Monday, January 7, 2013

The Question, January 7, 2013

Handling the Stress Cocktail
by Estelle Rosen

John C. Dinning is an award-winning designer. He has designed at Centaur Theatre (Schwartz's: The Musical), Segal Centre (Lies My Father Told Me, for which he won the Montreal English Critics' Circle Award), Neptune Theatre (The Producers), ATP and Arena Stage in Washington, DC, among many, many others. 

CHARPO: Set designer being akin to an artist, the process must be similar. As a well known set designer, people are going to have high expectations which could result in additional stress. Are such expectations helpful or harmful to the process?

DINNING: Stress is stress no matter where it comes from. The act of just creating any sort of design for a play in the theatre is stressful enough let alone expectations.

I never let this get in the way of the design process. I keep focused on what the play needs, the needs of the director, the needs of the theatre, staff and the ever looming "Budget" that constantly hangs over your head like a black cloud. Add to this time constraints and you have quite a "stress cocktail" that you have to drink.

In all of this, the audience is always on my mind. Instead of hindering me, it actually pushes me forward to try and find something in the design that will inform them and most importantly move them. I want them to be engaged and feel.

Since I have designed shows in Montreal for 35 years at both the Centaur Theatre and The Segal Centre with a smattering of Geordie, The Piggery, and Les Grands Ballet; trying not to repeat myself is the most stressful. 

I am deeply committed to the "Art" of it all and finesse and finish are very important to me. I never design a show by following "fashionable design" trends such as the current abstract minimalism with a neutral palette such as grey, white or black. I will only use this trend if I feel that it will illuminate the play or if the audience has not seen me do this look for awhile. 

That is why In Absentia and EQUUS were perfect for me to do a visual change. It was time especially after the success of Schwartz's- The Musical  that was great fun to do but a bit more of what people are used to seeing. It is also important to me as an artist to constantly grow and develop new visual elements for my own sake. It helps to keep the creative spirit alive, fresh and exciting.This then translates into my work 100%. I want the audience to feel my presence as well as provide a home for the talented actors so that they can feel comfortable enough to show their artistry. I have been blessed with both the support of the audience and the Montreal Theatre community and I hope that this will continue well into the future. There is much to do!

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