Based on past projects, feedback and conversations with collaborators and colleagues, here is a summary page looking upon working with theatre designers and more specifically my process and values as an ecoscenographer. These views come from too many projects feeling unvalued and disheartened and are my own in what I consider best practices for valuable, fair, and caring working relations. I will keep updating this as I gather my thoughts and welcome additions and comments.Theatre designer or ecoscenographer?
A theatre designer or scenographer (‘theatre’ – from Latin theatrum meaning play-house; ‘design’ – from Latin designare meaning to make, shape) is a visual storyteller who creates what happens on stage (costume, lighting, makeup, projection, puppeteering, set, sound, etc) supporting the enhancing of the audience experience.
An ecoscenographer (‘eco’ – from Ancient Greek oikos meaning house; ‘sceno’ – from Ancient Greek skēnḗ meaning stage or scene; ‘grapher’ – from Latin graphia meaning drawing) takes on an expanded change maker role contributing to social, environmental, economic and political systems beyond productions.
Designers can either design one or more components (ex: costume & set or set & lighting, etc). Each is in itself a unique skilled discipline that requires specific skills making designers multidisciplinary and adaptable creatives.
My process as an ecoscenographer
My preferred way of working is collaboratively which means the designer is involved from the beginning, devising with the whole team of performers and other creatives. Ecological Thinking starts right at the beginning with conversations about vision and how we can approach it as a team in an ecological way.
I advocate for sustainability which I embrace holistically working alongside Nature embedding my work within the community. I work best with clear and direct communication leaving space for more creativity and getting things done.
Working with a designer
In the search to be sustainable, accountability is a must. We are all learning together and one must be willing to have sometimes uncomfortable though worthy conversations to create fair equitable working conditions where each team member is valued and respected.
The designer is one of the closest collaborators to the director, choreographer or artist lead. We are extremely resourceful. Designers are proficient collaborators with who you find a shared language and not just facilitators who gets told what to make after the whole creative devising process has happened. Come to me with general ideas and I’ll come up with ways to depict your vision and solutions to problems you didn’t know you had.
The role of the designer is to design, not supervise, not construct or make, not maintain the items created. The designer role finishes at the opening night. Anything after the opening is not part of the designer role and will require additional labour. On some shows I hire other professionals to implement the designs (carpenters, scenic artists, costumiers, props & speciality makers, etc), on others I enjoy making parts of the designs. Either way, this wearing of many hats is additional work and skills to the design role and need to be accordingly compensated in the same way that accounting is a different role to producing or directing to performing.
Working with me as a designer, you generally get: meetings, researches, sketches & designs, attending to some rehearsals and tech week, fittings, correspond with the teams of costume makers, carpenters and other additional team members. Implementation is not included – see above.
Creativity and ideas like Nature take time. Allow for plenty of time for a creative collaboration to emerge from several conversations before rehearsals start. It’s also good to have time when working ecologically to develop the designs before getting things made as things need time to evolve so we get the best results in the long run.
As a rule of thumb, I prefer having some time before funding results and starting work. I appreciate this is not always easy to do so but also know the hardship that comes with loosing work abruptly. Last minute projects often don’t come to fruition because they are rushed. I find it really exciting when asked to get involved early on and those projects often end up being the most wholesome projects.
I work best with regular clear and direct communication for efficiency leaving space for more creativity and getting things done. Please update me and my team on what’s happening.
Please don’t alter the design and its implementations without involving the designer, this is disrespectful. I am more than happy for changes that are deemed necessary to happen, just ask.
I appreciate a debrief at the end of the project. I think they are so valuable for both parties to learn and evolve.
When writing your brief, please include the discipline needed and if you’re looking for a designer-maker.
Fees must reflect the value of the work (time writing budget, designing, assisting to rehearsals and tech + contribution made to the production). Fees must include both visible and invisible costs for the work. Visible costs are the costs that are seen such as meetings, design, fittings & rehearsals. Invisible costs and labour are incurred by freelancers who are expected to cover them from their own fees during the work itself (travel, studio rent, design materials & software, machinery and tools, etc) and in between jobs (accounting, studio organizing and cleaning, website updating, etc). Freelancers are unfortunately less protected than those in salaried roles, with no defined hours, holiday and sick-pay or pension. These can be covered by an additional ‘freelancer premium’. It is not ok to pay freelance designers an employee rate or minimum wage especially with the rise of living costs. This takes a huge toll on wellbeing and not sustainable and disrespectful. I know budget are often tight etc but this should really be properly quoted in your funding applications and budgets.
As a designer/maker, when I am able to do some or all of the making, I would expect a design fee and a separate making fee. A good practice is asking the designer to calculate how many days they quote for the work and what their daily fee is. Same goes if designing more than 1 discipline, each design discipline should be paid proportionally and equally and fees should be budgeted accordingly.
>>>>>Many organizations current industry fees can be found on the below organisation websites. Please note that most of these are minimum recommended rates and should be used as guidance.
-Scottish Artist Union: https://www.artistsunion.scot/rates_of_pay/
-UK Theatre: https://uktheatre.org/theatre-industry/rates-of-pay/
Budgets (the materials and outsourcing makers/carpenters/etc) must be quoted separately from the designer fee (the work the designer puts in) as two different items.
I’m happy to help write down a budget for funding applications at my own discretion and this may occur a one-off fee.
It takes a team to get things done. I have contacts for many skilled professionals who regularly work with me.
Value the teams that come together by appropriately crediting every single person that has worked on the production or project. We get work by people seeing our work so including all posters, programmes, publicity materials or social media posts – it’s so easy these days to tag people in posts or legends.
I like contracts to make things all clear, transparent, and avoid misunderstanding for both parties about all the above as well as copyright and potential royalties.
>>>Contract samples to be used as guidance
–Designers standard contract sample – currently being renegotiating by Equity/UK Theatre/SOLT
The Value of Design_A report on improving working terms and conditions for designers (the Association of Lighting Designers (ALD), BECTU, EQUITY and the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD))