Costume designs for Chekhov's Three Sisters

Sophia Pardon is one of our talented graduating MA Theatre Design students who will be exhibiting her work at the MA Summer Show this year.

We spoke to Sophia about what she will be exhibiting at the Summer Show, the way her design aesthetic has changed over the course of the MA Theatre Design and what she has enjoyed most about studying at Wimbledon.

How would you describe your work as a theatre designer?

I’m quite new to theatre design. My background is as a performer and I studied the theory of performance, so I don’t come from a design background. It’s still quite early days for me as a designer, so I would say at the moment my work is very experimental.

I am definitely fascinated by storytelling and fairy tales. I also love puppets, particularly ones that are a bit weird like headless dolls and other slightly odd stuff. As a designer I have an idea of some directors I would love to work with, but at this early stage in my career I haven’t assigned myself to any category of theatre design yet. I have my own personal taste but I am still working out what it is as a designer.

Model Box set design for Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire

Model Box set design for Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire

How has your work changed or developed over the MA Theatre Design?

Any experience I previously had with design had been very much self-taught. People in theatre societies would put on shows at university and would ask me to come and do the set, so it was all very on the fly. In my first few weeks here at Wimbledon I was really shocked at how much goes into it. Particularly with the model-making side of things – I didn’t realise how specific things need to be. There’s so much more to theatre design than I originally realised.

I was nervous going into it because there was so much I needed to learn, but the course has really pushed my ideas creatively in terms of what our role is as designers and how we can bring a written text to life on the stage. It also gives great insight into how we work with the director, the lighting designer, the projection designer and the actors. We are learning about how important our role is as a designer, but also how we need to learn to collaborate with the other people involved.

Have you had any industry experience throughout the course?

In my last year of my BA, I assisted somebody who owns a puppet company and he let me come along and shadow him while The Birmingham Repertory Theatre were doing a production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Photograph from the Jah Wobble: The Invaders of the Heart Performance at the Merton Hall Arts Space

Photograph from the Jah Wobble: The Invaders of the Heart Performance at the Merton Hall Arts Space

Then earlier this year, an opportunity came up at the Merton Arts Space in Wimbledon. They contacted the university about an opportunity to work on an event there so Michael Vale, the course leader, asked me to work on it which was great. It wasn’t as daunting as the prospect of working within a professional theatre, so it was a good project for someone just starting out in theatre design. I had a small budget and a fairly small space, so it felt like a very manageable first industry project.

My brief was to design a play that turned into a gig for a musician called Jah Wobble and his band, Invaders of the Heart. It gave me an opportunity to try my hand at designing gig theatre which is something I am very new to and really enjoyed working on. It’s the biggest project I’ve worked on in industry and it was great that the opportunity came through the university.

What have you enjoyed most about studying MA Theatre Design at Wimbledon?

I really like the fact that the course is full time. All of us on the course are different ages and have lead different lives and have different experiences, but I think the fact that we are in the studio all the time gives us a real sense that we’re a group. It makes for a really supportive environment.

It’s been a very intense course that has given us the skills to actually go away and make a career in theatre design. It was really important to me to find a course that was quite full on. I need to be pushed otherwise it’s really easy for me to become complacent. That’s what I really like about the course – the class environment has really pushed us.

Model box set design for Chekhov's Three Sisters

Model box set design for Chekhov’s Three Sisters

What are you planning to exhibit at the Summer Show?

For my final project I will be adapting Angela Carter’s short stories to make one play. I’ll be looking at fairy tales and the representation of females within them. I am going to include as much as I can from this year, including some work from the show I did with the Merton Arts Space because I really want to show how I can progress from a model to a fully-realised live performance.

I really want to emphasise the importance of the plays my work is based on, because even though the exhibition is about design I don’t want it to become something where visitors just come and look at beautiful models. It’s really important to show context and to ensure visitors to the show actually understand why we have made certain design choices. Designers never put something on stage just because it looks pretty, it’s always for a reason so it’s essential for us to make sure that comes across.

Learn more about studying MA Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Arts.

We hope you can join us at our MA Summer Show this year! Find out dates and times.