The stage is SET

ROSL Membership Executive Beth Colley combines her work at the club with a successful career in set design and art direction. She tells Overseas how she brings sustainability to theatre productions, music videos, and more

Black Chiffon at Park Theatre London

How did you first become interested in set design?

It’s the typical line of “I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I can remember”. My dad was a lighting designer for the theatre, so I was used to wandering backstage and seeing how shows were made (I was frequently found in the green room with the actors/other theatre children rather than a creche as a toddler). I remember instead of dolls houses, I was given the model boxes from old shows to play with. My fascination with model making and miniatures is what led me study sculpture in my foundation then on to art school in Wimbledon to study theatre design, being so close to the west end I just immersed myself in work experience for as many shows as I could. I’ve been a puppet maker, interior designer, dressmaker and pyrotechnics designer… that’s the joy of theatre, you can really just throw yourself into experimenting with all sorts of creative things. It was a lot of trial and error, working for free and juggling many jobs but I seem to have got the knack of it… somewhat!

How do you manage your time between this work and your work in the Membership Department at ROSL?

I was drawn to working at ROSL as their dedication to the arts and the artists made me feel like it could be a place where I could flourish in. They’re very understanding and supportive of my design work and find ways I can incorporate into my membership work, meaning I can bring the creativity from both sides. I am very lucky to meet a lot of our members around the clubhouse, whether that be for tours or new members’ reception, which normally brings wonderful conversation with like-minded people. I’m currently learning the importance of work/life balance as I am one for constantly working, so I’m trying to get better and make more time to create art for fun rather than for business purposes.

How did you first become interested in sustainable set design, specifically?

Since graduating from Wimbledon College of Art in 2017, I have started my own theatre company. My first play with the company, we were given £100 for the whole budget (set, costume, lights, everything) so it really was a challenge on how to create interesting work with little to no money. I scoured the internet and found small groups that would swap items or give them away such as Freecycle or Gumtree. It was fascinating the amazing objects you could find through these groups, I’d always been interested in how to make theatre more sustainable as the speed of Amazon, and other online retailers were convenient but not at all good for the planet. After approaching local businesses such as antique houses, charity shops, and bigger theatres, I found that it was possible (with a lot of sweet talk) to rent these objects, whether it be for a small fee or donation, thus On a Wimb theatre company was born.

All of our shows are made with second hand objects or pieces that I have made from scratch – I’m now very handy with a saw!

Clockwise from top-left: Stop-motion mountain used in short film The Wasteland, puppet design sketches for Fiddler on the Roof at Frinton Summer Theatre, yellow wall set for Corpse! at Park Theatre, music video shoot for Apathy by Amahla

Whatever the budget, do you always try and be sustainable?

Since the £100 budget show, I’ve had budgets of £50-£5,000 to work with, but I still like to stick the same principal. I now have a network of sustainable ways to work, whether it be recycling materials, borrowing items, or in fact making them from things I’ve found. I feel it makes the project more fun, it is a real challenge to try and create a vision from the objects you have at hand, it’s never a boring job.

Has this led you beyond theatre work into other areas?

I’ve been very lucky to have been given opportunities art directing for television, music videos, and adverts in recent years, thankfully the skills transfer very well. I have found myself designing most of the videos for the London Jazz/Hip Hop/Rap music scene; it is incredibly exciting to see these artists really pushing boundaries in their fields. My resourceful nature means I really enjoy finding very obscure vintage items or creating wacky designs out of recycled objects. It feels very surreal to see your work on the screen, two minutes of footage can sometimes take up to five days to create, so it definitely is a labour of love. I once spent two weeks working on a model for a stop-motion animation entirely out of clay for it to only be on screen for two seconds, but it was worth it. It has led me to work with so many different craftspeople, all of which you learn from and take on that knowledge to pass around in future jobs. It really is special.

BETH’S VIDEO STARS

LIKE I DO BY AWA
This music video was shot at Chiswick House and Gardens, using fabrics donated from a recycling centre

MY RIDE IS HERE FOR BOLT
This ad for ride hailing firm Bolt was created to promote the use of the service as lockdown restrictions eased in the UK

How much of the work is hands on and requires you to be crafty?

I’m still very young in the industry but I am lucky enough now to lead teams of people to achieve my designs, whether that be hiring builders to turn my miniature model into life size or scenic painters for massive backdrops. I still enjoy being crafty but since starting my company I have found that organising shows and shoots can also take up a lot of time logistically.

Where do you want this to go?

I’m hoping that in the future I can use this experience both in ROSL and in theatre to set up my own artistic space, whether that be theatre, a gallery, or both. My work with sustainability and the things I am learning from working in an artistic not-for-profit have inspired me to want to learn how to fundraise for the arts and create a space where all kinds of artists can work, and networking/opportunities will be. Maybe with a sustainable prop hire place of my own in there too.

See more of Beth’s work on Instagram @colley_flower and @onawimbtheatre

BETH COLLEY

Beth has been working in set design and art direction since graduating from Wimbledon College of Art in 2017, combining this with her work at ROSL since 2019

Menu