Set Design and a trip to Antwerp!

photo Lauren Murray
photo Lauren Murray
photo Lauren Murray
photo Lauren Murray
photo Lauren Murray
photo Lauren Murray
Photo Lauren Murray
Photo Lauren Murray

Hello. I thought I had better update my site as I have had a rather busy and exciting time of late. At the beginning of the year I entered into an advanced diploma of Design for Theatre, Film and Live events. It’s been brilliant to take the time to advance my design skills and my knowledge of the industry and the standards it expects. I have the privilege of studying under two very experienced industry professionals, who inspire and challenge me. In June I flew to Antwerp in Belgium to attend the OISTAT conference ‘Wood and Canvas (and Rabbit Glue) in the Modern World’ thanks to the support of a Helpmann grant. Theatre professionals, scholars, architects, technicians and scenographers from Europe, the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and the Philippines, came together to consider the plight of the wooden machinery in the famous Bourla Theatre. Dating back to 1834, the three storey wooden under stage, original working fly tower, chariots and drums have been waiting dormant, while the current theatre group Het Toneelhuis, searched for ways to stage their contemporary works, by passing the old machinery. In short, Het Toneelhuis want the machinery to be removed. Over four days we experienced theatrical tricks and techniques that were hundreds of years old. From rain made using wooden machines filled with pebbles to wind using canvas and cranks and traps of every kind. Fire, snow, shining moons, drifting clouds and turbulent seas were made using rollers, cogs, pulleys and hinges; simple technology. I presented a paper along with my fellow peer Lauren Murray at the conference, showcasing the work being done by the design and construction departments at Adelaide College for the Arts for Casey vanSebille’s tetralogy ‘Lakes Angel’. It was somewhat daunting presenting to a room of such highly experienced individuals, but we made it! The conference highlighted ways in which the baroque technology could be used in conjunction with modern technology and aesthetics, but it also demonstrated the high level of appreciation that modern audiences would have for the machinery and the effects they can produce. In a way, the machinery are toys that can potentially provide a great deal of enjoyment, delight, play and learning for young and old. It was wonderful to learn just how the baroque effects and scene changes were accomplished and even more significant for me, was the realisation that it is relatively easy to do. I am now developing a show called ‘McNirt Hates Dirt’, that focusses on sustainability, stewardship and relationships. It is designed to engage young audiences beyond being passive observers and requires them to propel the narrative by becoming the show’s theatre mechanists. I hope to replicate some of the baroque wooden machinery on a scale that will allow young audiences to easily operate them, and make it portable enough to be toured to remote areas. There was something so beautiful and satisfying about holding the handcrafted wooden machines in Antwerp and to experience the simple joy of observing the cause and effect while operating them. What 10-year-old can duck down to their shed and recreate an iPad out of things that might be lying around? But a rolling sea machine…well a few wooden broom handles, maybe some disused pool noodles, a bicycle chain and you’re well on your way. Much of what I have written here is currently in an article in the latest issue of UPDATE magazine should you wish to see the full version.

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