Suwoo Son and Rebecca Constable with their respective awards
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Suwoo Son and Rebecca Constable with their respective awards

Two final year students on our BA (Hons) Theatre Design course were awarded prizes at this year’s Degree Show Celebration Event on Friday 1 June. Suwoo Son won the Birmingham Opera prize, whilst Rebecca Constable won the Nottingham Playhouse prize. The awards come about through students participating in live projects with the performance companies during their final year, and mark years of collaboration between our Theatre Design course and the companies.

The Birmingham Opera Prize is now in its seventh year of collaboration. Executive Director Richard Willacy worked with nine final students on designs for Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a masterpiece renowned for its innovative musical style and its impact on Stalin’s communist regime. This speculative set and costume design project follows Birmingham Opera’s unique approach to opera, which combines community performers and volunteers with professional musicians, with the aim to reach and engage a more diverse audience.

Richard suggested the same warehouse in Birmingham chosen for BOC latest Opera production, WAKE! as a pertinent context in which to set Shostakovich’s opera; in doing so, the students had the opportunity to physically explore the found space, meet the Production Manager of the opera, and  take part in the rehearsal of WAKE! with Graham Vick during their visit. The students were required to carefully listen and understand the music and to transform the found space with a promenade performance, in order to create an immersive experience for the audience.

This year’s winner was international student Suwoo Son. She will have the opportunity to be the Assistant Designer of a Birmingham Opera performance next year. She told us: “I’m really amazed to get this prize. The process has been very enjoyable and I have really enjoyed working with the opera’s themes. I feel like I’ve learned a lot through this process and I can’t wait to start working with the company.”

Richard Willacy commented on the collaboration: “It’s a great opportunity for us to engage with talented young designers so early in their career, and allow them to explore the wonderful art form that is opera.”

“We really value the collaboration with the university; it’s great that we have such highly qualified tutors and talented students." Adam Penford, Nottingham Playhouse Artistic Director

Kate Burnett, a reader and tutor on the Theatre Design course, added: “Birmingham Opera Company is the best company of its kind in the UK, so it’s an honour to work with them every year. We’re very proud to work with them and be able to offer an Assistant Design-ship to one of our students.”

Nottingham Playhouse have also been running a live project for final year students for a number of years. Working with Director Fiona Buffini and the creative team at Nottingham Playhouse, the designers were challenged practically, testing their ingenuity on a proscenium stage. For 2018, the students were challenged to devise set and costume designs for Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Issues of communities, conflict and difference were explored in the students’ responses, which were varied and creative.

The prize-winning student for 2018 is Rebecca Constable; she will have the opportunity to demonstrate her abilities to the full, being awarded their first professional design opportunity on a production at Nottingham Playhouse in December 2018.

Rebecca told us:  “I’m so shocked to have won! This is such an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to start working with the team at Nottingham Playhouse. I have absolutely loved bringing the world of this play to life through my design.”

Adam Penford, Nottingham Playhouse Artistic Director, explained: “We really value the collaboration with the university; it’s great that we have such highly qualified tutors and talented students. The great thing about this project is that it accurately recreates a professional design process, which is why it is such a fantastic opportunity. Rebecca has really considered the play, interpreting what Arthur Miller wrote but putting her own spin on it. That is the mark of a true designer.”

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