Published: May 26, 2011
We may watch a play primarily for the dialogue, but often it is the images we see, not the words we hear, that last longer in our memories.
That was among many points the award-winning set designer Ian MacNeil raised this month when he gave a masterclass to LIPA’s student designers and technicians.
Ian declared: “In the end the only thing left is the image. If it’s very good you remember what things looked like.”
The British-Canadian explained that he first developed his craft in regional theatre and has since designed for dance, pop videos and opera, too. However, it is working on plays and musicals that most appeals to him.
He confirmed: “Theatre is what I do. It’s really nice to be offered the other stuff but the reason I do it is plays and sets.”
He has a brace of Oliviers (An Inspector Calls and Ariodante), two Critics’ Circle Awards (Machinal and An Inspector Calls), and two Evening Standard Awards (A Number/Plasticine and Festen). Ian also won a Tony Award for his scenic design of the global hit Billy Elliot the Musical, which is currently running in both the West End and Broadway.
He talked in-depth about the challenges of coming up with a powerful set for An Inspector Calls, a play in which the characters are mostly static, and how, with each staging, he made step changes to the design.
“It’s really tricky to make something dramatic with people sitting around a table for two and half hours,” said Ian.
Other topics discussed included costume design, collaboration and teamwork, negotiation, fees and the director-designer relationship.
Ian spent a day at LIPA. As well as the masterclass, he led two informal sessions with first and third-year students in which he talked about their past and current projects and their future aspirations.