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TheatreCraft profile: Nina Dunn

First Published 20 October 2017, Last Updated 23 April 2020

Ahead of TheatreCraft 2017, we spoke to Nina Dunn – an award winning independent Video & Projection Designer. Nina, whose production credits include Alice’s Adventures Underground and Chichester Festival Theatre’s recent production of Fiddler On The Roof, is one of the workshop leaders at this year’s event.

TheatreCraft is the country’s largest, free careers event for young people interested in off-stage careers in theatre and will take place on Friday 3rd November at the Waldorf Hilton Hotel.

To register for your place, visit the website. And don’t forget to follow the event on Twitter and Facebook.

Nina Dunn, Photo by Rah Petherbridge Photography

An average day for me involves…

I find there is no such thing as an ‘average’ day for me but they tend to fall into one of four categories: creative studio time / meetings and development / on-site rehearsals or tech / teaching. Either way, they usually have one thing in common at the start: my two daughters. Whatever is happening in the maelstrom of production, they provide a good grounding force and certainly know how to get me out of bed.

Studio time happens at my studio in Brighton where I can gather content teams on a project-by-project basis, have meetings or do testing and research and store equipment. I try and clear some solid time at the start of the week to spend there to make space for creative work and to ensure I can do my share of the school runs. If I allow meetings to happen all week, I spend all of my time on trains and my processes are interrupted. I need a long, unbroken stretch of time to think deeply about designing and creating for shows or I’ll end up going with my first thought.

I find meetings exhilarating – the potential of new ideas, new stories, new approaches, new teams – and I usually spend a day a week doing back to back meetings in London to hit them in one go.

When I am in production or technical rehearsals on site, I go into something of a black hole while I single-mindedly feed the beast that is the current show. Time is of the essence in tech and us Video Designers are always developing ways of fitting content turnaround times to theatrical deadlines but invariably the days are long and extremely bus, often topped off with additional content renders overnight and sometimes a very late night commute back to Brighton.

I also teach at RADA where I share the post of Head of Video and Digital Design where I am working to help students understand the medium in the context of live shows and develop best practice so that we can keep this exciting theatre craft sustainably in use into the future. I also lecture at other events and I’m delighted to be included in this year’s Theatre Craft day.

The people I work mostly with are…

Other Designers on the creative team. Everything stems from initial conversations with the director and continues to feed from their process in rehearsals but I would say that I share most airtime with the other designers on the team: lighting, sound, scenic, choreography etc. I often tend to see what I do as ‘pixel-plasm’ – pixels that provide the glue between the other disciplines – so it’s very important to develop and maintain a good dialogue with the rest of the team. Through collaboration comes new and unique ideas and interesting ways of solving storytelling problems.

The best part of my day is…

When the video team are allocated a separate focus session after everyone else has gone home and we are sitting in the dark with some time to work with only the hum of the fans to break the silence. It’s a peaceful time to figure things out and you get a real sense of how large some of these theatres are when you are a just few people gathered at a production desk alone at night. It only happens at best once per tech so you have to enjoy it while it lasts! I also love the drive into the wee hours after a Saturday night preview working out of town to return to my family for my one day off during tech. I find that peaceful too. It helps that I live in Brighton – that’s always a great place to come back to.

I usually finish work at…

Anywhere between 3pm and 5pm if I am on the school run and 11pm and 3am if I’m not. As a Mum, you get used to having a split working day with a huge chunk of time off around late afternoon / early evening with the kids. Once they are in bed, I usually sit back down to work again – it’s sad but true and there just aren’t enough hours in the day (or zeros in the budget on some shows). At least I benefit from doing a job that I love and don’t mind working long hours though sometimes boundaries (often created by the presence of my family in my case) are healthy. If I’m in tech, my days are less child-orientated and the working day tends to be 9am – 11pm with a 2hr commute either end if the show is in Brighton. I’m lucky that my husband enjoys looking after the kids when I am away but it can be really tough for both of us.

The most glamorous part of my job is…

I’d like to say award ceremonies but I have never been able to attend the ones that I have won so instead I will say European Opera premieres. The tradition is to go up on stage and accept flowers after the premiere so I get to stand along with all the fantastically talented cast, the conductor and the creative teams and look out at the audience for once. Actually the very best moment is when the curtain comes down and you can see the back of the tatty old tabs and everyone collapses into hugs and laughter, knowing we’ve done it and there is champagne to follow.

The least showbiz part of my job is…

Making loops. Seriously, I spend so much of my life making loops out of content. Also, technical troubleshooting on smaller shows or R&D weeks when you have to be more hands-on can also mean plenty of time on your knees plugging and un-plugging cables. I have also had to clean out the inside of my computer when it got covered in what appeared to be a mix of dust and rat hair whilst underground on an immersive show. Not pleasant!

The advice I’d give my younger self is…

If you see a chance, grab it. If you think you are not ready, ask yourself: do you want everything that opportunity will bring? If so, learn up, gear up and then grab it. If you see no opportunities, create them or look harder. I believe I have in fact followed that advice so perhaps time travel is a thing…

Visit the TheatreCraft website for more information and registration.

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