By Bettina John, MA Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Arts
What do Harold Pinter, Lady Gaga, the Royal Opera House, Louis Vuitton and the organising committee of the London Olympic games have in common? More clues? Add to that list Kanye West, Sadlers Wells and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Answer: stage designer Es Devlin.
A handful of UAL’s postgraduate students went on an exclusive tour of Es Devlin’s studio in London and an introduction by Es Devlin herself.
For a design studio of that caliber her studio has an intimate, very friendly, almost cosy feel to it. It is filled with light, as you would expect and a team of six busy assistants occupies the various work stations equally spread throughout the studio. To illustrate and communicate an idea of the assistants who work in the studio with Es, some of which have worked there for quite some time, use a mix of programs such as Rhino, Cinema 4D and other 3D-modelling software, as well as traditional model-making, which was clearly still an essential part of the studio’s design process.
Although a very busy studio, what sets it apart from most design studios is the combination of a professional design studio space with home-life and recreational facilities. Certainly, the most surprising discovery for the visiting students. It felt very unique to be seated amongst many flowers, in an airy, open plan living room with a fantastic calming view of a spacious garden.
One of her assistants shared an insight into working in the studio, emphasising the importance of sticking to normal working hours and how the team quite regularly sit together for lunch, sometimes even in the garden.
When we left the studio, there was an overall agreement that the studio was actually one of the most inspiring work-places any of us had experienced. Conversations after the tour revealed that most students feel an urgency to get the work-life balance right, in order to have a long-lasting, sustainable career in the creative industry. Sadly, there are many examples in the creative field where this hasn’t been achieved. Our society has come to a turning point, where our wellbeing comes before deadlines and the next great idea. For the next great idea, as we are coming to realise, will only keep coming if we make sure our life is in balance.
An extensive Q&A with Es Devlin exposed her interest in a sustainable art and design practices that not only innovates the theatre and music industry but also intends to make a change socially, economically, politically and ecologically to the world. It is of great importance for influential designers to think about how they can make a change with their work. She went on share the importance in choice of each projects, as it becomes a choice that will have an impact and will be judged and evaluated by hundreds of people. After all design is not just a pretty décor, it has the potential to enlighten us on a much deeper level.
One interesting question asked by one of our students, led to an insightful discussion: Whether to grow your business, if you have the chance, or keep it at a smaller size. If there is an opportunity to grow your business, does it mean that this is always absolutely the right path to take? Sometimes, like Es Devlin, it might be the better choice to keep it to 6 employees and outsource work that needs to get done for special projects. In the creative industry there are infinite ways to forge a path to a successful and fulfilling practice and it comes down to the individual to make the best choices. Es Devlin’s studio is functioning well, and ultimately, this does come down to the choices Es makes daily. Being aware of those choices is a good start to finding your own path, and by exploring other working studios and learning from likeminded, experienced people will most certainly help you make better choices.
A lesson learnt is that at the end of the day everybody has to make their own choices and follow their heart. When it feels right, it is right.