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Motley Theatre Design Course

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Motley Theatre Design Course is a one-year independent theatre design course in London. It was founded at Sadler's Wells Opera in 1966.


Sadler's Wells Opera & English National Opera

In 1962, Sadler's Wells Opera announced the appointment of their first permanent creative team of Glen Byam Shaw as Director of Productions, John Blatchley as his assistant and Margaret 'Percy' Harris MBE (of the Motley Theatre Design Group) as Head of Design, stressing that "apart from their eminence in the world of theatre, they have been connected with teaching, both on the dramatic side and design." This referred to their involvement in the Old Vic Theatre School (1946–1948), founded by Michel Saint-Denis, George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw. Percy Harris had previously taught at Michel Saint-Denis' experimental London Theatre Studio (1936–1939). Percy had taught Jocelyn Herbert RDI at the London Theatre Studio, and Jocelyn herself was to teach Percy's students from 1966 onwards. As Motley biographer Michael Mullin noted, Percy's aims for the school "hearkened back to the London Theatre Studio ideal of a ‘company’ who work in happy collaboration, rather than a group of individuals in creative competition with each other".

In 1966 a room was found for Percy to teach in, in nearby St John Street, and the Sadler's Wells Theatre Design Course began with 8 students. Students were to come from various parts of the world and disciplines so they could learn from each other. They were taught the techniques of their craft by staff at Sadlers Wells Opera and others. Projects were to be mainly led by directors. In an interview with Michael Billington in 1991, Percy Harris explained her philosophy of teaching: “It’s all based on the work of Michel Saint-Denis…(who) believed that the most important person in the theatre was the dramatist, then the actors,and then the director and designer. He argued that the designer’s job was to show the play and the actors to the best possible advantage. Also that they should not decorate: they should design. I suppose that is why our designers are very popular with dramatists. Edward Bond said that he couldn’t have written for the theatre if it hadn’t been for the Course, especially Hayden Griffin.” Hayden Griffin is the co-director of the school.

In 1969, Sadlers Wells Opera moved to their present home at the London Coliseum and became English National Opera. For a time the school moved into the vacated space at the top of the Sadler's Wells Theatre. In 1971, the school moved to Camperdown House, Aldgate to be near the company, and at this point became the English National Opera Theatre Design Course. Teachers at this time included Bill Bryden and Maria Björnson and students were also taught by the creative team at English National Opera who worked in the same building.

Riverside Studios and the Almeida Theatre

In 1979, organisational changes at English National Opera necessitated the school moving to the Riverside Studios, then under the lively directorship of David Gothard. It became the Theatre Design Course at the Riverside. The aims and training of the school were in harmony with the Riverside ethos and the school developed further ideas and flexibility. Students had access, either through formal teaching or observation, to Samuel Beckett, Andrei Tarkovsky, Angela Carter, David Leveaux, Anselm Kiefer, Sir Jonathan Miller, Sir David Hare, Tadeusz Kantor, Elijah Moshinsky, Sir Peter Hall, Michael Bogdanov and Percy's collaborator Elisabeth Montgomery. Students collaborated with young directors at the Drama Centre.

This arrangement lasted until 1987, when management changes at Riverside led to Artistic Director Pierre Audi welcoming the school at the Almeida Theatre which was also far-reaching in its ethos and exposed the young designers to Pierre's experimental programming of drama, contemporary music and opera. Teachers and visitors included Danny Boyle, Simon McBurney, Alec Guinness and Simon Callow.

Royal National Theatre and Covent Garden

By 1991, Pierre Audi had become Artistic Director of De Nederlandse Opera, and the school once again found itself without a home. It temporarily resided at the Royal National Theatre Paint Frame, and then, in 1992, in a warehouse in Shelton Street, Covent Garden. Finding itself for the first time independent of a producing theatre, the school renamed itself the Motley Theatre Design Course, after the Motley Theatre Design Group, the collective Percy Harris had formed with Sophie Harris and Elizabeth Montgomery. Alison Chitty RDI OBE joined Percy as co-director. As Jocelyn Herbert noted, "the school went through numerous financial crises, and many changes of venue; the fact that it survived was due to the loyalty, generosity and hard work of a small group of supporters inspired by Percy's dogged determination to keep it going."

