Designs on a Theatre Career.

WAAPA Production & Design Graduate FIONA BRUCE on the delights of moving from the page to the stage.

“On the same day you might find yourself studying eighteenth century underwear, throwing paint around in scenic art, creating 3D renderings in the computer lab, reading a new play then concocting fake blood recipes in art finishing!”

That is how Fiona Bruce sums up her time at WAAPA.

“As a student I loved the variety of subjects that were selected to develop our creative process, artistic style, knowledge base and technical skills in equal measure,” she said.

“I chose the design course at WAAPA because of its outstanding reputation throughout the performing arts industry and because it uniquely provides the opportunity to design for a variety of performance mediums such as acting, musical theatre, classical and contemporary dance, film and opera.

“Most of my work still comes from presenting the portfolio of productions I was involved in as a student and through contacts made at WAAPA including mentors, guest directors, industry guest lecturers and fellow students.

“My favourite aspect of the course was working on productions and seeing my work evolving from drawings on a page to real set and costume pieces on stage. The course very closely mirrors how designers work out in the field so I found the transition from student to professional easy to navigate.

“My advice to anyone thinking about a career as a theatrical designer would be to gain confidence in not only the aesthetic requirements of the job, but also how to communicate those ideas to a wide variety of people. Conversations with a director or performer require a different focus to the information required by a costume supervisor or head carpenter. Learning to communicate effectively is a big focus at WAAPA as you interact with all of the other departments on a daily basis.

“One of the things I miss the most about WAAPA is working in a shared studio with other designers where you can bounce ideas around. Production design, while extremely rewarding, can also be challenging but having others around who can offer advice, motivation, new perspectives, humour and some friendly competition certainly helped me achieve more with my designs. You are part of an intimate year group for three years of study, so your fellow students really become your second family, not to mention a key part of your professional network once you graduate.

“Recently, I designed for a director who was a guest whilst I was at WAAPA, with a WAAPA graduate production managing the show and another as a design assistant. For my next project I will be designing for the company I did my secondment with, under the direction of yet another WAAPA guest director along side sound and lighting designers who are also WAAPA alumni. Coincidence? I think not!”

Fiona Bruce graduated in 2009 with the David Hough Award for Design. She’s worked for many companies since then. For Black Swan’s 2012 season she will design Boy Gets Girl.