Final words with designer Christine Urquhart

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Basement

Where did you appear from and how did you get into set design?

I hail from the tiny village of Rudgwick in England and I come from an art background. An old family friend was an artist and lived in a huge house covered in books, paintings, and mythical objects. We’d go there once a week for life drawing classes and slowly my artistic inklings were fully seduced. After years of skipping my other classes and eating hummus all day in the Art Department I did a diploma in Fine Art – a year of basically mucking about with whatever material or process available to us with the most brilliant and inventive peers. University level, however, felt like I was slowly getting jaded, that individual artists were pitted against each other to succeed in the eyes of ‘the institution’. I confided a lot in an old lecturer named ‘Bob,’ a real old school painter, about my dilemma. Long story short, I decided to apply for the Theatre Design course in the same city. I didn’t tell anyone else. My last day at Art School Bob came to me with an old deer skull he’d had in storage the day he became an Art Teacher, from his days as a freelance artist. He said that I should have it, then wished me good luck in my interview. I was offered one of 15 places at the Stage Design School that same day.

How did you connect up with the folk at Basement?

I worked with an Auckland actress in Melbourne on a bloody great feminist show called ‘Missfits‘ at La Mama Theatre. One person she e-introduced me to was Marion Prebble – Producer in Residence for Basement at the time. From there I met the team, haphazardly explaining what I do and how urgent it was that I design a show in their spaces. Honestly – those intimate spaces and movable seating were like candy to me – evident in pretty much all the designs I’ve done there. They also do a damn fine pint. I remember a funny conversation with Sam Snedden on the steps of Huffer, something like ‘Mate, I keep seeing you around, do you do sets or something?’

What’s been some highlights of your time working on Basement shows?

‘Non Surgeons Guide to the Appendectomy’ was my first, I covered the studio space in sand and Pete Davison walked in on me screwing pallets into the newly refurbished toilet doorframe then hacking at it with a hammer, but he shrugged and went along with it. ‘The Black’ as I worked with the most fantastic female theatre practitioners and Pete cut all new legs for a seating plan I magicked up in my head to make it a reality. My most unusual brief of a flat pack coffin for Rose Matafeo’s ‘Finally Dead‘ show. ‘Loving Kurt Vonnegut’ as I got to design ‘in-the-round.’ I really enjoyed redesigning Basement dressing rooms – to give something back in a way. Young and Hungry was a great experience for me in the mentor relationship, it helped me realise just how invested I am in sharing design for the stage as an art form. I finally got to work with Nisha Madhan, built a set on wheels, somehow blagged together a 10 metre curved cyclorama and got to drill into the ceiling and suspend people from swings, that was pretty awesome! I guess every show I’ve been allowed to be unsafe and fuck with the space?!

What would you say to someone wanting to work as a set designer?

Invest in a really good hand cream and a decent sized wheelie suitcase.

Any tips for breaking in to the market in a new city?

Be resilient and adaptive. Know your art and why you’re doing it – stick by it and fight for it – that’s the only thing you can be sure of when thrown into new ventures.

If you could say 3 words to Basement, it’d be…. (Well as it was my last design) – ‘Sorry about t’soil.’

Christine Urquhart‘s final design at Basement Theatre is Potato Stamp Megalomaniac – closing on 18th June.