I’m a East London (UK) based designer and artist, with sidelines in activism, folk music, writing and teaching. My artistic interests often lie around queerness, ecology, social change and the creative process itself.

My specialism is the design of sets, costumes and projections for performance. I’m also the artistic director of Daedalus Theatre Company. This site is my blog but it’s also an online portfolio for my work as as a theatre designer, visual artist and video designer, as well my work with Scale, Daedalus and other collaborators.

I’m on the committee of the Society of British Theatre Designers. I’m also part of the Scene Change and Freelancers Make Theatre Work networks and a member of Equity. I helped found The King’s Hall Trust for the Arts, and am currently its chair. I occasionally teach theatre design and sustainable theatre practice as a visiting lecturer, and have previously taught at universities including Goldsmiths and the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and the National College of Arts in Pakistan.

I’m committed to making my design practice sustainable and am the co-ordinator of the SBTD’s Sustainable Design Group, which I also co-founded. I am part of the core team running Ecostage, which I helped relaunch at COP26, as well as being a signatory to the Ecostage Pledge. I’m on the Environmental Responsibility sub committee of the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch, and a member of the International Green Culture Tools Meet-up,

Outside of theatre, I am a content creator (including writing two books) and English language consultant for Angkriz Academy, I play the fiddle and write/arrange music for South London’s premier gay socialist folk band (as far as we know) and other music projects, and am an activist with Tower Hamlets Green Party, where I design print and digital material not just for the THGP but also for other local parties across London.

(Please note, I’m having some issues with some photo credits not displaying, or displaying in ways that block pictures. Please bear with me as I sort it out. In the meantime, get in touch if you need any show info/credits. Do also shout if you want to see my more recent work such as Telethon and Bubble Dreams, which haven’t yet been added.)

Fly, you fools! (or How Popular Culture Can Help Tell the Climate Crisis Story)

We win or lose through the stories we tell. They’re what changes the world. And the most important story we need to tell today is the one that gets the people of Planet Earth to take meaningful action on the ecological breakdown.

The stories we’re offering now, however, aren’t working.

It’s fine to tell those who respect science about how we’re on track for catastrophe, because they understand evidence. It’s fine to tell those already awake to social and environmental injustice how climate change is driven by our economic system and the power structures that maintain it, because that fits their existing worldview. But what’s the story for everyone else?

Humans are brilliant at denial. Being able to put aside thoughts of suffering and mortality, to compartmentalise and not feel everyone else’s suffering too deeply, helps keep us sane. It seems that’s how the majority of people respond when faced with the facts of impending apocalypse too, and it’s understandable. Climate change is deeply frightening and it’s coming at us like juggernaut with broken brakes.

Continue reading “Fly, you fools! (or How Popular Culture Can Help Tell the Climate Crisis Story)”

Environmental ethics and artistic practice: can they speak the same language? What does environmentally careful design look like?

This is the text I prepared for the above-named panel, at Making Theatre Green, at the National Theatre, London, 6th June 2022. What I actually said was inevitably a little different, but this version is clearer to read than a transcript with all my ums, errs, omissions and mistakes!

When I was around 12 or 13, I dug out my old Playmobil figures and made scale model sets for them. They’re quite close to 1:25, actually! I first painted the back wall of the school hall for a show when I was about 15. An early starter, you might think?

Well. According to a newspaper clipping, my mum found the other day, I got a brief write-up in the Harlow Star, aged 10, for saving up my pocket money to plant trees. 

And, frankly, it escalated from there.

So… I’ve been involved in environmental campaigning longer than I’ve been designing shows. But the crazy thing is how, until a few years ago, I totally compartmentalised the two.

Why did it take so long for me to bring these two obsessions together?

Continue reading “Environmental ethics and artistic practice: can they speak the same language? What does environmentally careful design look like?”

Jeziorna, Galicia

There’s a village I look at occasionally on Google Maps. I’ve even had a ‘walk’ up and down its main street, where there’s hardly anyone around and the sun is always out. A few places to eat and drink, a handful of shops. Lots of space. Lots of greenery. And because the land is flat and most the houses are single story, lots of sky.

It’s just 30 mins drive from Ternopil on the road to Lviv. Not the most direct route from Kyiv to the Polish border, but not too far out the way either. Ternopil has been in the news a little; people have fled to it, through it and from it. A great many people must have passed through this little village too, on their way westwards.

