SO YOU WANT TO BE A THEATHRE DESIGNER? Michael Pavelka
ISBBN 9.781848 423541
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 09 08 15
Practical, informative, philosophical; an impressive book.
NHBs have excelled themselves with this addition to their So You Want To Be Michael Pavelka’s Designer book is masterful.
It’s bigger than the others I’ve come across in the series, but there is not a wasted word in it. In keeping with the series the book offers a practical guide to training and getting into the world of work in design; in Pavelka’ case, theatre design. But Pavelka also offers a walk around the philosophy of design and the many different pathways (pros and cons) of moving into the industry.
Pavelka plunges straight in outlining the discussion around ‘scenography’ and ‘design.’ He regularly reminds the reader, though, that design or scenography, or architecture isn’t about designing 3D artefacts, but about influencing (in many ways) the space within which people, or actors – who are people! – move. It’s a crucial difference.
He raises many issues, with which some may disagree; for instance that there’s less room for poetry in design for a realism play than there is, say, for a Renaissance one. However you receive his arguments, what cannot be denied is that any student designer worth his or her salt cannot merely learn history and skills, they must truly engage with these debates.
But lest this seems to far removed from the nitty gritty of training and development, the book is crammed full of practical advice and tips. These may be as simple and important as not to give opera singers anything tight around their necks. Or it might be the run down of the advantages and challenges of different theatre spaces. Or it might be the nuanced difference between specifically designing for a site or designing site-specific. Advice is frequently summarised in Top Tips which are very handy.
The theatre designer is part of a team of course, but importantly must work closely with the director. The director is never far in the distance in this book; the challenges, delicacies and above all the excitements of this relationship is often outlined. I particularly like the note to designers that they must allow the director to get his shaky hand into the model box; and even more I like his descriptions of how the designer and director move into each others’ territories in an open and generous discussion.
I’m not a designer. But I’ve directed many shows and worked with designers in many different roles. I’ve seen thousands of plays in my time. But Pavelka in his book has excited me all over again about the act of putting a play together. How marvellous is that. And one final thought from him, and we should all stick it above our desks: ‘Theatre is made by a community for a community.’