I am a freelance designer of sets, costumes and projections for performance. I’m also the artistic director of Daedalus Theatre Company. This site is my blog but it’s also an online portfolio for my work as as a theatre designer, visual artist and video designer, as well my work with Scale, Daedalus and other collaborators.

I’m on the committee of the Society of British Theatre Designers. I’m also part of the Scene Change and Freelancers Make Theatre Work networks and a member of Equity. I helped found The King’s Hall Trust for the Arts, and am currently its chair. I occasionally teach theatre design and sustainable theatre practice as a visiting lecturer, and have previously taught at universities including Goldsmiths and the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and the National College of Arts in Pakistan.

I’m committed to making my design practice sustainable and am the co-ordinator of the SBTD’s Sustainable Design Group, which I also co-founded. I am part of the core team running Ecostage, as well as being a signatory the Ecostage Pledge and and a member of the Staging Change network.

Outside of theatre, I have a sideline as a writer and English language consultant for Angkriz Academy, play the fiddle in South London’s premier gay socialist folk band (as far as we know) and other music projects, and am an activist with Tower Hamlets Green Party.

(Please note, I’m having some issues with some photo credits not displaying. Please bear with me. I’m steadily working through all the images on this site, making sure the captions are visible. In the meantime, get in touch if you need any show info/credits. )

Assistant designer needed

Edit: the callout is closed early. It’s genuinely humbling how many amazing, talented people applied.

Here’s the call:

Assistant designer needed for Cece’s Speakeasy, a night of entertainment with storytellers, poets and musicians sharing new work that explores hope and action during the climate emergency. And the possible end of cocoa and coffee. The piece is being made and shown at The Albany, Deptford.

You will ideally be based in or near the SE London area and available for a minimum of 4 days pro rata in the second half of June. Prepping stuff at the venue from 21st June, with the get-in on 28th and the show opening on 30th. Key areas I need help with are sourcing/adapting costume and painting set, but there’s scope to be involved more widely, according to your interests. An enthusiasm for sustainable theatre design would be beneficial, as we are seeking to make this production as green as we can.

Students and recent graduates are welcome to apply; it’s fine to be learning/developing skills on the job and you will be supported by me and the team. But you will also need to be happy getting on with stuff independently.

We are particularly interested in working with artists that have a connection to cocoa and coffee growing countries.

£100 per day.

Deadline 12 noon Mon 14th June. No particular process for applying! Just drop me a line if you’re interested, and feel free to spread the word.

And while we’re on the subject, the callout for a creative assistant for East is also still live. [Edit: this callout has now closed but do always feel free to get in touch about Daedalus projects]

Latest blogpost for the SBTD: The Green Book

I’ve been on the committee of the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD) for quite a few years now, and just before the pandemic I was one of a small team of designers that, as a result of a roundtable we organised at the V&A during our Staging Places exhibition, set up a new working group for the SBTD to focus on sustainability. Now called the Sustainable Design Group (SDG), it has nearly 60 members and regular four-weekly meetings, with various subgroups (materials, costume, training etc.).

Through the SDG, I also got involved with Ecostage and am now part of core team re-imagining the Ecostage principles and pledge, along with creating a new website. I’ll be sure to tell you a lot more about all this once the website has launched.

Being part of these two projects has led to me being stupidly busy while many of my theatre colleagues were getting into baking and houseplants, and I do feel as though maybe I should have taken more of a chance to breath. But it has also been deeply rewarding and has led to all sorts of interesting connections in the UK and internationally.

One particularly interesting thing over the last few months has been contributing to the creation of The Green Book. This is a project to create an authoritative guide to sustainable theatre for the UK sector. Part One is out in beta form for you to download and trial. Led by the theatre architect Paddy Dillon, working with Buro Happold, it was initiated by the Theatres Trust and the ABTT. I’ve written about it in more detail in my latest post for the SBTD.