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

In 1994 the school moved to the scene dock in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where it still remains. The end of year exhibitions were held first at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden and subsequently at the Royal National Theatre Paint Frame. Former students Anthony Lamble and Ashley Martin-Davis joined the school as Associate Directors. During this period, the school also taught visiting students from the British American Drama Academy. Teachers at this time included Jane Howell, William Gaskill, Jocelyn Herbert, Sean Holmes and Simon Usher.

In early 2000, Percy Harris, who was still teaching at the age of 95, fell ill and died a few months later. The school continued to adhere to Percy's teaching philosophy. With an intake now of 11 students, the school initiated an annual project with students on the MFA Theatre Directing Course at Birkbeck, University of London. Teachers during this period included Lindsay Posner, Mike Leigh, James Macdonald, Steve Tompkins, David Eldridge, Simon Stephens, Martin Duncan, Philip Langridge, Michael Attenborough, Steven Pimlott, Katie Mitchell.

In 2007 Alison Chitty RDI OBE was awarded the Misha Black Award for Innovation in Design Education. According to Professor Frank Height, "Misha Black had a powerful belief in the creative interaction of all design disciplines and removed previously perceived barriers in design education. In my opinion, Alison Chitty has taken this belief into her chosen field of design and used it to achieve international recognition for the excellence of the application of the creative process in both traditional and new fields of entertainment and is an exemplar of advanced design education which is being fostered in so many UK institutions".

In December 2010, Alison Chitty and Ashley Martin-Davis announced that they would be leaving at the end of the academic year. The Chairman, John Simpson, announced that the school was facing difficulties in the current political and economic climate and might have to close. In January 2011, the Alumni and Friends of Motley Theatre Design Course formed to support the school through the next testing period in its long history.

