Creating the world you see on stage is all down to the magic and talent of artists like Lu Herbert.
Set designer Lu, who is in her third year of the Production Arts and Design degree, specialises in devising stunning sets that are hallmarks of RCS productions. Our Production students are working hard to continue their learning online and, when possible, on campus under strict Covid protocols.
Not only is Lu designing for forthcoming shows including the musical The Pyjama Game, she is also associate designer for British Youth Music Theatre’s Why the Whales Came, which is staged later this year.
You’re the associate designer for British Youth Music Theatre’s production of Why the Whales Came, staged this August. How did it come about and what’s involved?
It was last February, just before lockdown, when I was going through different companies and looking for something I would really resonate with as part of my third-year placement. Having gone to a youth theatre myself, I know how valuable arts education groups such as BYMT are to young people around the UK.
I applied for an interview to be considered as the associate designer to the company (meaning I would be designing my own show with them). I got the position as the designer for their musical adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel Why the Whales Came, which will be staged in Plymouth.
It’s my first professional design job and I’ll be spending a few weeks down there designing a set and costumes for the show to be performed in August. It’s such a fantastic position and I’m really looking forward to it. I love the values of the company and their previous works, so I’m looking forward to putting my stamp on such a well-loved children’s book and making it into a fab musical experience for all ages.
What are you working on at the moment for RCS?
I’m the designer for the musical The Pyjama Game in term three, performed by final year BA Musical Theatre students, which has been an absolute delight to work on. The colour palettes and costumes are rich and vibrant and the set itself has a nice warmth that’s enhanced by the cast bringing so much life and modern flair to the characters.
It’s set in a factory, so there’s a sense of industrial design with exposed brickwork, copper piping and 1950s signage alongside really fun costumes in a stylised, playful interpretation of the fifties fashion. When it was presented to the actors, they were so excited about everything. I can’t wait to see it. I’m also working on the third year BA Acting production How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found.
How does it feel on opening night?
That moment before the curtain rises, when everyone’s waiting … I love it! It’s so satisfying to see the set and to hear people talk about it afterwards, and the elements that they liked. I try to get to as many rehearsals and meetings as possible to see the set going through its process. When it’s on the stage on opening night, you think ‘I did that!’
Your work also took centre stage in Glasgow city centre, in the windows of bespoke kiltmaker MacGregor and MacDuff – tell us about that!
MacGregor and MacDuff was an amazing experience. I loved working with the company to create the vision they were looking for. They pitched the concept of ‘handcrafted, high quality and heritage’ and I came up with a window display inspired by their Scottish heritage and the colour palette from their Arran Mist tartan. The project was self-led, so I got a team of other Production Arts and Design students on board to be my prop makers and scenic artist.
The collaboration with MacGregor and MacDuff was so rewarding, and the window display at their Bath Street store was in place for several weeks. It was lovely to work with a professional company on a window display. The end result was a beautiful backdrop of trees and misty mountains with flecks of snow dusting the trees. The props at either side were intricate sewing tools – embroidery scissors, a needle and thimble – with the Arran Mist tartan at the centre, in an outfit chosen by MacGregor and MacDuff.
It was surreal seeing my work in a shop window. It was on the street, in real life, with people walking past it every day. I always go past Anthropologie’s windows and think they’re so cool. I’d love to do more work like it in the future.
What do you enjoy most about your studies?
The best part about RCS is the fact that the staff treat you like a professional and they really push you to improve daily and ensure the work you’re creating is of a high standard. It’s amazing to get to work with staff who have so much knowledge to share and be surrounded by students who are all hardworking and dedicated to creating magical work every day.
The atmosphere for the Production Arts and Design programme is so intensive and dedicated, and I know that I’ve changed so much as a creative over the three years. The course has definitely made me feel prepared enough to pursue the things I want in life and push for a theatrical career after graduation. I love how collaborative the course is, and knowing I’m surrounded by incredibly talented people.
What sparked your creativity and interest in the arts?
We didn’t do drama in high school and when I got to sixth form for my A-levels, I knew I wanted to do art and English literature and there was the option of theatre studies, which I liked the sound of.
In my second year of study, my lecturer asked if I’d considered doing costume design and said they’d support me if I wanted to try it out. I gave it a go and it was more about art for me than performing but I absolutely fell in love with it and was lucky enough to do two shows in sixth form before I came to RCS.
What made you decide to study at RCS?
It was always my first choice. I remember being walked through the costume store at my interview and thinking ‘what on earth is this magical place!’. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life.
Describe your design process?
I’m very much a visual person, I’m one of those people who immediately start building mood boards. I have a specific playlist when I’m designing. For The Pyjama Game, which is set in the 1950s, I had the soundtrack of the musical playing and random songs from the fifties. For that show, I wanted to play around with making it more stylised and fun and I always try and make the set so that different parts can be used in different ways.
The first few stages are about getting ideas down and if I see something I really like, I always try to build it in. It’s definitely about the storytelling element. Even with the digital art I do, I like storyboarding and showing a character’s journey. I like building the world around the performers and in Production Arts and Design, I’m surrounded by people who can make things far better than I can.
What’s the dream?
I love designing sets for theatre and I’d love to do something really big at some point. I like the idea of doing the concept art and design for films. I want to try everything!