The cover image for the SBTD blogpost, which is in the background of the cover image for this post, is from a project by SDG member and amazing designer Alison Neighbour: the original image with an explanation and full credits can be found in the post itself.

If you do have feedback on Part One, I’ve offered to compile any feedback that comes in through the SDG, so feel free to contact me and I’ll add it to our group’s feedback document, which I’ll pass on to Paddy and his team.

Meanwhile there’s lots of other stuff in the pipeline from the various things I’m involved with, ranging from the Ecostage website launch to new design-focused carbon literacy training. Plus some actual design work is creeping hesitantly back… Fingers crossed for that.

In the meantime, if you work in theatre, please have a read of my SBTD blogpost, then download The Green Book and give it a test run.

Creativity and the Real Power of Saying ‘No’

One of the most persuasive kinds of mendacity occurs when a misleading statement is, at face value, true. There’s a reason why it’s not just ‘the truth’ we ask for, but also ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’.

An article I saw a while back (but have now lost*) argued that a key indicator for creative success is the ability to say ‘no’ in order to refuse distractions and focus on work. The particular trigger for this was that a researcher had approached a bunch of creative people to find out what made them tick and had been struck by how many of them either didn’t get back to him or refused on the basis that they were too busy being creative. The implication is that by refusing to get involved with other stuff you maximise your creative time and keep your focus, ergo saying ‘no’ is good for creativity. Well, kinda. You have to have a lot else going on besides saying ‘no’; you need decent ideas, high standards, tenacity and the rest.

Another fault with the argument is that the lack of responses to the researcher may not be because the creative professional was focused on their work but because in reality they were having to do additional jobs to make ends meet, as many in the creative sector do, or they’d said ‘yes’ too many times to other people or projects, or they just weren’t interested. So it’s an odd conclusion to draw. But there is, as I say, truth in it. The ability to say ‘no’ is a massive help. I know this for a fact because I’m bad at saying ‘no’ and it’s definitely reduced my creative output, although it’s helped a great many other people increase theirs. And that’s why I want to unpick this argument. Well, it’s one reason. The other is because I think it’s symptomatic of a wider tendency to claim that success is intrinsically deserved, a deeply flawed ideological position that colours our entire culture, from the demonisation of the poor to the cult of celebrity.

Now, before I go on I should point out that there is another kind of saying ‘no’ which is highly commendable. It’s saying ‘no’ to jobs that are exploitative, to behaviour that is abusive, to practices that are harmful or unhealthy, and so on. To be clear, I’m not talking about that kind of a ‘no’; I’m talking about the ability, described in the article, to say ‘no’ to anything that detracts from one’s personal creative practice. That said, even here there’s a matter of balance to be considered. Saying ‘no’ to protect yourself can mean other people being pressured to say ‘yes’ to fill in the gap, potentially harming themselves. Sometimes, rather than saying ‘no’, we need to say ‘How can we do this better?’ or even ‘Should we be doing this at all?’

But let’s get back to the people who are good at saying ‘no’ purely to defend their own creative time. What’s the problem? Well, it’s because success in the arts world is very much dependent on a large amount of other people saying ‘yes’. Just like in wider society where charities and the third sector provide essential services and pick up the pieces when the state fails, much of the infrastructure of the strange and fragile ecosystem of the creative sector (where the state is very small) relies on those who, sometimes paid but often voluntarily, or working way beyond the hours they’re paid for, help young talent, organise community projects, campaign for better working conditions, help out their colleagues… In the money-poor and time-poor world of the arts as it currently (dys)functions, such activity is essential. Even more so at the moment, in the context of the double blow dealt to the sector by the malign conjunction of Tory cuts and a pandemic. But, even in less strange times, this good work is almost impossible to do without neglecting one’s own creative output. 

This imbalance often has a seriously deleterious effect on well-being too, which, in turn further reduces creativity. Not being able to be creative when it’s your job, is also bad for mental heath, creating a vicious circle. So those who say ‘no’ are often benefiting from – but not contributing to – the huge web of linked activities which sustains their work. Denying this is awfully similar to the Tory strategy of spinning privilege and freeloading as fair competition and should I suggest, cast a more critical light on how we measure success in the sector. 

