you want to learn all that nerdy technical background stuff? What on earth could that do to REALLY help you?

Well, I spoke with local actor/director/producer (see what I mean?) Lauren Repei of Same Boat Theatre Company, whose father Bruce (a professional set designer and head scenic artist for over 30 years) is offering a workshop this month on set design for artists. In fact, it’s geared towards those who have little to no experience with design.  A common trend happening in the performing arts industry is people taking on multiple roles within a production to keep costs down, using less man power and gaining more hands-on experience, giving them more creative control over their show.  Often directors and theatre creators end up putting together their own set design without much knowledge or guidance. So where do they go to learn this if they don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on workshops, hiring a professional, or commuting to Toronto?  That’s where Bruce comes in.

The trick is that much of the research or specific ways in which we approach acting or directing can be applied to set design; the search for a metaphor, the motivation of a character, can all help inform a set. Some artists may not realize that an effective set can be simple to do, even without a lot of resources, and it can really help elevate the production values.  

While speaking with Lauren, she described why she wanted to assist her father in creating a workshop that is available to local artists at a very affordable cost. “I found that often the productions I have been involved with have not had the budget to work with professional designers (set, lighting, costume, etc.) and often lacked the resources. As a result, we would try to fill in the gaps ourselves, often blindly. But I know from my experience with my dad, that there are ways that we, as directors and creators, can get better at creating simple yet effective and creative set designs.”

When asked to construct a workshop for theatrical set design, Bruce (who has worked for such professional companies as the Stratford Festival, the Canadian Opera Company, and the National Ballet Company of Canada) jumped at the chance to share his passion, talent, and wealth of knowledge in the industry with other artists. And thus, the workshop was born. 

So…what is it exactly? Lauren explains, “It's about looking at an approach. To know which questions to ask about a piece of theatre: the setting, characters, theme, etc. that will help pinpoint ideas about set. In the workshop, Bruce will go through his process, touching on what he looks for specifically within the script to inform his ideas and designs, what kind of research he does, how to make decisions about style, and ultimately, what kind of questions directors can ask themselves when considering a set design.”

So, at the end of it all, artists start asking the really important questions that matter. They think of what to take into consideration when thinking in terms of design, and find simple ways to attach an effective set. They begin to determine what is necessary and what you can do without when it comes to a set design. 

It's just another way for theatre creators to tell a story in the best way possible.  And really…isn’t that what we all are striving to do?

An Approach to Theatrical Set Design
When: August 13th, 2016 from 10am- 3pm (with a break for lunch)
Where: The Studios at Hotel Hamilton  (195 James St. North, Suite 317)
Cost: $45 (tax receipt included)
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