It’s the village my great grandfather came from, before he and his parents also headed west. For quite a while they lived here in Bethnal Green, which means I now live within a kind of invisible map of where that side of my family lived, worked, went to school…

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Some of my 2021 reading highlights

Here’s a partial selection of books I particularly loved or that made a deep impression on me in 2021. I’m not a fan of lists/favourites*… but I am a fan of sharing recommendations, so here we are.

The Quest for New England trilogy by Dark Age Voices would also be on this list, for teaching me about a whole part of history I knew almost nothing about, but eBooks don’t really go with the photo aesthetic. So here’s a link instead. I also read all but the last few pages of Som Paris’s book in 2020, so that might be cheating, but it’s great, so I don’t care. Raven Nothing is on one level a fantasy novel with a trans main character, but in fact explores ideas of transness in a much more interesting and complex way then that description suggests.

As for the other books, I’m not going to say a lot. Kintu is just a great story, brilliantly told. Doughnut Economics introduces a simple but brilliant idea that helps us look at economics through the lens of social and environmental justice, and also provides a really great potted history of economics. Whitechapel Noise is a bit more specialist but if you’re interested in what Yiddish songs tell us about life in Whitechapel in the late 19th and early 20th century – which I definitely am – this is the book. I don’t know what to say about The Song of Achilles. It spoke to me so deeply that I either say nothing or give it a blog post of its own.

Continue reading “Some of my 2021 reading highlights”

Lockdown update

(Top photo: Kenny Baraka with DJ Conrad Kira in Plot 17. Photo: Suzi Corker)

I was asked to summarise, briefly, what I got up to during lockdown. But I couldn’t. It was too varied, and lots of things required some explanation. I guess everyone knows that the theatre sector has been hit very hard by the pandemic. Many workers have left to get sensible, less precarious, less stressful jobs. I haven’t. But I have, as they say, diversified. Perhaps, I thought to myself, that’s worth a blogpost. So here goes.

Myself, Andrea Carr and Mona Kastell at the Ecostage Launch, CCA Glasgow, during COP26. (Photo: Kanatip Soonthornrak)

To start with, I used the opportunity afforded by the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to help set up the Society of British Theatre Designers’s first working group on sustainability, taking on the role of co-ordinator. I also become one of the directors of Ecostage, an initiative for supporting ecological thinking in the performing arts. Along with Andrea Carr, Mona Kastell, Ruth Stringer and some volunteers, I helped rebuild the project from the ground up as a go-to platform for green-minded performing arts professionals. The new website, ecostage.online, was launched at COP26 last month. Various other advisory roles then followed, including helping gather material for The Green Book, joining the advisory panel on sustainability for the Queens Theatre Hornchurch and informally helping co-ordinate knowledge-sharing with other sustainable performing arts groups around the world. 

In the past I’ve joked that, because of the huge disconnect between workload and pay in the sector, my ideal working model would be to get some kind of stipend, then offer my services for free as I see fit. SEISS felt a bit like that, and for a while I was almost a full-time volunteer.

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Assistant designer needed

Edit: the callout is closed early. It’s genuinely humbling how many amazing, talented people applied.

Here’s the call:

Assistant designer needed for Cece’s Speakeasy, a night of entertainment with storytellers, poets and musicians sharing new work that explores hope and action during the climate emergency. And the possible end of cocoa and coffee. The piece is being made and shown at The Albany, Deptford.

You will ideally be based in or near the SE London area and available for a minimum of 4 days pro rata in the second half of June. Prepping stuff at the venue from 21st June, with the get-in on 28th and the show opening on 30th. Key areas I need help with are sourcing/adapting costume and painting set, but there’s scope to be involved more widely, according to your interests. An enthusiasm for sustainable theatre design would be beneficial, as we are seeking to make this production as green as we can.

Students and recent graduates are welcome to apply; it’s fine to be learning/developing skills on the job and you will be supported by me and the team. But you will also need to be happy getting on with stuff independently.

We are particularly interested in working with artists that have a connection to cocoa and coffee growing countries.

£100 per day.

Deadline 12 noon Mon 14th June. No particular process for applying! Just drop me a line if you’re interested, and feel free to spread the word.

And while we’re on the subject, the callout for a creative assistant for East is also still live. [Edit: this callout has now closed but do always feel free to get in touch about Daedalus projects]

Latest blogpost for the SBTD: The Green Book

I’ve been on the committee of the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD) for quite a few years now, and just before the pandemic I was one of a small team of designers that, as a result of a roundtable we organised at the V&A during our Staging Places exhibition, set up a new working group for the SBTD to focus on sustainability. Now called the Sustainable Design Group (SDG), it has nearly 60 members and regular four-weekly meetings, with various subgroups (materials, costume, training etc.).

