Visual artists as Theatre Designers: a response

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

The original Guardian article, to which this responds, can be read here.

“Why don’t more visual artists do theatre?” This was the somewhat alarming headline introducing a Mark Lawson article in The Guardian in July. The piece itself was more nuanced. Crucially, he accepts that “stage design is clearly a form of art” and narrows “visual artists” down to “full-time painters and sculptors”. Nonetheless, there is something very fundamentally wrong with the underlying assumptions. I would argue that this is because we see ourselves not as jumped up scene painters, out of our depth in complexities of visual art, but as amphibians – operating fully in both visual and performance environments.

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SLICE: London-Lahore

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Slice: London-Lahore is in an experimental project in a very real sense. As well as providing a framework to allow artists from two cities to respond to their built environment, it tests methods for long-distance collaboration. As has been reported in Blue Pages, I have previously visited the now defunct Theatre Department of the Pakistani National College of Arts to share ideas about teaching design, run workshops and seminars and, on my second trip, to design a show. But travelling is expensive, time-consuming, polluting and often fraught with red tape. Slice: London-Lahore offers an alternative approach.

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Theatre in a Troubled Country: Staging Satire in Pakistan

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Three years ago I had arrived in blazing sunshine to find a fledgling university department, just one year old, stretching its wings. It felt like an exciting time. My visit, backed by the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD), was part of a programme of events run by the Department of Theatre of The National College of Arts, Pakistan’s much respected arts university. I had been invited by Claire Pamment, a theatre director and dramaturg I’d worked with in UK, who was now resident in Pakistan and leading the effort to establish the department. My specific remit was to head a week-long seminar leading to a showcase of visual theatre. Entitled Rang, an Urdu word meaning roughly ‘colour’, this ‘performance without actors’, ranged from a tiny puppet holding the attention of the audience to a massive projection of fire filmed live on stage. The seminar, on the other hand, focused on comparing approaches, looking at the boundaries of scenography and investigating what the purely visual can ‘say’ in its own right. Another more general aim of my visit was to raise the department’s profile, engage students in a range of projects and, crucially, to bring together a group of professional artists and designers to discuss how to establish and run what would be the first public funded BA theatre degree in the country.

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The Big Interview … Paul Burgess

What’s On Stage, 14 April 2009: The Big Interview … Paul Burgess

Daedalus Theatre Company’s A Place at the Table, looking at the repercussions of the assassination of Burundi’s President Ndadaye in 1993, opens this week at the Camden People’s Theatre (15 April to 2 May). Katie Blemler recently caught up with the show’s director/designer/producer Paul Burgess to find out more.

Could you give us a brief history of the events that occurred directly following President Ndadaye’s assassination? 

President Ndadaye won the 1993 election. He represented the Hutu majority. But he was killed by the Tutsi military elite who wanted to hold on to power. This led to reprisals against Tutsis and a cycle of violence which evolved into civil war. Our play looks mainly at the coup and its immediate aftermath, including the Kimiba massacre where many school children were burned to death.

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