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Designer Grace Smart: ‘So-called ‘dry spells’ are just part of the gig’

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This month, I’ve not done a huge amount. The truth is, I have this weird empty section in my schedule. My next confirmed show opens in the spring. I’ve been very lucky in my work so far, and haven’t before had such a break/terrifying existential void between shows.

I had been pencilled for some exciting things, but there were annoying clashes and timing problems. A case of losing a show while waiting for the first to confirm, for example. As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two availability checks at the Bush. (This is a joke, the Bush Theatre was not actually involved.)

And then there were a couple of cases where I was not the right person for the job, and so I’m having the slightly (again, I’ve been very lucky) unfamiliar feeling of rejection.

My mum is an actor. She’s very good at it, however when I was little she would burst through the front door, yelling about “not wanting it anyway”, or how “no one even watches [insert 1990s TV drama here]”. I would get so angry, not at them, but at mum. “You signed up for this,” I’d think, following her from room to room: “This is part of the actoring.”

It turns out occasionally not getting the gig is part of the discipline of showbusiness. And no matter how correct the decision that you were not right for the job, it stings. Couple that with some free time and you’ve got all the ingredients for a potential confidence crisis.

As a set designer, I’d assumed the life of a creative would be constantly working, forever frantically scribbling and jumping on planes

As a set designer, I’d assumed the life of a creative would be constantly working, forever frantically scribbling and jumping on planes.

Turns out there’s a whole other side to being a creative: the dry spell. This may involve turning one’s new flat into their personal set design – gauze instead of walls, fresnels on a handmade fly floor, and a kitchen that revolves to reveal an abstract ‘dream-space’.

The creative may also read every classic script they have, and vow to set up a regular play-reading night for their equally geeky friends. Who knew that it’s possible to spend an entire day concocting concept drawings for that inevitable day when the call to design a new set for The Glass Menagerie arrives?

Last month, I talked about the theatre design community suddenly feeling like a welcoming, open gang of like-minded people, in very much the same – beautifully designed – boat.

Now I’m learning there’s no shame in what is essentially just a lull for a couple of months, which is a bit too late to fill.

So here’s me being open and honest about it, to remind myself and others that these little gaps are part of the gig. And that you’ll be missing the space to think, and the focus and time on future shows that you have, when you’re back to being flat out.

And on an unrelated note, if anyone’s in the market for some tiny furniture, the perfect stocking filler this Christmas, do let me know… I’ll give you a good rate.

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