Through the SDG, I also got involved with Ecostage and am now part of core team re-imagining the Ecostage principles and pledge, along with creating a new website. I’ll be sure to tell you a lot more about all this once the website has launched.

Being part of these two projects has led to me being stupidly busy while many of my theatre colleagues were getting into baking and houseplants, and I do feel as though maybe I should have taken more of a chance to breath. But it has also been deeply rewarding and has led to all sorts of interesting connections in the UK and internationally.

One particularly interesting thing over the last few months has been contributing to the creation of The Green Book. This is a project to create an authoritative guide to sustainable theatre for the UK sector. Part One is out in beta form for you to download and trial. Led by the theatre architect Paddy Dillon, working with Buro Happold, it was initiated by the Theatres Trust and the ABTT. I’ve written about it in more detail in my latest post for the SBTD.

The cover image for the SBTD blogpost, which is in the background of the cover image for this post, is from a project by SDG member and amazing designer Alison Neighbour: the original image with an explanation and full credits can be found in the post itself.

If you do have feedback on Part One, I’ve offered to compile any feedback that comes in through the SDG, so feel free to contact me and I’ll add it to our group’s feedback document, which I’ll pass on to Paddy and his team.

Meanwhile there’s lots of other stuff in the pipeline from the various things I’m involved with, ranging from the Ecostage website launch to new design-focused carbon literacy training. Plus some actual design work is creeping hesitantly back… Fingers crossed for that.

In the meantime, if you work in theatre, please have a read of my SBTD blogpost, then download The Green Book and give it a test run.

Creativity and the Real Power of Saying ‘No’

One of the most persuasive kinds of mendacity occurs when a misleading statement is, at face value, true. There’s a reason why it’s not just ‘the truth’ we ask for, but also ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’.

An article I saw a while back (but have now lost*) argued that a key indicator for creative success is the ability to say ‘no’ in order to refuse distractions and focus on work. The particular trigger for this was that a researcher had approached a bunch of creative people to find out what made them tick and had been struck by how many of them either didn’t get back to him or refused on the basis that they were too busy being creative. The implication is that by refusing to get involved with other stuff you maximise your creative time and keep your focus, ergo saying ‘no’ is good for creativity. Well, kinda. You have to have a lot else going on besides saying ‘no’; you need decent ideas, high standards, tenacity and the rest.

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Light Waves, Dark Skies

I designed this show a few years ago and posted briefly about it at the time, chiefly to flag up a blog post I wrote about it for the National Theatre Wales Community Blog. But I just realised I never put the production photos up on the website. I’ll add a couple to my portfolio page, but here’s the complete set.

It was a great project, not just because of the lovely final show but also because the process was so open and democratic, and we really got to experiment. I really pushed myself as a result, and I think that showed, particularly in the video design.

Light Waves Dark Skies at Chapter Arts, Cardiff.

A We Made This Production, co-produced by Pontardawe Arts Centre

We Made This: Matt Ball, Katie Bingham, Paul Burgess, Catherine Dyson, Jacqui George, Gwawr Loader, Connor Lovejoy, Cis O’Boyle, Nia Skyrme & Morgan Thomas

Performers/ Perfformwyr: Catherine Dyson, Gwawr Loader & Morgan Thomas

Stage & Production Manager/ Rheolwr Llwyfan a Chynhyrchu: Jacqui George

Designer/ Cynllunydd: Paul Burgess

Lighting Designer/Cynllunydd Goleuo: Connor Lovejoy (Light Designer for R&D: Cis O’Boyle)

Sound Designer/  Cynllunydd Sain: Sam Jones

Full details: http://wemadethis.org.uk/light-is-like/credits/

A Letter From an Old Democracy to One Struggling to be Born

Dear students,

I’m writing to you from 5,929 miles away in London, while you risk both your safety and your liberty in the struggle for democracy in Thailand. I worry about your wellbeing, of course, but mainly I’m proud of you for standing up for what you believe in.

I want to say a few words to those of you I’ve had the honour to teach, and to any others who are interested in the perspective of someone with many years’ experience of British politics. I want to say something about why I think democracy matters. It may not be for the reasons you think.

Continue reading “A Letter From an Old Democracy to One Struggling to be Born”