I spent two and a half months this summer working as an assistant set designer and builder for a young scottish opera company called Opera Bohemia.
I worked with a recently graduated architect, Magnus Popplewell, who has designed many sets before and assisted him throughout the entire process from the design all the way through to working as a stage hand at the performances.
I made these two films about the construction: the first is a short film I made with footage I took whilst building the set; and the second is a time lapse of us putting the set up before a performance.
We began by creating an inspiration board to inform the design. We focused on images relating to the Russian revolution and constructivism era. Looking also at the idea of angular lines and forced perspective. You can view the tackboard here.
The construction of the set took over two months. We worked in a door factory in Glasgow which was great because we had quite a lot of space; scrap materials were freely available; and we could use the factory’s massive table saws.
What was so interesting about the design and construction of the set was that it all had to fit into a van. This meant designing everything so that it could fold in half/slide apart/fit together in the most space economic way possible.
I also got to play a part in choosing the props for the opera. I went around with Magnus and the production manager to some shops and to a company called Titan Props who have a huge warehouse filled with every kind of prop that you can imagine. It was really incredible but also very interesting in terms of how specific props need to be to meet the requirements of the director (they need to be a certain quality and also need fit perfectly in with the period the opera is set in).
In the second half of the opera, as the drama reaches it’s climax, a gunshot is fired and a red curtain drops suddenly out of nowhere. Designing the mechanism that could hide a curtain throughout the entire first half and then drop it suddenly by a string pulled underneath the stage (and finally release it completely with another string) was challenging but worked out very successfully in the end (it can be seen functioning in the second of the two videos above).
We did three performances with the set as part of the show’s first tour: one as a part of the Edinburgh Festival; one in Kirkcaldy; and one in Glasgow. I helped out on all three performances as a stage hand and, because I knew the set so well, I also lead other members of the production team and directed the construction of the set at some of the performances.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of following a design from it’s initial concept to a finished product. I feel as if I have gained confidence in and learnt a lot of transferrable skills within not only construction but also within research, design and the performance world. Working on a live project as a team, firstly with just Magnus for the construction and then with the entire production team and cast for the performances, has really given me an insight into how it feels to working within industry and everything that comes with it. I would love to work as a scenic artist for some time in the future as I found theatre and all that goes into it very fascinating.