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Interview Series: Jenn Stewart & Celeste English

This edition of Q2Q features Vancouver set/props designer Jenn Stewart (www.jenniferannstewart.com) and lighting designer Celeste English.

Celeste: What kinds of set/props designs are the most exciting to you and why?

Jenn: Designing with a really great team is what I find the most fulfilling, especially when the show offers some challenge we have to solve together. I’ve had the pleasure of doing several shows in found spaces that we turned into theatres or created environments in, and these shows always require thoughtful and generous collaboration. Every show is a great learning opportunity, and the times when you need to innovate are always the most fun.

Celeste: What part of the process do you like the most and why?

Jenn: I like seeing the development from idea to stage - conversation to sketch, sketch to plans, plans to things. I enjoy the focus and camaraderie of tech too, all the development and planning of all the designs, rehearsal, this telling of the story being realized. That being said, while hard to love it in the moment, the times when things don’t work out as expected are usually the times where I take the biggest steps in my career - failure is part of the process too.

Celeste: What design made you want to be a designer?

Jenn: I was always interested in design even from a young age, with how people moved through space and how spaces influence people, but seeing Pam Johnson’s set for the 2004 Vancouver Playhouse production of Noises Off that made me consider working in theatre professionally.

Jenn: What do you think makes for an effective design?

Celeste: I think that the best design serves the piece first and foremost. It’s always really rewarding to do those shows where you can flex your conceptual and creative muscles, but sometimes simplicity is what the show needs and that can be challenging. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Betroffenheit, it was a really moving piece, yes, but the lighting design (by Tom Visser) was not only stunning and innovative- it also served the performance in every way. I’m really drawn to design that just works.

Jenn: Have you ever been surprised by how your concepts panned out?

Celeste: Honestly, I’m almost always surprised by how my concepts turn out. I love to plan and map out how I imagine the show will love and feel. Once I’m in the theatre and see the how the costumes and set have come together of course things naturally shift. I never feel that things are final, I always feel as though things are constantly shifting- I honestly find it quite difficult to put a piece down for opening and walk away. It is also important to recognize that changes, especially close to opening, impact the rest of the team. What you see on stage might actually not be the finalized concept, but a point along the way. I feel as though I’m constantly percolating on design ideas and I love to play with a show. What doesn’t work on one show might be the thing that makes another.

Jenn: Is there a type of theatre or art you’d like to explore?

Celeste: So during our conversation Jenn and I had a long tangent about old school theatre magic. As an industry we’ve moved past old school theatre ‘tricks’ as we’ve developed the technology that made these things obsolete, Jenn brought up this ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ and I think like a magic show that’s focused on re-visiting those highly technical ‘tricks’ would be so fun to explore. Magic Lanterns and the Schüfftan Process also come to mind and it would so interesting to explore these ‘dated’ elements and re-visit them.


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