Article originally published on Broadway World
On 12 March, I was sitting in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on 45th Street with Marianne Elliott working on Company. That day, the creative team and crew were in the theatre as usual as we perfected some lighting, sound and set moves for the show, which was just days away from opening. We'd been playing to full houses, garnering amazing reactions, with a fabulous company of actors led by Katrina Link, and of course Patti LuPone.
The show was even bigger and brighter than our London version, and I'd had fun adding some newly designed scenes especially for New York, which were looking really exciting. As always with Marianne, we were getting down to tiny details and exact timings, making the show as perfect and precise as possible.
We knew that things were looking worrying and that there was serious talk of theatres shutting, but as the news came through that day that Broadway was closing, it was still a huge shock. Oddly, the company had had their first well-earned afternoon off that day, so it was just the creative team and production team in the building. Our stage manager Tim produced a couple of bottles of Prosecco and we had a tiny toast amongst ourselves, to the show and the team, and then the UK-based gang headed back to our apartments to pack and get flights home. It felt so weird to leave a show in such a rush, not quite done and without our celebratory Broadway opening night on Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday.
Once back in London, and then Scotland when the London theatres shut, I felt really cut off from what was happening, and what the news was from my productions and the theatres I love working in. So getting a call to say that a group of designers were coming together to talk and share information and support each other was really positive and welcome.
Some of the group were old pals, but many I had never met, even though I'd seen lots of their work. I have to say being with a group of my fellow designers is wonderful company to keep - warm, generous and collaborative - which is of course the nature of what we do.
What has sprung from these conversations is a collective called #scenechange.
It is an ever-expanding community of stage designers numbering over 1,000 members. We run a website and group chats and support. Our aim is to change the landscape for designers for the better once we return to work. To give ourselves a space to talk and connect with each other, and to encourage diversity and opportunity for all in the industry.
In the UK, there is generally one designer per show, because we often design both the sets and the costumes, so getting to know and having connections with fellow designers can be difficult. I've totally relished the opportunity to meet and share ideas with my fellow designers - both experienced and emerging.
From early on in lockdown, we talked a lot about the negative imagery and sadness around closed theatres. Buildings which are normally teeming with life feel stark and bleak, some even shut away and wrapped in hazard tape. They have lost the light, warmth and humanity. We laughed about the hazard tape - as though theatre was a crime scene or radioactive - and then the idea grew that perhaps we could subvert that and use that idea positively.