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Staging Places Studio – the UK’s Prague Quadrennial theatre design entry

Fiona Watt, curator of Staging Places: UK Design for Performance 2015-2019
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Some of the UK’s best theatre designers showed off their work at this year’s Prague Quadrennial design festival – and now their efforts will be on display at the V&A, as Nick Awde reports

The UK’s appearance at the 2019 Prague Quadrennial in June came courtesy of the Society of British Theatre Designers and its Staging Places programme, whose selection process was redesigned as a digital submission to encourage set, costume, lighting, sound, video and experiential designers across every genre of performance design to apply.

From the outset, there was a strong awareness of ensuring as inclusive a cross-section as possible for the Staging Places Studio, according to Fiona Watt, project curator and honorary secretary of the SBTD.

“In our current political climate in the UK, it feels more important and vital than ever that we participated in Prague, exhibiting and talking about the diversity of performance design made by designers based in the UK and bringing our student and emerging designers into contact with their peers from all over the world.”

Prague Quadrennial 2019: Behind the scenes at theatre design’s global festival

Staging Places asked designers to submit work from up to three different productions realised between 2015 and 2019. While 12 designers were selected to physically exhibit their work in the PQ Studio, all those who made submissions to the open call had their work showcased in the digital gallery and the Staging Places website.

An SBTD curatorial team of designers at different career stages and from a range of practices within the field produced a long list of around 60. This was then viewed by Watt and an independent industry panel to select the 12 for the PQ exhibit, designed by Andreas Skourtis.

Staging Places at the Prague Quadrennial

They will be joined by a further 18 designers for a larger display exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum – Staging Places: UK Design for Performance 2015-2019 – which runs from July 2019 to January 2020.

Another key focus was to include designers at all stages of their careers. “We were able to select work that had been made by a designer in the very early stages of her career, through to a designer who has been making work for 30 years who has never submitted work to us before, to UK-based designers who are making large-scale work in prestigious venues throughout the world,” Watt says.

The PQ Studio was closely linked with the UK’s student entry – The Future Utopias Imaginarium – with gatherings between the two at the end of each day.

“Our student and early career curatorial team [members] have been fantastic, taking complete ownership of their installation and inviting other student teams as well as the wider public to come and interact with them in the space. They range from students in the second year of undergraduate degrees through to master’s students and early career practitioners, and this has given them all a very dynamic experience working with one another.”

The PQ exhibit was a major showing of national work alongside 78 other countries. And yet you’d look in vain for the Arts Council England logo amid the other national funding bodies – bids for funding to ACE had proved unsuccessful, “which has been disappointing and challenging”.

The exhibition was realised with support from the Linbury Trust and the V&A, in addition to the moderate fee paid by individual designers to submit their work.

Staging Places will also be hosting a series of regional events across the UK to engage with designers from a diverse range of media, many of whom may not yet consider themselves as performance designers.

Staging Places: UK Design for Performance 2015-2019 is at the V&A from July 24 to January 5. Details at: stagingplaces.co.uk

Meet the artists representing the UK at Prague Quadrennial design festival

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