Graduate of the Month: Mark Lovell
Mark Lovell graduated with a BA (Technical and Production Arts) degree in 2006. From touring extensively while working with everyone from Scottish Opera to James Brown, he is now a respected theatre consultant, helping shape and design many of the world’s leading homes to the performing and production arts.
Read on for an interview with our Graduate of the Month for May.
How do you look back on your days as a student at what was then the RSAMD?
ML: I look back very fondly, actually. It was a super place, with very dedicated lecturers and tutors who went above and beyond to help us. The opportunities afforded us all were generous and plentiful.
The Pyrotechnics training provided by Lincoln Parkhouse and his team at JustFX deserve a special mention for their quality, fun, and all-round brilliance!
What was Glasgow like as a place to study the production arts?
ML: Glasgow is such a welcoming, friendly city and so close to the hills, which are my other main love after theatre. Good, easy transport and a great selection of evening entertainment. What’s not to like?!
How has your career developed since graduating?
ML: I think I’ve traded on the RCS/RSAMD name throughout my career. It is so respected and has such currency in the industry, I often think its reach is both surprising and well deserved in equal measure.
I’ve concentrated early on with touring, and I really relished the challenge! There’s little to compete with the moment of opening the venue door, knowing the size and shape of what’s on the truck behind you and having that ”˜uh oh’ moment and having to make quick decisions that will affect the entire time you are in that venue, relying on your abilities to make the right call.
Followspotting James Brown at Live8 was a highlight too.
I’ve done lots of daily touring which is best described as ”˜character building’ – it’s super hard work but you learn so much about yourself and your abilities (and perhaps more importantly, your shortcomings).
A chance move to London saw me taking an automation job at Windsor Theatre Royal at very short notice, befriending the PM Jon Woodley in the process. I met my now wife on that show (I flew her into some scenery but she seems to have forgiven me”¦)
The 39 Steps, the Old Vic and a season as TSM at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, including staging the triple Olivier-award winning Hello Dolly! all followed before I consciously began to move towards production management. A happy three years were spent with Theatre Centre, a young people’s new work touring theatre company doing amazing work taking theatre into schools and really challenging perceptions in the process.
Production Management led me through a series of productions around London and across the UK including for Theatre503 and others at venues such as Trafalgar Studios, Hampstead Theatre and on tour which meant I was seeing my new family less and less. I began to look for a more permanent position closer to London.
How did you become involved in designing theatres?
ML: I was prompted by a friend, Jon Woodley who had given it a try. An opportunity came up for a project manager/consultant and he pushed me to go for the role. I had no idea what a theatre consultant is (not many people do) and went into the interview pretty unprepared.
Luckily, I hit it off with one of the panel interviewing me (Paul Crosbie, a Glaswegian) and Andy Hayles, the managing partner of Charcoalblue and was offered the job.
What does your role involve?
ML: No day is the same, to be honest. I lead a team of designers at Charcoalblue working on projects around the world, together (and in tandem with clients and other members of the project team) we design the performance spaces and supporting technical systems, such as the lighting and sound infrastructure and any stage engineering such as pit lifts and flying systems and help plan the building layout.
I’m using all of the project and people management skills I’ve honed whilst working in theatre, together with my knowledge of how theatres run.
We are often involved at a very early stage (well before architects), leading and helping to guide theatre clients through developing a brief from a specific need. We continue supporting them throughout design, tenders and construction to completion of the project and first night.
A typical building project lifecycle is maybe four years, with the first half the design and the remainder about construction. Some projects are so much shorter, often with significantly more intense ”˜on-site’ time. The Mayflower in Southampton, for example, was closed for only 14 weeks but in that period we replaced 2,200 seats, re-carpeted and repainted the entire auditorium, enlarged the pit, installed a new pit lift and more. A few projects are a lot longer; last year we completed work on the new Kiln Theatre (ex Tricycle) work started in 2012!
Tell me about some of the projects you have been involved with designing.
ML: Every day and project is different but highlights so far would be refurbishments of Hull New Theatre, Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, York Theatre Royal, Bloomsbury Theatre, the Kiln Theatre and a circular theatre at Wellington College in Berkshire, which has been shortlisted for and won several awards. All but one of these have opened in the last 12 months”¦ it’s been busy!
Tell me about the work of Charcoalblue.
ML: Charcoalblue is perhaps the world’s leading theatre, acoustics, digital and turnkey design consultancy. Founded in 2004, the company has grown to a team of more than 70 people working across six international studios in London, Bristol, Glasgow, New York, Chicago and Melbourne. The studios and different designers work together, challenging each other to do better and promote a uniquely theatrical approach to the construction world.
Projects range from inserting less than 10-seats in the Orange Tree Theatre, to helping design the new 2,500-seat London Concert Hall, the new Ron Perelman Arts Centre at the World Trade Centre site in New York, and to creating bespoke hangout spaces for Google all around the world.
How did your studies help equip you for the career which has followed?
ML: The stuff we learned was super, it really was – however the connections and friendships we made also really helped me progress. Ten of the first 15 jobs I worked on after graduating were directly as a result of contacts I’d made while I was a student.
I remember Head of Production Ros Maddison chatting to us early on in my first term in the stalls of the New Athenaeum Theatre at RCS. We were all encouraged to look around at our peers. She said: “Many of you will be in a position to employ someone else in this room within a couple of years of leaving.” She was right.
The course gave us such a good, broad baseline from which we could go on to gain crucial industry experience. I think very few employers expect fresh technical graduates to have extensive, honed skills but they do need enthusiasm, an eye for detail and an openness to learn all qualities which are encouraged and instilled by the very brilliant lecturers, tutors and other staff at RCS.
What would you say to someone considering studying production at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland?
ML: Don’t hesitate, it’s an incredible experience. Make the most of every second. Out in the big, wide world you are only as good as your last job – remember that this industry is as much about who you know as what you know.
RCS provides amazing ways to learn your craft while making great friendships that will last for years beyond your time studying.
Keen to share your story? Contact Mark Good, Communications Officer (Alumni): M.Good@rcs.ac.uk