They might not always be in the spotlight, but lighting and costume designers are absolutely crucial to the smooth running of any production.
Sean Ford is the lighting director for Life Is A Dream. He says it is “quite different from most student productions in the Playhouse. It’s very surreal, the main characters are in a dream world”.
Sean has considerable work to do as the backdrop doesn’t change throughout the show: any change in mood or atmosphere has to be conveyed through the lighting.
Inspired by the Italian baroque, the lighting is intended to convey a 16th
century feel – the trend back then was for light to come from specific directions rather than simply shining across the room. One side of a face,
for example, would be highlighted, rather than a uniform wash across the actors. Sean says there are people who’ve been doing this for
years, but “a lot is still guesswork”; with lighting one can think of things that “could work” and only be able to tell whether it does or doesn’t once in the venue. “There’s a lot of trial and error”.
Another part of theatre production that is often forgotten about is the role of the costume designer. Rosie Talbot, performing this role for Life is a Dream, says the skills of a good costume designer are flexibility, patience, imagination and the ability to work fast. Value for money in student drama is essential, the idea, therefore, is to create the best effect with the smallest amount of money and that can often mean making something yourself from scratch.
“It’s important to be able to understand characterisation. A costume designer is part of the process of bringing a character to life on stage, as well as helping shape the overall aesthetic of the play. So, it’s important to listen and understand both the brief from the directors and the focus of the play, as well as character motivations and how the actors will play those characters. A costume must be able to move and be as comfortable for the actors to wear as possible.”
But the basics matter too: “it also certainly helps to know your way around a sewing machine!” she says.
Life is a Dream “focuses on the boundaries between true life and constructed reality. That required us to make some pretty dramatic costume choices from the beginning to tie in with the themes.” The characters inhabit “a type of dreamspace” which explains the largely monochrome palate of black and white that she has opted for. “I chose to work with fabrics that reflect light in different ways. Sharp contrasts of light, texture, colour and form are part of the overall aesthetic of the play.”
She describes Estrella’s costume as her favourite “Her costume works particularly well alongside the Damas, her Ladies in Waiting.”
Talbot encourages people interested in design to try out costuming. “I dived in at the deep end and took on a whole production but, if you haven’t got that kind of time, designers are often looking for assistants to help create and source costumes and find fabrics. It is an immensely rewarding thing to do and working with actors and directors is never dull!”