Anna Fleischle, Freelance Production Set & Costume Designer, Trustee, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
How did you get into your line of work?
I was always really interested in lots of different things – fashion, architecture, interior design. And I’ve always loved performance and storytelling. When I [did] my foundation, I did a short course in theatre and just thought that [it brought] everything together that I really enjoy. I’ve been doing it ever since.
What was the journey for you from theatres closing to theatres opening again?
I had several shows opening or open all across the world, and obviously everything shut down within a few days, which means as a freelancer there is no work – that’s it.
I think the difficult thing for creators and artists like us, is that you realise that quite often if people ask you, what do you do and who are you, they are two different things. For us, what we do is the same as who we are.
So all of a sudden coming to a realisation that if you cannot do the thing that you love to do, need to do – expressing yourself in the way that you artistically want to express yourself, which needs an audience and means you’re with lots of people – then you kind of lose a bit of yourself.
That’s the first thing that I found quite difficult. But then I mainly used the time to reflect and look at how the industry works, how my own profession works and the things that I think maybe we should do better in the future.
I got together with a group of designers and we created an organisation called Scene Change which is run by set and costume designers. We’ve been very active along that way. I started doing more individual work; I did an installation also the Young Vic Theatre, which is something I hadn’t done before. I just tried to make stuff and make something of the time and not let it become dead time.
What’s it like now that theatres are back open?
It’s gone from nothing to 150. I’ve opened two shows already. If you’ve got so many projects that are meant to open over a course of a year and they’re all now trying to open within a short period of time, it means that everything’s stacking up on top of each other. It’s tricky to get back into the mindset of continuous work and things overlapping quite a lot. On the other hand, it’s obviously absolutely incredible to be back in these buildings and having audiences.
The last show opened, which was [2:22 A Ghost Story] in the West End here – the first audience we had in, even just when the lights went down, everyone was clapping and cheering. The audience is just so happy to be back and that’s quite an incredible feeling.
What did you miss most about live performance?
Just being together in a room with people experiencing something together at the same time. The amazing thing about live performance is that the audience becomes nearly like one body, we kind of tune into each other. Someone else’s reaction kicks off a reaction in you and there is something really life affirming in that. I think you don’t realise how much you have missed that and how much your body, in a way is missed that until you’re back in it.
What draws you to theatre specifically?
Probably a similar aspect; I think it’s really important for us as human beings to communicate with each other and live performance is away of very direct communication. As a designer what I enjoy [that’s] difference to let’s say film or TV is that whatever I create, there’s always an element that I cannot control. I create a set but I can’t control what you’re going to look at which moment: there is something very live and individual about it.
What I love is that we create spaces and we have to think about them in their three dimensionality – the entire experience of what it means to be in a space, and how we experience space and what it does to us is something that really excites me.
Tyrone Huntley, Freelance Actor and Director, Trustee, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
What has the journey been like for theatres to reopen?
It’s been difficult, obviously. It’s sort of been a bit ‘stop-starty’. I was really lucky because last summer, I think it was after the second lockdown, there were about 8 weeks where theatres were allowed to open it at reduced capacity and outdoor theatres were a bit more able to do that. Obviously, we at Regent’s Park are open air, so we were able to mount a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which we’ve done before but we were able to rework it in socially distanced way and rehearse it all socially distanced with masks and everything. We were able to run the show for seven weeks over last summer, which looking back – how did we manage to do that? It was the perfect time to do it, we managed to rehearse it just in time to put it on and then pretty much a week after we finished we were in lockdown again. Looking back, it was miraculous that we were able to do it and I’m so grateful to the theatre and to Tim Sheader and William Village, who was the Executive Director at the time for being brave enough to say, let’s just do it and hire numerous freelancers who hadn’t had a chance to work for the summer. I felt very, very lucky to be one of them.
How does it feel to be Back On Stage?
So, I did Jesus Christ Superstar over the summer and then after that we went into lockdown and then theatre’s opened up a little over Christmas and then were shut down again. For me, I didn’t do anything from the end of Jesus Christ Superstar until seven weeks ago when I started on a show called The Drifters Girl, which is at the Garrick. I’m an Associate Director, so although I’m not actually in the show it’s a bit of a shock to the system. I live up in Lincoln, so I moved back to London and its long rehearsal days and tech days. We did a run for three weeks in Newcastle before we came back to London and I am just getting back into the swing of it really and remembering what it is we do. It’s like having to re-learn all the techniques, whether you’re an actor or stage management, it’s re-learning how to get through a full workday, not just be in your pyjamas all day! But it’s been great and everyone is just so grateful to be back, but it’s felt relatively easy. Everyone is ‘let’s work, let’s get the best show we can on’ because who knows what’s going to happen? So let’s just try our best.
What have you missed most about live performance?
I guess it’s just theatre, in general, is true escapism! You go and you sit, for however long the piece is, and you’re transported into the world of the story that’s being told. After a year of really dark times, it’s nice to just disappear into a new world that’s nothing to do with you and you’re just watching the story of the characters on stage. and I think that’s really important.