Clybourne Park | Q&A with the Designer

7 Nov 2018

Ahead of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s Clybourne Park arriving on The Weston Studio stage, we caught up with Designer Sarah Warren about her creative process.

1. What’s your starting point when designing a theatre show?

My design process is different with every show, but my initial decision is always the same – does the play need a realistic platform or can the story be told using an abstract concept? Sometimes this decision is intuitive or might be decided between yourself and the director. There are also often limitations to consider with venues so my design might grow from a very practical base.

2. How did research inform your process?

With Clybourne Park, research was a huge part of the design process; the house is very specific to North Chicago and is also referred to in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin In The Sun, so researching these 1920’s/30’s houses and bungalows was a major part of my process.

The costumes for the show also included research into Chicago and America in the 1950s – the history of segregation, low wages, the movement of people and the politics.

3. Were you able to balance between facts and creativity when designing?

The set for Clybourne Park needed to be realistic but I have played with the boundaries of the room so it appears to be a cut section of the house but also fits in with the rustic appearance of the new Weston Studio theatre.

Most eras have a variety of classic typefaces which seamlessly draw people back into the period, whereas brown packing boxes are timeless. Even colour schemes refer so much to fashions of the time, in the way grey is becoming the colour of today. So yes, there is a lot of factual material incorporated, but it’s subtle use of references, symbols and taste or trends that remind you of periods of time.

4. Could you tell us about the way in which your designs become a reality?

My design starts with building the model box of the theatre first. I looked at period homes of the time – Gregory Crewdson has a great book called Beneath the Roses which was a really useful reference for American interiors – then I built scale flats, doors and stairs and began moving them about in the model box.

Once the larger bits of set have been decided then it’s a matter of resourcing the objects and furniture that are crucial to the feeling and needs of the show. Also working with the director and actors to see what props are needed.

Clybourne Park runs 9–17 Nov. For more information and to book tickets, click here.