Notable Alumni

  • Caroline Amies production designer In the Name of the Father, Ladies in Lavender, Carrington, Copying Beethoven, Wish You Were Here, Sister My Sister, The Land Girls, The Last September
  • Loy Arcenas director & designer The Public Theatre, American Repertory Theater, Soho Repertory Theater
  • Jon Bausor set & costume designer, 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre, Young Vic, Royal Opera House, Rambert Dance Company, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, Stadttheater Bern
  • Sophie Becher BAFTA nominated production designer Alfie, Run Fatboy Run, Big Nothing, To Kill a King, Flawless, The Borrowers
  • Paul Brown Academy Award nominated set & costume designer, awarded Prague Quadrennial Diploma of Honour Angels & Insects, Up at the Villa, Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Sydney Opera House, Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, Théâtre du Châtelet, Opéra Bastille, Bolshoi Opera, Kirov Opera, La Scala, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Verona Arena, Teatro Massimo, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, De Nederlandse Opera, Salzburg Festival, Bregenzer Festspiele, Drottningholm Palace Theatre, Teatro Real
  • Alexandra Byrne Academy Award & BAFTA winning costume designer Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Finding Neverland, Phantom of the Opera, Hamlet, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, The Buddha of Suburbia
  • Isabella Bywater set & costume designer Cincinnati Opera, Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Vancouver Opera, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Royal Swedish Opera, New National Theatre Tokyo, Opernhaus Zürich, Teatro Comunale di Firenze, Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Bayerische Staatsoper, New York City Opera, Teatro Verga, Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Teatro Massimo, West Australian Opera, Victoria State Opera, Stockholm Opera
  • Tom Cairns Olivier Award winning and BAFTA & Grammy nominated film and opera director, set & costume designer Marie and Bruce, Amongst Women, Trouble in Tahiti (film), Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, Flanders Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Bregenzer Festspiele, Stuttgart Opera, Opéra National du Rhin, Bavarian State Opera, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Kim Carpenter winner of Helpmann Award, Artistic Director of the Theatre of Image, Opera Australia, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Festival
  • Frank Conway director and set & costume designer, runs Performing Arts Theatre Design Course, IT Sligo, former Head of Design, Abbey Theatre, The Field, This is My Father, Trojan Eddie, The Last of the High Kings, Druid Theatre Company, Gaiety Theatre
  • Kandis Cook set & costume designer, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, New National Theatre Tokyo, Houston Ballet, Australian Ballet, Linbury Studio Opera House, Sadler's Wells, Birmingham Royal Ballet, ARC Dance Company, San Francisco Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Opera North, Aldeburgh Festival, Staatsoper Hamburg, Theatre an der Wien, Wexford Opera Festival, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Shakespeare's Globe, Lyric, Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Peacock Theatre Dublin, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Liverpool Everyman, Manchester Royal Exchange, Leicester Haymarket, Barbican Theatre Festival, GladsaxeTheatre Copenhagen, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Post-Operative Productions created with co-director Nicholas Till.
  • Eamon D’arcy set designer Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Saturday Night Fever, Hairspray (Australian Production)
  • Simon Daw set, costume & video designer, artist for installation and performance National Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Royal Court Theatre, Young Vic, Royal Exchange Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, Aldeburgh Festival and Venice Biennale
  • Es Devlin Olivier Award winning set and costume designer, 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony, Rage, Mika Imaginarium World Tour & Live Parc des Princes Paris, Pet Shop Boys Pandemonium World Tour & Fundamental World Tour, Take That Circus Live UK Stadium Tour, Lady Gaga Monster Ball US Arena Tour, Kanye West Glow in the Dark US Arena Tour & Touch The Sky US Arena Tour, Shakira The Sun Comes Out World Tour, Goldfrapp Head First Tour, Muse Resistance Tour, El Liceu, De Nederlandse Opera, Royal Danish Opera, Greek National Opera, Finnish National Opera, Theater an der Wien, Semperoper Dresden Oper Leipzig, Oper Frankfurt, Staatsoper Hamburg, Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Rambert Dance Company, Cullberg Ballet, Russell Maliphant
  • Maria Djurkovic Emmy nominated production designer Billy Elliot, Mama Mia!, The Hours, Sliding Doors, Sylvia, Scoop, Vanity Fair
  • Matthew Duguid set designer and prop stylist for photography, works with Mario Testino, Helmut Newton, Juergen Teller, and on campaigns for Valentino, Vivienne Westwood, Jimmy Choo, Missoni
  • Penny Fitt Head of Design Toi Whakaari, New Zealand Drama School, former Head of Design Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Almeida Theatre, English National Opera, Sky City Theatre, New Zealand International Arts Festival, Auckland Festival
  • Paul Ghirardani Emmy Award winning art director Anna and the King, Mrs Henderson Presents, Being Julia, The Gathering Storm, Brighton Rock, Little Dorrit, Possession, The Importance of Being Ernest, Desperate Romantics,
  • Caroline Grebbell art director This is England, The Magdalene Sisters, Hallam Foe, Neds, Single Father, Garrow's Law II, Glorious 39, Capturing Mary, Things to do Before You're 30, On a Clear Day
  • Mini Grey Kate Greenaway Medal winning children's illustrator Biscuit Bear, The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon
  • Hayden Griffin Academy and Olivier Award nominated set & costume designer Wetherby, Intimacy, Six Characters in Search of An Author (film), Syrup, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre, Public Theater, Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Metropolitan Opera House, Birmingham Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Teatro Stabile di Genova