Of course I’m generalising. There are many exceptions. And of course a great many people say ‘no’ sometimes and ‘yes’ at other times. If there were some kind of giant yes-no Venn diagram for everyone in the sector, I have no idea how big that overlap would be, although it’s where we should all heading, weighing up each yes/no decision individually, to balance kindness towards oneself with kindness to others. But I do know that I’ve given up a lot of my own time, unpaid, for the general good of theatre design as a profession, because I see it as the right price for having a vaguely not-disastrous career as a theatre designer. (I’ve given a lot to environmentalism too, because I see that as the right price for being a human in general and a human with a decent standard of living in particular, but I’m going to stick with the creative sector for this blogpost.) I know that I have sacrificed time that I could have spent pursuing my own projects and building my own career, and while I don’t regret the giving per se, I do regret the consequential loss. Not because of what it is but because of how it’s distributed and the consequences that has had for my career. It can feel like a mug’s game, especially as, I think it’s fair to say, the relationship between success and talent in the creative sector is, shall we say, not always linear.

Helping other people gratis isn’t all about sacrifice, of course. It’s often rewarding. It’d be even more rewarding, however, if it wasn’t so direly needed, and if it didn’t feel like constant firefighting. Until we have fiscal and cultural policies that understand how the arts work (a topic for another time) our sector is, sadly, such that it would fall apart without this generosity. Because for one thing, that’s how society is, and, for another, we just don’t fit properly into the commercially driven economic system that surrounds us. 

I also think it’s fair not only to ask why the distribution of volunteering is so unequal but also why we praise people’s ability to say ‘no’ when what it often really means is ‘let someone else do it.’

The idea that saying ‘no’ in this sense is a cause of greater creativity is therefore the truth but not the whole truth, and so of no real value as an observation. It is, however, a very convincing example of confirmation bias for those who’ve bought into the poisonous conservative myth that success is always deserved. That, in a nutshell, is the specific point I wanted to make in this post but I’m not quite done as there’s a general one too.

In the light of these observations (which highlight just one of many, many injustices in our sector) it suddenly becomes apparent how the ecology of the creative sector is a kind of politics; there’s a complex interplay of work, value, power, hierarchy and constructed notions of success which, in order to survice, needs to be negotiated, and which, to extremely unequal and inequitable extents related to privilege and character, can or cannot be confronted, avoided or exploited.

By analysing this we can ask what kind of politics we want our sector to have. I don’t think many people would say it’s what we have at the moment.

*I started this post several months ago, then forgot about it. I came across it again recently and it felt relevant. I don’t remember much about the article that inspired it, but I do clearly remember my reaction to the article’s conclusion.

Light Waves, Dark Skies

I designed this show a few years ago and posted briefly about it at the time, chiefly to flag up a blog post I wrote about it for the National Theatre Wales Community Blog. But I just realised I never put the production photos up on the website. I’ll add a couple to my portfolio page, but here’s the complete set.

It was a great project, not just because of the lovely final show but also because the process was so open and democratic, and we really got to experiment. I really pushed myself as a result, and I think that showed, particularly in the video design.

Light Waves Dark Skies at Chapter Arts, Cardiff.

A We Made This Production, co-produced by Pontardawe Arts Centre

We Made This: Matt Ball, Katie Bingham, Paul Burgess, Catherine Dyson, Jacqui George, Gwawr Loader, Connor Lovejoy, Cis O’Boyle, Nia Skyrme & Morgan Thomas

Performers/ Perfformwyr: Catherine Dyson, Gwawr Loader & Morgan Thomas

Stage & Production Manager/ Rheolwr Llwyfan a Chynhyrchu: Jacqui George

Designer/ Cynllunydd: Paul Burgess

Lighting Designer/Cynllunydd Goleuo: Connor Lovejoy (Light Designer for R&D: Cis O’Boyle)

Sound Designer/  Cynllunydd Sain: Sam Jones

Full details: http://wemadethis.org.uk/light-is-like/credits/

A Letter From an Old Democracy to One Struggling to be Born

Dear students,

I’m writing to you from 5,929 miles away in London, while you risk both your safety and your liberty in the struggle for democracy in Thailand. I worry about your wellbeing, of course, but mainly I’m proud of you for standing up for what you believe in.

