Earlier this year we launched our Creative Estuary Business Directory, showcasing the extraordinary creative talent we have in the region. In this blog we would like to introduce you to one such business.
An interview with Richard Cooper owner of StageCase
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Richard Cooper and I am a Theatre Designer and fabricator born in Teynham which backs onto the River Swale via Conyer. The Swale Estuary holds a dear place in my heart with some wonderful memories exploring the old Conyer brick field and shipwrecks with my family. I often try to imagine what life was like for my Great Grandfather, Charlie Cooper who owned the shipyard in the 1930s.
I think about how my skills as a stage designer and scenic carpenter would carry over into barge making and if I could hack the harsh working environment that came with it.
What does your work as a Theatre Designer entail?
As a Stage Designer I aim to create pre-determined effects on an audience that directly respond to the script reflecting the director’s vision and to create an atmosphere for actors to tell a story. I use sculpture and symbolism within a design to reflect different metaphors and statements about a production and guide the audience through visuals to create lasting memories. My work into how a performance is framed and understood through signs and semiotics is fundamental to how I design a production. I use physical scenery with practical and incorporated lighting, drapes and clothes to create layers and depth, projection and atmospherics to create an overall experience for an audience.
What do think makes a good Theatre Designer?
Collaboration is key to every great design and I actively seek to absorb ideas from every creative to build an overall aesthetic and practical solution to a script. My relationships with each department are fundamental to a cohesive vision and I am always seeking input from lighting designers, movement, and most importantly the director to find the best design possible.
The idea of multi-medium practical skills is ingrained into my design practice and a concept I’m passionate to share with other people. Having the ability to create and understand materials + fabrication methods enable a person to explore their ideas in physical form providing a freedom of creativity.
How did the pandemic effect you?
During the pandemic, theatres faced one of the toughest periods we have faced and I needed to find a way to stay active and find new ways of communicating visually. I joined Lucy Bellingham, Director of WeTeachDrama to share the core stage design skills with teachers aiming to develop drama lessons to actively incorporate stage design and technical theatre.
I explained my own design process including colour coordinated script analysis, understanding stage layouts, contextualising a scene to guide an audience through a performance and using shapes, form, light and atmosphere to influence how a production is viewed.
During the presentations I would ask students how they would communicate their design ideas when developing their GCSE and A level pieces. Most of the time I was faced with the usual response “I can’t draw”.or a shrug.
Do you need to be able to draw to communicate design ideas?
In response to the students I created a step by step video explaining how to draw the different stage layouts using simple shapes, creating a stage map with entrances, actor positions, platforms and scenery which they can use to explain to their teachers and fellow students their ideas. Students seem to engage with the text elements but lack technical knowledge and visual communication skills to explain the visual they want to achieve that would enhance their performance in a theatre space to create production and not a speech.
I decided their brilliant ideas needed some form of practical 3D device / tool that would help students explain theatrical practices and allow them to dive into devising their own ideas.
Is this where StageCase came from? Tell us more.
StageCase is a 1:25 scale theatre model with removable printed side panels displaying core syllabus notes to help students devise and visualise their own theatre productions.
Theatre craftsmanship has been at the core of my design process throughout my career and my experience as a scenic carpenter, scenic artist and technical director has been integral to the way I look at set and costume design. I am fascinated by how materials are engineered to create a 2d drawing that becomes a 3d object. I wanted simple scenic carpentry build methods to reflect on how the box was made and how students can use visual + kinaesthetic learning to explore their ideas if writing might be difficult for them.
StageCase is made using skills and materials found in theatre scenery. A simple butt jointed ply box provides a strong frame housing all of the different sections in one unit. Removable printed magnetic rebated panels with a soft routed edge form the core with printed stage positions, illustrations and syllabus content printed directly onto the ply to maintain the wood grain through the print and sealed with a satin finish.
The panels are all cut with a CNC router and hand finished which blends machining and hand finishing. As new tech is invented, we as designers are able to push the boundaries on what is achievable and 3D printing, laser cutting and digital machining provide solutions to the elaborative ideas we conger up and I want that to be reflected in Stage Case. I used computer 3d modelling (Fusion 360) to build exactly what I wanted including rebate depths and textures / decals so I could see exactly how it was going to work.
StageCase is a tool that can inspire the next generation of designers, directors, makers, choreographers, stage managers and every company member of a theatre production to explore theatre-making as a creative concept and learn the brilliantly unique way live performance communicates with an audience. It incorporates all the basic skills I have learned as part of the industry and still use as a basis for every single stage design I am lucky enough to complete.
Find out more about StageCase at www.richardccooper.co.uk