A window onto a Terrapin creative development, from set and costume designer Charlotte Lane
Theatre is a collaborative art form. Every aspect of the creation, development, production, and performance of a show involves the sharing of ideas, information, and skills to collectively create something greater than what each artist could achieve on their own.
As the set and costume designer on The Paper Escaper, Terrapin’s school touring show for 2022, my role is to tell the story visually, by designing the physical world of the play and its characters. I have the pleasure of collaborating with Bryony Anderson, puppet designer and maker, brilliant-ideas-generator and all-round creative genius, who leads the development of the technical aspects of the design and puppetry.
Our collaborative process is chicken-and-egg. We might imagine and brainstorm conceptual and creative ideas together with director Sam Routledge; I might then collate reference images or draw a sketch of how I imagine these ideas may look; and then Bryony will implement her creative problem solving and puppetry expertise to translate our concepts into puppets that work functionally. We might then need to further revise the visual aspects to accommodate technical requirements, and so we keep working backwards and forwards, alongside the broader team throughout the stages of development.
Stage One: Exploring the world of the story
The design process for The Paper Escaper began with a thorough reading of the text, where we worked closely with Sam, to extract all the information in Gita Bezard’s script. We explored the themes, characters, and staging through a week-long development, and began to test rudimentary puppets and staging ideas.
I am based in Melbourne, meaning that communication through online tools is integral to working together between physical visits. We have been using a mind-mapping program called ‘Miro’ where we have built a design reference board full of imagery, text, and videos. This allows for easy communication and sharing of information across the team and charts our development process organically.
Stage Two: Developing puppets and staging ideas
The second week of development delved into the story in dramaturgical detail. We worked through each scene and focussed on puppetry components, beginning to see the story and characters come to life through the way the talented puppeteers explored movement and expression in the puppets.
Throughout the process, we also work closely with Production Manager Ryan Mahony, who oversees the production holistically. For school touring, every component involves an array of specific design and technical considerations and needs to function in a multitude of ways. For example, one table may need to be structural, load bearing, foldable, light enough to be carried by one person, made at a height and angle that allows access by the puppeteers, conceal multiple puppet tricks and mechanisms, painted and finished to look like a particular material in a specific colour palette, treated to be hard-wearing, water and fire resistant, and produced within budget, to schedule and as sustainably as possible!
Stage Three: Refining and constructing
We will now head into a stage of clarifying design ideas so that we can begin to build the final puppets and components. I will work on character sketches and draft technical drawings that Bryony will use as a framework for building. She will develop and oversee how the puppets will be made and operated, and how they will be built to last the rigours of touring.
Our next development period will give opportunity to further explore and finalise the characters of the puppets and the possibilities of staging, with a focus on integrating sound into the production. We will then head into two weeks of final rehearsal where all the components will come together, and Sam and the cast will consolidate the blocking and storytelling so that the production is ready for an audience.
It is a great joy to collaborate with Bryony and the Terrapin team, to bring this story to life for audiences to enjoy.
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