Friday, 4 April 2014

Emma Pegg - aspiring set designer talks to Phil Lowe

On Tuesday 1st April I met up with aspirant set designer Emma Jane Pegg to talk her about work within the design world and her ambitions in theatre design.

Phil: Hi Jane tell me about your new theatre group, your own ambitions, and what's happening on Friday.

“On Friday it's a launch party for a new company that myself and a few friends are trying to set up. It's called Arts Iconic and it's an idea by a friend called Nick Newman who writes, directs and acts. He came up with the idea of having a company that produces its own theatre work that also has an online presence where we can promote art that we see other people do and so on Friday we have an open meeting which we are inviting people to. This is at The Peacock pub on Mansfield Road. The meeting is to explain what we are and I'll be bringing some of my set models of previous designs and we'll have a leaflet and we hope that it be a good networking event as well.

There are a couple of possible projects coming forward both written by Nick one of which we will be putting on in Nottingham at Lee Rosie's. Sylvia Robson is one of our resident actors with our company and also Steve Conlin and we are in talks with a member of The Gramophones to get our third actor.

The next thing that we should be doing, that we know about so far, is in the autumn, hopefully around Halloween, and this is a play inspired by a short story by Edgar Allen Poe called The Fall of The House of Usher. We are planning a kick starter campaign to raise some funds for that and this is the first time we have been involved in anything like the fund raising aspect. Interesting and exciting times.”

Phil. Sounds good. Since you did the excellent set design and helped practically for the Lace Market Theatre's production of God of Carnage what's happened since then?

“Well, that was one that I designed on my own and I've applied for another Lace Market play next season which is Bedroom Farce by Alan Ayckbourn. I'm also trying to help with painting there and the next project I've got coming up is Happy Days. Mark James is painting the cyclorama for that and I'll be helping out with that in the next month or so. I just think that it's a good way to build up more experience and meet more people in the theatre as well.”

I suggested that Emma might like to get in touch with Janine Forster of whom I wrote in a previous blog post and publication of The Boards. Janine is a former Lace Market Theatre member who went off to study a set construction course. I also suggested doing some research on 'Set One' a set making company in Derby who design, make and provide sets for shows all over the country

Phil. What did you study for your degree?

“Of late I was looking at RADA's theatre design masters and thinking in the back of my mind that I would love to apply for a masters at some point. My degree ? I did Architecture at Nottingham University and previous to that I did a foundation course at art college because I wasn't sure exactly which way to go with my arts and sciences qualifications and I was thinking Fine Art and during that year, based on my interests and qualifications, I finally plumped for architecture. The first three years on the degree are known as part one and then you do a year or two in a professional work placement. At that point I was really thinking 'is this what I want to do?' so I thought I'd try working in urban design which is a slightly different but related field.

I'd moved away for a while then I returned back to Nottingham and by that point I thought that I'd definitely want to work in set design. Actually, all along I'd had a growing interest but, maybe because of the school I went to, I felt that I should do something academic and narrow my choice down straight away. During one summer at university I did a one week short course at Central St Martins. Their set design for theatre course was full at the time I went to book so I did their set design for film and television course. There were about fifteen to twenty of us in the group that week and probably about half of them had studied architecture and I thought maybe it's not that far removed from set design! I got to know the lady that ran the course and she was the production designer for 'This Morning' and from that I was able to work there for a year and I still go back and do occasional freelance days when they need someone and that experience, that role, was and is as an art department assistant. Again that was slightly different but within the same field.

I've always wanted to do more theatre related work so I've tried to do as much theatre watching as I can and I keep a little diary in which I note down every production that I see and my views on the set design and how the actors work within the actual physical set. I also do sketches of the set and try to learn little tricks that designers use and the way that they do set changes.

Set models for Lace Market Theatre production of Gods of Carnage. Copyright: Emma Pegg


When I moved back to Nottingham I applied at the New Perspectives Theatre in Basford to be involved in what they now call Emerging Perspectives. They run a training program for people who are interested in becoming theatre makers. Theatre makers based in the East Midlands, that is. We are talking actors, writers, composers, designers, and so on. The year I did it it was called Step Up Creatives and that was the second year that they'd run the program. So I applied and I got it and there were twelve of us altogether. Throughout the year, starting in September to the following July, we met every third weekend at their headquarters and they'd run a workshop in improv or drama games and we learned a bit about speech projection too. It was quite interesting for me because I'd never done any acting and also for me, being quite shy, it was interesting to be in a small group and learn a little about what other practitioners do. After all, the sets you design are eventually peopled by actors. The set isn't an isolated part of the production. It's integral, so therefore it's important to have at least some knowledge of other theatre makers and their roles in the arts. I feel that this particularly true of any creative team headed by the vision of the director. One production of say, Bedroom Farce for example, may have completely different set design style to another.”

Phil. That's true. I've seen a fair few European theatre productions of plays familiar to me and the choice of set design has radically changed the style and presentation format. Clearly the arts all have different avenues of approach, theatre included.

“ Yes, you're right Phil, I think that's what they were trying to encourage at New Perspectives; the importance of being interested in what everyone else is doing theatrically. Plus you get to start to learn another technical language of expression. I read your blog post about your experiences at Derby Theatre and the technical rehearsal of The Odyssey. Barney George designed the set for that, didn't he? I want to learn as much as I can. It's fascinating.”

Phil: So what is on the cards for you right now Emma?
“I'm making some sketch models at the moment for the proposed show, Usher's Fall, and I just want to get some of those to a level where I can present them even as rough models on Friday so we have a design table for people to see our work as well as us talk about it. For three days a week I work at Amtico which is an interiors company. They make flooring and I create design work for them on a freelance basis, usually about three days a week. I work out new tile formations that they can then find different ways they can cut their products and make differing patterns. It all feeds into the design work and I do poster designs for theatre productions. I like to do as much as I can practically, to build up my art and design work portfolio. You learn quite a lot from all these different areas of design and architecture does prepare you for many other areas of design in a way. Particularly the way in which it was taught at Nottingham University. Our course was more arts focused than engineering focused and you learn so much about design that inter-links between the various artistic disciplines out there.”

Phil. Did you learn about qualities of materials? For example the cutting of different things like stone, wood, plastics and such.

“Yes we did do a bit of that. Then again quite a lot of that is self study and I like that. I'm a very hands on person too. Making models to scale is another discipline and finding the correct materials to build is really interesting and sometimes a challenge. It is a very precise art.”

Phil. Well thank you for your time today Emma. It's been fascinating. Good luck with all your new ventures and the launch on Friday.
Emma Jane Pegg's blog can be read HERE.

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