Staging Places: UK Design for Performance

A big part of my life recently has been the Staging Place project.

The Prague Quadrennial (PQ) is the world’s leading exhibition of design for performance. It’s an amazing thing: professional and student displays from all over the globe, talks, discussions, performances, exhibitions… The UK has traditionally done well at it too, frequently winning major prizes, though this is pretty much never reported in the UK press.

It’s also become something of a tradition for us to show the display at the V&A Museum in London after bringing it back from Prague. And sometimes to tour it to other venues in the UK.

The Society of British Theatre Designers takes the lead on this rather complex project. I’m on the SBTD committee but I didn’t want to get too involved as it’s very time consuming.

Reader, I got very involved.

All members of the SBTD, and its equivalent organisations for lighting and sound, were invited to submit work. I ended up with the job of dealing with submissions, collating it all, and preparing it for selection. I kept myself completely separate from the selection process itself, however, as I wanted to be considered. 12 designers were selected for PQ, and an additional 18 were added for the larger V&A exhibition. I was honoured to be one of the 18 with my design for Deafinitely Theatre’s bilingual production of 4.48 Psychosis.

We also wanted to represent the work of all the designers who weren’t selected, partly so everyone got something in PQ and the V&A, and partly to demonstrate the incredible range of work created by British-based performance designers. Perhaps because it segued on nicely from collating all the entries, I ended up making a video display of submitted designs from 147 designers. One design per designer, represented by up to three images. This was displayed on multiple screens in Prague, but the V&A it has been re-edited to form a single video projection which you see as you enter the exhibition.

Anyway, though I say it myself, I’m delighted with what we achieved, both at PQ and in London. It’s a great exhibition, with loads to look at, and it shows the great breadth and depth of scenographic practice by UK-based designers across the world. The layout and aesthetic of the exhibition, which in both Prague and London was curated by Fiona Watt, and designed by Andreas Skourtis, are very open, and invite engagement and discussion. And there’ll be a programme of talks and discussion throughout the run of the exhibition at the V&A, just as there was at PQ. The selection of the work highlights the design process, and designer-led projects, unlike more traditional design exhibition, which tend to go for the most spectacular scale models. I also really enjoyed working with the project’s AV designer, Eva Auster, who oversaw my work on the video display of all the 147 submission. We bonded over a shared enthusiasm for Isadora software (and the remake of Battlestar Galactica).

In previous years we’ve published a physical catalogue – always a beautiful object and a wonderful documentation on the previous four years of British theatre design. This year there was insufficient funding, but instead there’s a wonderful website, created by David Shearing, that, like my video display, shows the work of all 147 submitting designers. You can have a look for yourself at

But you should also visit the exhibition at the V&A. I’m so pleased with it. Plus it’s free! Opening times and so on are here.

Here’s one very proud designer, at the V&A opening:

Paul Burgess at the V&A Private View


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