Integrating design in to the devising process. How?

Convener(s): Alice Hoult

Participants: Sam Smith, Alan Sharpington, Solene Marie, Kelly Golding, Ed Jaspers and various other nice people


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

My reason for calling the topic was to find out about other people’s experience of designing during the devising process. As its a new process for me, I wanted to talk about my slight fears about what the next stages of the process will be.

I have found the process of devising incredibly invigorating. The concept of designing something without a prescribed space, script, budget was something that was hard for me to get my head around. After a year of intermittent workshops and finally a week long session my ideas are really forming and they feel so exciting and vital to the piece and the story. Now we are at a stage when a script is being written I am wondering what will happen to my design ideas when all those usual structures arrive into the process. Its exciting and scary at this point


Scary = exciting


- We talked about site specific theatre where the site is the design from the beginning where you don’t have the chance to change anything at the last minute as its always integral to the piece.

- adapting a stem-punk picture book for stage, was an example of a project where the initial idea has a strong visual identity so it would be useful for a designer to be present from the outset

- this might not be the case for all productions was one comment that was made, sometimes it is right for the work to have a designer come into the process later.

I disagree with this! – I think that as a designer the earlier you can come into a process the better on every level! It means that the design is a richer, truer piece of storytelling rather than just a backdrop. Of course there are issues of finance here which were also brought up. But as designers usually work for a set fee rather than a weekly rate it might be something that the initiator of the project would discuss with the designer early on to establish what their their level of involvement would be. Ask us! We might just want to be involved earlier even if it means taking a pay cut!


We talked about moments of magic created by design (the image of the virgin mary with a flashing heart) in a production, how are those moments created?

Is the answer – by having a designer involved from the outset ?


A designer’s role in a rehearsal room/devising is simply to be another set of eyes,

An auteur as much as a director/writer/devisor is.

A visual dramaturg.

Its also to make an ambient and fertile space for creating work

Talking to Will Reynolds later on and he said that a designers role is often about being the director’s best friend.

Bringing lighting in allows you to play with atmosphere at an early stage in the work. Can visual moments be a starting point for a piece of theatre? it doesn’t have to be text, and a designer can be an author in this way too

Someone came up with the phrase ‘creative midwifery’ (!!!) facilitating ideas not simply having or executing them.

For a designer to be present in a devising process is not just a visual thing but they are another set of eyes and ears that might just look at something in a different way. Flag up parts of the script that might have problems later on.

For a designer its about having the confidence to create and collaborate no matter what ends up on stage. More collaboration means you might have less control over the end result but you might also have been influential to other areas in the piece

A designer needs to know how to make themselves a valuable part of the process. Also to work out what you know you need to tell the story.


A few people came along who want to work with a designer but don’t know how, or are scared to do so. There is a certain amount of risk involved in collaborating but if you find the right person then magic will happen! You will find them, its just about taking the plunge


I mentioned that we were looking for a space to perform our piece in and Someone pointed me in the direction of Roland who is setting up a pop-up performance space. Thank you, it was great and interesting to meet him and could be a good direction for the project.


Someone talked about directing a piece that has a designer on stage drawing and making adjustments to the surroundings as the performance progresses, it changes every night.  (Can we still call this ‘design’ as by the nature of the word it defines something that is about pre-determined choices)  The designer is then becoming a performer – blurring of roles – enabling creativity!


Since the session I have been thinking about these directors/initiators who want to work with a designer but don’t know how. How can we be more visible? We are all so different, so how do you find someone who suits you? If its all about finding someone who suits your working process then perhaps we should all be more explicit about HOW we like to work on our websites rather then focusing on what the end result looks like.

If anyone has any answers or thoughts on this then please do e-mail me through my site I’m up for similar style collaborations and enjoy throwing around ideas


Also since the session I have doodled some talking beetles with different shaped heads.

Feel free to add to them