Scenic Artist – Frances Collier

Fascinating interview with Designer and Scenic Artist Frances Collier. What an interesting and varied job she does.

Interview by Geraldine Emans

It this interview, I had the pleasure of talking to Frances Collier who is one of the Scenic Artists for Rapture Theatre’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

What’s a typical day in your job like? What do you do on a daily basis?

For this production, my role is very varied. My role includes painting the set, putting effects on, and even adding Polyfilla where needed! For this production, I am also designing and making a prosthetic head wound – which is usually part of someone’s face. I have been planning out how to make that work for a head, and also make a wig for it to match the actor’s hair colour. 

On other days, I will have wardrobe duties where I will be found in front of the sewing machine, frantically sewing hems. Or I could be out buying tights and socks for the actors. It is very, very varied.  

How did you become interested in the job you do now? What drew you to the field?

From the age of 12, I have always wanted to be in design; I originally wanted to work as a costume designer. Then when I was 15, I went to see a production of The Lion King and when I saw the parade of the animals, I was so enraptured that I was in tears. In fact, my dad had got the date of the tickets wrong, so we had to stand at the back of the theatre. We stood through the entire production and still it was stunning!

Which qualifications did you need to get your job, or would someone need to get a job like yours?

I studied Theatre and Event Design at Birmingham University. At the time, it was one of the few courses that had a work placement and involved set, costume, puppetry, event, and film design. It was one of the most varied courses and I just wanted to try everything! so I chose that over the Royal Conservatoire or Wimbledon College which is where a lot of people go to study Theatre Design.

Frances’s stunning set design for The Dock Brief.
The costume design for The Dock Brief

What skills have you found to be vital to your job? Which skills help you do your job most effectively?

I am not a trained Scenic Artist. Most of my painting is done on scale models. Usually, I design the show and would normally paint for smaller scale shows, like The Dock Brief which Rapture produced last year, which I did comfortably. With The Beauty Queen of Leenane, it is a larger scale and different for me. But hopefully my painting skills and understanding of colour and working on scale models will transfer well into the bigger scale.

I have always been into sewing.  My grandmother was an upholsterer and she taught me how to sew. I’ve inherited her Singer sewing machine – an industrial one she was gifted by her employer when she got married. 

I would also say being into craft-making. In terms of making the prosthetic head-wound for this production, it has suited me because throughout my career I’ve described myself as a “random craft-maker.” I have made things like pantomime camels, giant salmon, and brains for education shows.  Whenever someone needs something odd or out-of-the-box made, I get asked to do it. The prosthetic head-wound has taken some figuring out and taken me out of my comfort zone, but in its simplest form, it’s a fascinator with blood!

Communication skills are also important because I am actualising someone else’s design. Theatre is such a collaborative art so there is always a lot of communication and working out how one thing impacts on another. With a set design, I have a detailed scale model and I am recreating someone else’s work. With the prosthetic, I make my prototype then I speak to the director, the production manager, the set and costume designer, and then I adapt the prototype. Once it is designed, I communicate with the actor to ensure it fits and they know how it works. 

What is the best part of your job and why?

The best part of my job is that I get paid to do it! It is like getting to play all day and someone gives you money for it!

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