Wanting to start a design-led theatre company – are you interested?

Convener(s): Malwina Chabocka 

Participants: Valentina Ceschi, Matt _?, Sarah Corbett, Shane Shambhu, Tanja Raaste and other great people – please add your names!!


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Immediate associations with design-led theatre 

  • Discussing various visual & “immerse” theatre companies (Punchdrunk, Forward, Gomito, Pins & Needles etc.), as well as mime & puppetry ones
  • Examples of groups which use design and visuals as a starting point for their work: Lucy and Bard (stylists), Akart (graphic designers)


Why would a designer want to direct?

  • Some theatre design courses like Performance Design and Practice (formerly Theatre: Design for Performance) at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design encourage students to take the role of directors and let them develop that desire to “do it all”, but at the same time because their main emphasis is design, not directing, they don’t teach the necessary skills to work with actors/ dancers etc.


The cult of text – why why why?

  • What’s the New Writing? Does it really have to be text? => the idea of creating visual scripts and “writing” with images
  • Fashion and sculpture as sources of inspiration for theatrical work
  • The attitude towards visual theatre – most theatre venues wouldn’t give them the same value as to the text-based ones; design-led theatre is still suspicious


What would be the designer’s role in the devising process?

  • Discussing different ways designers would communicate their ideas and create stories


Tricky labels 

  • Changing the labels: instead of “director” and “designer” we could have: Visual Director, Text Director, Acting Director
  • Scenography versus Stage Design => Pamela Howard’s idea of a broader role of the designer


Tricky relationships. Do we need boundaries and roles?

  • Designer + Director = (Difficult) Dating
  • Different models and relationships within a theatre company
  • What happens if there are too many cooks?
  • Designers who initiate projects and have their own visions often end up being completely independent/ self-sufficient; it’s difficult for them to find a director who wouldn’t want to be the leader
  • The idea of a director submitting his CV to a designer who has a vision of a show => never ever happens! Why?!


Why a designer would want to set up a company and not work as a freelancer with new people every time?

  • The difficulties for solo designers of finding like-minded people to collaborate with
  • The advantage of establishing good relationships and developing them rather than starting the hit and miss process all over again


Final question…

  • How can a designer with a vision of design-led theatre find a collaborative director who would agree to follow the designer’s vision?


If you’d like to find out more about the idea of a design-led theatre company or be part of one, please email Malwina on [email protected].