The Society of British Theatre Designers

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Blue Pages:

The Blue Pages is The Society’s twice yearly 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

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


Blue Pages Editorial, August, 2017; Editorial by Greer Crawley; Cover image: Trinity by Brave New Worlds; Photo: Arturas Morozovas Editorial by Greer Crawley; Cover image: Trinity by Brave New Worlds; Photo © Arturas Morozovas

In her editorial as guest editor of Blue Pages in 2010, Fiona Watt wrote, ‘there is a need to acknowledge both the past and future of our profession […]taking responsibility for the traces we leave behind, exposing our processes and giving at least some of our time to both our individual and collective professional development.’ Fiona, as honorary secretary, has continued to encourage this development through the SBTD both internally and externally. In a recent meeting, she challenged the editorial committee to consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) faced by Blue Pages. It was a valuable exercise that revealed both the positive and negative perceptions of its content. We all agreed that it was important to record and reflect on the work of practicing designers and appeal to the interests of our members. The immediate decision was to include more in depth features on designers as well as reviews and critiques of books, exhibitions, symposia and research. This double issue of Blue Pages provides an opportunity to expand our coverage of designers’ practices and experiences. For as Claire Carolan, writing here about the Canadian Theatre Lighting Design Digital Archive, asks: who better to add the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to archives than designers? So we have asked designers at various stages in their careers to contribute their thoughts about their practices and experiences as students, recent graduates, and established designers.

While the original intention was to have a focus on design for dance, our designers’ discussions were often much more wide ranging and understandably political. In addition to speaking about his designs for The Red Shoes, Lez Brotherston talks to Ian Teague about the impact cuts are having on theatre-makers, the decline of production departments, and a culture that doesn’t allow for failure. It is a view shared by the designer Ben Stones. In conversation with Michael Spencer, he tells us about the importance of having the freedom to make mistakes and the resistance to experimentation in some theatres. Both Lez and Ben also emphasise the problems with negotiating contracts, working conditions and fees. The subject of contracts comes up again in Paul Burgess’ interview with the choreographer Jonathan Watkins and the designer Simon Daw who describe both the advantages and disadvantages of having their production of 1984 televised.

In addition to the challenges presented by contractual arrangements and politically driven funding cuts, there are concerns about the effects of Brexit. Kate Lane expresses her worry about the future of her collective as political decisions affect the ability to move freely and work collaboratively.

But in spite of this, or perhaps because of all the constraints and uncertainty, these designers seem determined to continue their practice and find new forms of expression. In this issue they share with us their ideas, processes and practices. We learn about their engagement with digital and social media; the importance they place on the model and materials; the value of collaboration with skilled costume makers and technicians; and the importance of the ‘imaginative exchange’ with the audience in creating meaning. We hear about the ‘cinematic blend’ for 1984; Shizuka Hariu’s architectural methodology and Pip Nash’s kinaesthetic design process; the use of the found object in Pamela Howard’s designs for Carmen and the scenographic qualities of William Kentridge’s models and drawings. All of them challenge the belief held by some and referred to by Ben that theatre is in some way ‘old fashioned’. They show how it is possible to combine traditional processes and methods with innovative practices to create work that is original with contemporary resonances and immediacy.

We learn from these designers not only the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ but also their working relationships, the people (and animals) and things that they value as well as their thoughts and perceptions about the social, political and cultural contexts of their theatre making.

In the long career of John Gunter who was one of those who benefited from the rep system, we see expressed many of the practices and values still important to designers today.

‘One has to have a deep and almost intimate rapport with all the people one works with, because you are bouncing ideas back and forth and its that sense of co-operation that you build up whether it’s for the set, props or painters…It’s very important to get that right and so it becomes a pleasurable experience putting the thing together – a very easy atmosphere, fun and a few giggles.’ John Gunter

– Greer Crawley

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