I want to say a few words to those of you I’ve had the honour to teach, and to any others who are interested in the perspective of someone with many years’ experience of British politics. I want to say something about why I think democracy matters. It may not be for the reasons you think.

Continue reading “A Letter From an Old Democracy to One Struggling to be Born”

Crowdfunding Awkwardness

So… this is tricky.

It’s not often I do any crowdfunding for things I’m working on. But now two crowdfunding drives have come along at once. Oops.

One is for the theatre company I run, Daedalus. We need some funds to move our community storytelling project East online. If you follow me on social media, you’ll know about that because I’ve been posting about quite a lot.

And now there’s Ecostage, an initiative led by a group of theatre designers to foster sustainable practice in the performing arts. I’ll be telling my social media followers more about that over the coming days, and doubtless post something here too.

But for now, I want to say why I think crowdfunding is the right thing to do.

Continue reading “Crowdfunding Awkwardness”

COVID-19 Contingency Plan for Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement Unit — Daedalus Theatre Company

We’ve postponed Mobile Incitement, the project I’m currently directing for Daedalus Theatre Company… Here’s the official statement.

We hope you’re all well and staying safe. We’ve had to reschedule our activities, and we really only have one active project at the moment: Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement Unit, which was to start touring in June, with a second leg in the autumn. We’re working on the basis that we should…

via COVID-19 Contingency Plan for Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement Unit — Daedalus Theatre Company

Staging Places at the V&A

You only have till the middle of March to catch Staging Places at the V&A. Curated by Fiona Watt and designed by Andreas Skourtis, it’s a great exhibition that not only reflects design for performance by practitioners active in the UK over the last four years, but also delves into and attempts to demystify the design process. In the same open and exploratory spirit, the exhibition design incorporates a round table, at which we’re hosting events and discussions. Follow The Society of British Theatre Designers on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to keep up-to-date. Or better still, join!

Panos Andrianos has made a teaser video for the exhibition, with sound by design by Romanos Papazotos:

Continue reading “Staging Places at the V&A”

Love and Information

I’ve just done a great project with Pegasus Young Company: a production of Carol Churchill’s Love and Information, directed by Corinne Micallef. The cast members were a great ensemble, highly supportive of each other, and really engaged with the piece at a conceptual level. It was really collaborative and we had some great discussions about how the design should work dramaturgically, as well as working through stuff practically, including with the modelbox.

I pulled together a bunch of images from my process for the marketing team to use, including a video of my sketchbook. And I thought I would share them here. Continue reading “Love and Information”

4.48 Psychosis is back

I’m rather delighted that not only is my design for 4.48 Psychosis featured in the SBTD‘s exhibition Staging Places: UK Design for Performance, currently at the V&A Museum, the production itself is also being revived. A huge, sell-out success last year, Deafinitely Theatre‘s bilingual production will soon be in London, Derby and Cardiff, with a new cast but the same design. You can book tickets here, but do hurry up as they’re selling fast.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of opportunity to see the exhibition. It’s been extended till March. I shouldn’t praise it too much, as I had a small role in the team that put it together, but I can safely say I’m very pleased indeed with what we achieved. I wrote about it previously here.

Finally, there’s an amazing Staging Places website that has been created as a kind of online gallery to accompany the exhibition. My page on it is here but it features a lot more designers, in addition to those of us in the physical exhibition. It’s definitely worth spending some time with.