Where Theatre meets Museum

May 14, 2019 by Perthshire Creates

Detail creates drama throughout the exhibition. Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Model making, pitching new design concepts, delivering an existing design and overseeing the last minute details of an existing set, all make up a normal working day for Perth-based freelance stage designer, Becky Minto.

One of Becky’s recently completed projects is the design of the current exhibition  Only In Whispers Exhibition at Perth Museum & Art Gallery. This exhibition is inspired by Perthshire’s Myths & Legends rather than the museum objects themselves, and the unusual artefacts carefully selected by Becky working with the Museum curators, are creatively used to tell these stories, resulting in an intriguing experience where Theatre meets Museum.

Ballechin House Interior at Only In Whispers Exhibition at Perth Museum & Art Gallery. Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Becky’s White Card Model of the Only In Whispers Exhibition Layout. Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

One of the many models in Only in Whispers created by Fraser Lappin. Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Although Only In Whispers is the first Museum project Becky has worked on, the list of her previous projects impressively includes her role as Associate Designer for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and her work with The National Theatre of Scotland and Horsecross Arts.  The latter featured the transformation of a rural barn into an all immersive set for The 306:Dawn production, featuring the trenches of WW1 and the barns where soldiers were held as prisoners prior to their trial and execution. The 306:Dawn was the first in a trilogy which culminated in with The 306:Dusk at Perth Theatre in 2018, and was chosen as a finalist at the World Stage Design Exhibition in Taipei 2017.

The 306:Dawn Set Design created by Becky Minto inside a barn in a rural Perthshire location

Great Expectations Set Design by Becky Minto at Dundee Rep, 2016

Granite Design by Becky Minto

Becky’s career began with studying Interior Design in Liverpool followed by a course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama studying theatre design, after landing her first job in 1989 at Perth Theatre as a scenic artist, the 3 years experience was fantastic training with a busy Theatre shedule of between 10-12 shows a year as well as designing for the studio and youth theatre productions.  Whilst today Becky’s work takes her all across the UK, Perth has remained her home, and as a freelancer the central location makes it an ideal place to both live and work in.

Flexibility is key in Becky’s role, as projects can vary enormously from productions for main-house theatres, touring productions, aerial & dance performances as well as site-specific and large outdoor events.

For anyone interested in working in this sector we managed to have a brief chat with Becky about her career and this industry sector:

After studying Theatre/Costume/Set/Prop design at degree level, what is your advice to anyone wanting to work in the industry?

The best advice is to get as much practical experience as possible, in as many genres of theatre as you can. I began my career as a scenic artist and learnt so much from watching other designers at work whilst I painted their designs. It stood me in good stead when the opportunity came for me to start designing in my own right.

In addition to creative talent, what other skills are essential to the role of theatre/set designer?

An open imagination, a sense of curiosity and a love of live performance

What’s been the biggest change in the industry over the last 10 years?

There are more independent theatre companies being setting up by young directors and producers who are keen to get their own work seen, this makes it a great time to be thinking of a career in the arts

Does everyone work on a freelance basis or do some theatres still employ set designers?

Most set designers work freelance and are employed on an individual basis by theatres, it is rare for theatres to have a permanent designer especially in Scotland, but this is different in England

How long do you get to research/collate ideas before developing designs?

It can depend on whether the show has a new or an existing script, but on average at least 3-6 months before the production will go into rehearsals, most design deadlines are at least 2-3 months before the start of rehearsals so it can be costed and approved by the production manager

What are the plus sides of the job ?

I get to work with new folk, in new places and on varying styles and genres of the arts regularly

What are the tough sides of the job?

Long days, evening, overnight paint calls and being self-employed…you have to be quite self-disciplined

How many different projects would you be working on eg: over a 12 month period?

At the moment I have 5 shows in development and have already opened 3 shows this year, there is a lot of multi-tasking in this job

What career advice would you give to your 19 year old self?

Always to be open to any opportunity that comes your way as you never know who you will meet and reconnect with in your future career

What would be your dream project?

I love site specific work so maybe Treasure Island on a warm, sunny beach…but ultimately anything that inspires new ideas, in new places that you wouldn’t expect to find in a piece of theatre.

No doubt a ‘Treasure Island’ opportunity will one day be on offer for Becky as her career takes her down many different paths on a regular basis.  Becky has created set designs for a wide range of productions and organisations including the National Theatre of Scotland, All or Nothing Aerial Dance Company, The Royal Lyceum and the Scottish Dance Theatre, to name only a few.  We’re look forward to keeping up with Becky’s future projects and seeing her creations come to life.

Come along to the Only in Whispers at Perth Museum & Art Gallery to see where ‘Theatre meets Museum’, this exhibition runs until Sunday 9 June, tickets can be bought with a saving of up to 50% on www.itison.com/Dundee/deals/exhibition-at-perth-museum-and-art-gallery. Becky also spoke to CPK about working on this particular project, and you can see this on ‘An interview with Becky Minto’.