  • Rebecca Hale costume designer St. Trinians, St. Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold, Absolutely Fabulous, Vicar of Dibley, French and Saunders, Dead Set, The Comic Strip Presents...
  • Margo Harkin film director and producer Hush-a-Bye Baby, Bloody Sunday: A Derry Diary, Waveriders - won awards at Newport Beach Film Festival, Irish Film and Television Awards, Dublin International Film Festival.
  • Peter Hartwell set & costume designer Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Shaw Festival, Globe Theatre, Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre
  • Kate Hawley, set and costume designer The Lovely Bones, On a Clear Day, The Hobbit, New Zealand Opera, New Zealand International Arts Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Wexford Festival
  • Jeremy Herbert multi media artist and set & costume designer, Associate Artist of Young Vic, designed first productions of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis and Cleansed, both at Royal Court Theatre; Almeida Opera, Artangel, Aldeburgh Festival, Hamburg Staatsoper, Theater an der Wien, Royal Shakespeare Company, Young Vic, Teatro Piccolo Milan, Burgtheater, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Salzburg Festival, Ruhrtriennale
  • Laura Hopkins; set & costume designer Almeida Theatre, National Theatre of Scotland, Young Vic, Sadler's Wells Theatre, Frantic Assembly, National Theatre, Vereinigte Bühnen Wien, Royal Shakespeare Company, Guthrie Theater, Barbican Centre, Shakespeare's Globe, West Yorkshire Playhouse, English National Opera, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, New Zealand Opera, Komische Oper, Royal Exchange Theatre, Opera North
  • Mitsuri Ishii set & costume designer Ping Chong and Company, Center for Puppetry Arts, Seattle Repertory Theater, Spoleto Festival, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  • Gemma Jackson Academy Award & BAFTA nominated production designer Finding Neverland, John Adams, Bridget Jones' Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Iris, The Borrowers
  • Professor Shawn Kerwin Associate Professor at Department of Theatre, York University, Toronto; Pacific Opera, Stratford Shakespeare Festival,
  • Anthony Lamble set & costume designer English National Ballet, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Shakespeare's Globe, Abbey Theatre, Old Vic Theatre, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Shared Experience
  • Jamie Leonard production designer Mona Lisa, Tom and Viv, Better Things, Complicity, A Man of No Importance, Lord of the Flies, Made in Britain
  • Ashley Martin-Davis set & costume designer Santa Fe Opera, American Repertory Theatre, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Exchange Theatre, English National Opera, Dallas Opera, New York City Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Teatro Amazonas, Opera North, Theatro Municipal São Paulo, New Israeli Opera, Scottish Opera, Gorky Theater
  • Antony McDonald RDI opera director & designer, awarded Prague Quadrennial Golden Triga, Nationale Reisopera, Opera North, Scottish Opera, Bregenzer Festspiele, Paris Opéra Garnier, De Nederlandse Opera, Sadler's Wells Theatre, Elgin Theatre, Luminato Festival, Manchester International Festival, Royal Opera House, Hyogo Performing Arts Center, Finnish National Opera, Opéra Bastille, Vienna Staatsoper, Münchner Opern-Festspiele, Santa Fe Opera, Ravenna Festival, Metropolitan Opera, Flanders Opera, English National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sydney Opera House, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Festival d'Aix en Provence, American Repertory Theatre, Scottish Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet
  • Andrea Montag Head of Design Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
  • Jean-Marc Puissant set & costume designer Royal Opera House, Santa Fe Opera, Scottish Opera, The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Mariinsky Ballet (Kirov), San Francisco Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Rambert Dance Company, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Opéra National du Rhin Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Venice Biennale
  • David Roger production designer Margaret, Fanny Hill, Miss Marie Lloyd, Enid, Raymond Gubbay at Royal Albert Hall, Royal Opera House, Kirov Opera, Opera Factory, English National Opera
  • Di Seymour set & costume designer Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
  • Georgia Sion designed first production of Sarah Kane's Crave for Paines Plough at Traverse Theatre
  • George Souglides set & costume designer Teatro Dell'Opera di Roma, Salzburger Festspiele, Chicago Opera Theater, Malmö Opera, Greek National Opera, Epidauras Festival, National Theatre of Northern Greece, Scottish Opera, Nationale Reisopera, Ystad Festival
  • Gary Thorne, Head of Design Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
  • Ultz, set & costume designer Royal Court Theatre, English National Opera, Opera North, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Bayerische Staatsoper
  • Brien Vahey Associate Artist, Abbey Theatre
  • Michael Vale director, set & costume designer Royal Shakespeare Company; National Theatre; Royal Exchange Theatre; West Yorkshire Playhouse; Crucible Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, Royal Opera House; English National Opera; Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Almeida Opera; Vlaamse Opera Antwerpen, Los Angeles Opera, Kneehigh Theatre
  • Tatyana Van Walsum set & costume designer, awarded Prix Benois de la Danse, Australian Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Mannheim Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, Komische Oper, Stuttgart Ballet, Gothenburg Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, Aarhus Festival
  • Neil Warmington West Yorkshire Playhouse, Royal Shakespeare Company, Shared Experience, Barbican Centre, Traverse Theatre
  • Franziska Wilcken art historian, designed first production of Sarah Kane's Blasted at Royal Court Theatre
  • Sue Willmington costume designer Theater an der Wien, National Theatre, Teatro La Fenice, Halle Opera House, Greek National Opera, Opera National de Lyon, Sydney Theatre Company, Schauspielhaus Zürich, Royal Albert Hall, Opera Bastille, Kirov Opera, Teatro Regio di Torino, Zürich Opera, Dallas Opera, Royal Opera House, Bregenzer Festspiele
  • References

    Motley Theatre Design Course Wikipedia