What made you decide to become a designer?
I did a visual arts scholarship all the way through high school for five years so I studied a lot of history of art and there was also lot of practical visual arts that happened as part of it, and at the same time I had a lot of older friends who were visual artists and saw a lot of them go into these pursuits that felt quite lonely to me. I just thought “I don’t know if I can really cope with sitting in a garage on my own, drinking red wine,” which is what it seemed to be about. And really, I was always more interested in stories, so visual arts interested me in how it could tell stories. So I shunned it entirely and went off and did a radio / humanities and social sciences degree, and as an elective I took drama. It was around about the same time that I started missing drawing, and the lecturer we had for that unit just happened to be a friend of Gerald Murnane’s so we started trying to do an adaptation of The Plains and in the process just fell in love with theatre. I fell in love with being able to use a visual language to help tell a story in conjunction with other languages, which is what I think theatre design does.
How do you typically approach the task of designing a production?
It changes according to what the show is. If I was forced to be formulaic about it, there’s probably about six approaches that I’ve found have worked for me in the past. But it really does depend. For example there’s a particular process that works really well for things that are expressionist in nature, and there’s another process that seems to work really well for opera. This is also the fourth work that I’ve done that Tom has written, either as an original work or as an adaptation. I find his work really challenging because the language often feels so complete in its own right, which I love. I love that it forces an economy of design because it’s a great place to from which to start the process.
I worked on Picnic at Hanging Rock and it felt very quintessentially Tom in that I suspect it could have existed as a radio play. In those instances there’s a very narrow opportunity for design to say something and I love the challenge of what that forces you to do as a designer. It requires you to be very aware of exactly what it is the design is trying to say and understand its role in the work as a whole.
What has been your approach so far with Life of Galileo?
Well this is slightly different again because I haven’t worked with Eamon before. We did embark on a creative development together many years ago in Perth with Matt Lutton, but we haven’t picked up our relationship again since then, so this is as much about me learning a vocabulary with Eamon as much as it is learning the script. So there’s been a lot of discussion so far and that’s been very useful. It’s wonderful having concentrated time with the director to read through the whole thing, and we had the great pleasure of having Tom read us the whole of the 2nd or 3rd draft last year. There was a lot of discussion that came out of that. I really think those talks are invaluable. And from those discussions I then go away and do a lot of ruminating and I find other cross references and they’re not always visual.
Personally I’m not a fan of google searches, and I know that has become almost default design process, but I really resist it because I suspect it’s a narrowing process. I’d rather look at other literary references or music and things like that. And when it comes to the individual staging of Galileo, I know that Eamon as a director has talked a lot about his excitement working on Counting and Cracking and the deep thrust of that stage. I personally have only done one thing truly in-the-round but I’ve done quite a lot of stuff on a deep thrust. I used to be really scared of it but now I love the challenge and what it can do for an audience’s feeling of intimacy with the performers. It was clear that there was something that Eamon as a director wanted to keep unpacking about this beast of in-the-round theatre so we talked a lot about it and I built a couple of models to show how we could do it. That has also kick started a whole conversation about the venue and how we can reimagine the Belvoir theatre both now and in the future as well.
What do you believe are the major themes of Life of Galileo?
The theme that I think makes for the most pertinent reason to do this play now is the denial of science for the sake of propping up the powers that be. That has not changed since the time of Galileo, only who is cast as the establishment has changed. It used to be the church and now it’s a bunch of governments and corporations.
How have those themes translated to the Life of Galileo design so far?
Well this is what I think is very exciting about staging it in-the-round, is that the audience becomes very present in those questions, and you can’t really have a conversation without them either being part of it as a looming background or directly engaged in it. It’s really urgent that we put ourselves as audiences and theatremakers in that question; do we sit by passively and allow the denial of science to continue or do we look at who we are as a species and a population and ask ourselves how on Earth are we letting that happen?
What can we expect from the Life of Galileo costuming?
The costuming holds a mirror up to us as much as putting the audience in the picture does, partially because it’s contemporary costuming. We’ve talked a lot about contemporary reference points that absolutely draw similarities between the phenomenon of denial today and in Galileo’s day.
There’s a lot costuming. I think we’ve got over forty characters that we’re attempting to illustrate through costume and a lot of quick changes. I think Colin’s greatly relieved that he’s the only one that doesn’t have any changes to manage.
Also broadly speaking there’s three palettes of costume in the production. One of them clothes populations of the cast as a background material. That’s not to demean them or their role but when you’re in-the-round you don’t have a set and as such you need those bodies to tell part of a story without wanting them to stand out as individuals. You don’t want the audience to ask lots of questions about who they are as characters, it’s not the purpose of the scene. What you actually need to do is to throw focus on other characters in the scene who are sitting in the foreground of that moment. So there’s a whole choreography of colour about how that happens.
And also, to my mind, light and the capacity to reflect it has always been a part of costume. Where there’s power that’s held in the piece it glitters and it shines and it’s shallow, which makes for another major palette in the costuming. There are costumes through this that I absolutely think of as truly metallic or truly glittered and spangled; full of overflowing pomp and ceremony, like the papal costumes. It’s very widely documented that the Catholic vestments, like church architecture, are entirely designed to intimidate the plebeian masses, and you can’t really ask for a stronger costume premise than that.
For more information and to book tickets visit the official page for Life of Galileo.