I've already had such a fantastic response from the first edition I posted two weeks ago with the brilliant Hannah Davies and I am very much looking forward to meeting and talking with lots more inspiring women in the coming months to build on this series of interviews and really show insight into these fantastic women in both industries.
Now one of the most important intentions I had originally for this project was diversity. I wanted to speak to women across the entirety of both the arts and politics and that includes all the roles behind the scenes as well as on stage and in the public eye. With theatre and the arts being such a creative industry, design is vital for a powerful performance so next I'd like to present the fantastic Sara Perks, Theatre Designer.
I came across Sara when I was a part of the York Theatre Royal's community project Everything is Possible; The York Suffragettes where she was the designer. her work was truly stunning and I was very keen to meet with her properly after the show but knowing that she was London based and that a two week run was probably eating into her time working on the next project, I was lucky enough to catch her leaving after Press Night and even more lucky that she agreed to be interviewed for the project. Sara has designed for over 160 productions for a wide variety of theatres, venues, sites and genres, including for West End and touring productions.
So I am very privileged to present the second edition of 'Deeds Not Words'; Women Who Inspire in the Arts and Politics'. Here is the fabulous Theatre Designer Sara Perks on why we ALL should be Suffragettes...
Which women across history inspire you? Do you have any female icons/idols?
An author I read whenever I can is Margret Atwood- and I have done since the early 80s when I first read Cats Eyes. It is wonderful to see a whole new generation and demographic of people becoming interested in her work, and indeed her voice, because of the recent television adaptation of A Handmaid's Tale, which is so clearly, and frighteningly relevant in today's world of religious extremism across the world, both east and west. Most people don't realise that it has also been made into an opera that was staged some years back at ENO; and that Atwood has also written some stage work- The Penelopiad is her version of the Odessey from Penelope's point of view- something that I would love to tackle myself. Her novel Alias Grace is ripe for a stage adaptation that I would love to do as well. But in direct response to your question- I do not really have "icons or idols". I come from the view that in fact we are all more equal and collarborative than that. Each person has a role and a contribution to society, whatever scale that is- I therefore try not to put people on false pedestals.
What first inspired you to be involved in theatre/design?
I saw one of the very first productions of An Inspector Calls, with set design by Ian McNeil- and it changed the way I thought about visual theatre. The design was revolutionary of its time, in its scope, grandeur and symbolism. It's a design that still holds its own today. In fact I believe the same set is still touring- with much love care and attention!
But its also a profession that crept up on me. I did a drama degree at University (20years ago now!), and whilst writing rather dull and pedestrian essays, I found myself effectively 'designing' set/props and costumes for the Drama Society productions. And if you enjoy it; are encouraged and are good at it you tend to continue in that vein- without there being a definitive 'moment' where you decide thats what it is your going to pursue.
Years later, I do however, remember posting my acceptance to the Postgrad design course at Bristol Old Vic (I was on tour doing wigs and wardrobe maintentence with Evita) and noted that I'd probably just changed my life by simply dropping a letter into a postbox.
Are there any moments in your career that you view as pivotal/special?
Well - see above! Also there was a moment when (before I formally trained at Bristol Old Vic) that I designed and produced costumes and set for a new cult style musical with a group of fellow University graduates at the Edinburgh festival. It was last minute and we had zero money; so it was beg, borrowed and stolen with people on stage stuck together in gaffa tape. But I remember looking back at the venue on Princes Street and seeing it advertised outside- lit up - and thinking .... "well this is alright - I think we'll all do well out of this". It won a fringe first; got 5* reviews; returned to the festival year after year; had a West End outing; is published; and is still done today by various groups all over the world.
Creatively speaking on an individual level, there are many moments that are to be treasured. Seeing 25m high gold Buddha's on stage for the first time and rotating for a national tour of King and I, I designed was particularly memorable; seeing an entire audience on their feet banging metal plates with spoons, ready to 'revolt' against workhouse tyranny at the end of a promenade immersive experience in I originated and designed for the Mercury is another; and indeed, at York seeing the women of the community, in full Suffragette clothes, banners held high, marching for the first time through the streets of York, simply to get to their entrance positions was a moment of pride, passion and fierce solidarity.
What advise do you have for young people perusing a career in theatre/design?
See as much theatre of ALL different types in ALL different venues and spaces before you decide. Train formally. I would encourage a route something like a bit of work experience in theatres (crewing maybe on a casual basis; or dressing); possibly a foundation course at an art school; then doing one of the more practical theatre design courses that are out there. I would also advocate doing this at a Theatre School rather than an art college of University as you are surrounded by like minded people and you will make much better connections and contacts. Central School or Speech and Drama; Bristol Old Vic (they only admit 4 students per intake - which is unique); Wimbledon MA in Theatre Design, are a few of the better ones.
Did you train at university? What was your experience like?
Yes, as previously said and mine was a mixed experience. I did a four year course that had one entire year dedicated to directing - which as it turns out, makes me a better designer for directors to collaborate with - I hope!! It also genuinely did really teach me how to really 'read' a play properly.
What do you view as your biggest achievement?
Staying in gainful employment since I left Bristol! Freelancing and working in the Arts is not for the faint hearted. And being able to support myself by doing something like this (with only a few supplimentary jobs at the start of my career) is a mark of success in my book.
And yet again, to finish with my favourite question, if you were alive 100 years ago, do you think you would be a suffragette?Daft question! l think I am one now - to me the word is just semantics. Until society is genuinely equal, where what biology you have between your legs bares no relation to how you are treated, then we all need to be Suffragettes, surely? The vote was simply the starting line.