Stage design is set for the public spotlight this week. Tomorrow’s annual Linbury Prize awards in London come as the Victoria & Albert Museum prepares to launch a major, year-long exhibition on the subject.
The Linbury Biennial Prize for Stage Design takes place on 15 November and will give 12 emerging theatre designers the chance to win a cash prize of up to £66 000 and the oppor tunity to work on a big production.
The prize has produced many notable names over the years, including Es Devlin, and this year’s shortlist includes Holly Waddington, Claire Winfield and Lorna Ritchie.
Meanwhile, Collaborators: UK Design for Performance 2003-07 opens on 21 November at the V&A, designed by theatre designer Mike Elliott.
This will be the fourth and highest profile outing for the Collaborators show. It will exhibit the work of 100 British contemporary production designers, and supply Britain’s entry to the Prague Quadrennial competition.
‘The Prague Quadrennial motivates our exhibitions,’ says show curator Kate Burnett. ‘Since 1975, the British selection has won the overall gold award three times, including at the most recent event, in 2003. This is more than any other country, and proves our pre-eminence in this field.’
She believes that theatre design differs radically from any other form of applied art.
‘The stage designer is not employed to realise a brief in the same way that they are in other commercial contracts,’ suggests Burnett. ‘They don’t pitch with their speculative designs. Instead, they embark on a journey, finally creating a blueprint that is then realised by a huge team of other people, making an almost industrial output. It is a strange art form, but an art form nevertheless.’
Zandra Rhodes, designer of the current production of Aida for the English National Opera, which has never shied away from commerciality, disagrees.
‘I think that attitude is slightly unfair to other forms of design. Theatre design is as commercial as any other discipline,’ says Rhodes. ‘It still has work to do on a budget, and it has to pay for itself. It is not as though you can say gaily that the cost of the production design, or its quality or commerciality, doesn’t matter.’
Ultimately, Burnett believes that British theatre design will continue to thrive with – or without – public appreciation.
‘Theatre design has been pretty healthy for quite a long time,’ she says. ‘There are times when people catch sight of it and it comes on to the radar again, but, certainly, British designers are highly rated abroad and have been for a long time.’
PUTTING ON A GOOD SHOW
- The Victoria & Albert Museum plans to open a new permanent gallery for its theatre collection in 2009
- Collaborators: UK Design for Performance 2003-07 will feature work from the past four years by more than 100 artists, including Paul Brown, Richard Hudson, Ralph Koltai and recent Linbury Prize winner Becs Andrews
- In addition to scenographic drawings, models and photographs, the exhibition will feature interactive digital presentations and architectural designs of new and recently redeveloped theatre spaces, such as the Camden Roundhouse and the Gdansk Theatre in Poland