My first set design job, which came straight after graduating from Wimbledon School of Art, was assisting Peter J Davison on Whistle Down the Wind by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Aldwych Theatre in 1998. A colleague of mine, whom I had studied with at Wimbledon, recommended me.
I consider myself lucky to have had that first project ‘land in my lap’, so to speak, but I don’t think that would have been the case had I not attained a very high level of model-making while at college. It remains a very memorable experience – I suppose one’s first job always is.
I grew up going to see musicals in the West End in my teens and 20s. This continued while I was at college, so to graduate and go straight into working on such a high-profile musical was a dream come true. I was nervous that first day but Peter is a lovely, easy-going gentleman and I realised instantly that working with him and Charles (the other assistant) was going to be great fun.
The first couple of months were a huge learning curve. I left college thinking I was a great model maker, but I learned more about model-making techniques in those first months of work than during my previous three years of study. Gaining the experience I was seeking required putting a lot of hours in. I learned to listen, to observe, to know when to speak and when to hold back and how to communicate with directors and producers.
Fundamentally you have to be selfless, at least at the beginning of your career. Become a sponge and absorb as much knowledge as possible from those who have worked in the industry for longer periods than you. Be prepared to put in long hours, work weekends and develop tertiary skills that make you more versatile and employable.
The more you can do, the more opportunities you will have. Be prepared to accept some difficult times, both financially, physically and emotionally. This is certainly not a desk job.
Training: Wimbledon School of Art and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
Theatre includes: Idomeneo (Teatro Real Madrid, Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma), Oceane (Deutsche Oper Berlin), Elektra (Teatro Nacional Sao Carlos, Lisbon), Un Bal Masque (Opera National de Lorraine/Grand Teatre du Luxembourg/Opera Zui
Other credits: Run Mary Run (Sadler’s Wells), BBC Proms 2016, 2017
Agent: Michael Stannard at Treviem
Luis F Carvalho is the costume designer for Les Vêpres Siciliennes at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, from December 10-22. He was talking to John Byrne