The Society of British Theatre Designers

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Blue Pages:

The Blue Pages is The Society’s quarterly magazine, it helps us keeps in touch with members regularly and covers news, articles, guidance notes and advice on contracts and working practice, as well as details of events, exhibitions and recent publications.

Select articles are available online, members may also download selected digital back copies.

We are keen to reflect a diverse range of practice within the journal. If you are interested in writing an article for Blue Pages, please contact editor@theatredesign.org.uk

You can find some guidelines here: SBTD Blue Pages Guidelines.

Editorial

Blue Pages Editorial, April, 2016; Editorial by Fiona Watt; Photography © Chris Nash Editorial by Fiona Watt; Photography © Chris Nash

Our 40th year challenges us to cultivate new beginnings and embrace change whilst acknowledging past achievements. The word ‘cultivate’ versus the word ‘evolve’ has pre-occupied me since reading in Peter Farley’s article ‘A Garden of Evolving Ideas’ that there is no direct translation of the word ‘cultivate’ into Chinese. By substituting this with the word ‘evolve’ are we really saying the same thing?

At the opening of Atomic Landscapes, Ralph Koltai’s monumentally moving exhibition of sculptures curated by Pamela Howard, Simon Callow and David Poutney spoke passionately about where we have come from and where we are now as we celebrated in the company not just of these extraordinary artists but at their behest with Welsh College BA and MA Design students exhibiting their incredible work alongside them.

In a climate of extreme conservatism with both a small c and a very large C, Simon warned against taking it for granted that the performing arts world in which we all exist is evolving as he pointed out the controversy and sometimes outrage that Ralph’s metaphoric, sculptural designs encountered in a post war world that still revered ‘décor’, something that Matt Trueman picked up on very recently in his commentary on design awards and the vicious reviewing that surrounded Lizzie Clachan’s designs for As You Like It at the National.

When I was a student I worked as a dresser at ENO and I remember being utterly awe struck by the designs I saw every time I walked into the auditorium at ENO during David Poutney’s ‘Powerhouse’ artistic directorship. Now under threat itself, what ENO represented at that time was contemporary, artistic daring that was deliberately challenging and accessible to as many people as possible. That in itself is political, but David was at pains to point out that he viewed Ralph as someone who has been a political artist on stage throughout his life. He is also, of course, a European, and in urging us all to be both those things, he reflected on how much less significant and rich his own career would have been without the opportunity to collaborate here in the UK with designers from all over Europe such as Ralph, Stefano Lazaridis and Johann Engels.

As individuals and organisations we would hope that there is at least a degree of inevitability about evolving. Even if we were, heaven forbid, to consider this in purely business terms, evolving is a necessary response to surviving changes in government, economics and funding structures. As individual artists our practice may evolve out of both necessity and new processes of discovery.

How we cultivate as individuals and organisations seems to suggest a much more pro-active approach.While we are absorbed by a profound sense of shock and sadness, to be able to pay tribute to two extraordinary artists in Becs Andrews and Yolande Sonnabend is our attempt to understand and acknowledge what these ground breaking women achieved by forging their own unique paths while at the same time cultivating possibilities for all our futures. I don’t know if they ever met but in reading tributes to them both, I am struck by their visceral relationships with dance and each one’s seminal approach to designing a Tempest for their time. Imagery, of course, speaks volumes, but we are all also hugely aware that by making the kind of work we make, we are choosing not just a career but a way of life.

Becs and Yolande cultivated their own curiosities through their conversations and collaborations with scientists, engineers, technologists and philosophers. In Yolande’s case, Peter Farley vividly describes her ‘open door’ hospitality at Hamilton Terrace that meant these salons were constantly occurring in the midst of whatever she was working on at the time. The work that Becs made during and as a result of her DARE Fellowship at Leeds invited that ‘salon’ of experts and thinkers into the performance space itself to collaborate with her in shaping the very essence of her temporal work. Both were artists in their own right. Yolande, like John Napier and Ralph have cultivated parallel fine art practices throughout their careers. Becs forges a path that a whole generation of scenographers are daring to follow as the dramaturgs of a practice that blurs the boundaries between theatrical and installation space. Sean’s piece about Yolande and Lily’s ephemeral encounter with Becs, touchingly summarise the impact on the early stages of their careers that
these designers had, cultivating that vital sense of possibility at such formative times.

Tanja Beer’s Living Stage scenographic space pushes us out into the world rather than bringing the world in. By literally cultivating in real time, she builds strong local relationships in order to question established approaches to global issues. As designers we seem to flourish in the face of challenging constraints.

In the face of our ACE funding application for MAKE/BELIEVE being rejected, we went through an arduous process of decision-making in order that the exhibition could go ahead. Being forced to re-invent how we represented the work in each carnation of the exhibition has taught us a great deal about what exhibiting performance design might now mean and created startling and stimulating prisms through which to view it. Cultivating a dialogue with all of you about what role exhibiting occupies in your practice will be vital in shaping how we navigate our way towards the next Quadrennial in 2019.

Andrea Carr’s piece reflects on some of the questions we need to consider, while Peter Farley’s piece on Evolving Design for Performance wittily demonstrates how we might turn a thorny problem into a playful virtue, creating a garden for designerly delights to bloom.The garden that SBTD needs to cultivate covers the whole of the UK and one of our key aims this year is to get out to meet you in different parts of the country. With all the interconnectivity that is available to us, the need to actually congregate and connect gets stronger. Between us, can we build a network of ‘gardens’ around the country that support us in evolving and cultivating thriving careers? Interviewed recently, both Tupac Martir and David Shearing have eloquently expressed our profound need to share our humanity and compassion.

Bravely used big words but in a ‘jungle’ not so far from here, people displaced from all over the world are finding those things in a temporary performance space in Calais and theatre artists from the UK, very known and very unknown are being drawn to help by recognising our basic human, political need despite every hardship to transform through coming together.

– Fiona Watt

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