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anna gardiner: interview

Set and Costume Design by Anna Gardiner. 'Henry V'. Bell Shakespeare. Photo by Michelle Mossop.

Set and Costume Design by Anna Gardiner. ‘Henry V’. Bell Shakespeare. Photo by Michelle Mossop.

Shellshock is a Riverside Theatre production, running from the 30th July to the 8Th August. It’s directed by Justin Fleming and has a completely new script. The play follows the story of an Australian teenage boy and a tortoise named Herman, who just so happens to be the oldest Gallipoli survivor. I was lucky enough to get to interview the costume and set designer for this production, Anna Gardiner. She was cool as a cucumber and sweet as could be whereas I was quite nervous. But she was great, and so are her responses to my questions.

When did you realise that set and costume design was what you wanted to do?

I think it was in year 9. I was doing a project in design and technology on costume design, and then I also found out about set design. It was kind of at this point that I realised, this is what I really get excited about.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I think it’s the process of bringing stories to life, and seeing your ideas that come from the page, be turned into reality. You get to see them become real and then work together with a team to turn the ideas into something beautiful on the stage.

What about Shellshock; what has been your favourite part of working with this story?

It’s a beautiful story, and it’s important to tell these stories about history and the past. The play actually jumps between time zones quite a bit, and so it’s interesting to see the actors move between 1915 and 2015.

A particularly interesting thing about Shellshock is that we’re making use of traditional Turkish and other shadow puppetry. This is my first foray into that. I’ve done other shows with projection and other use of shadows, but not puppetry. Luckily we have a lady called Sue Wallace who is making the shadow puppets, and she and I will be working together with them.

How would you describe the story of Shellshock?

Shellshock is about family, forgiveness, war, ownership, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s the story of a young Australian soldier in WWI and a tortoise who becomes a lifelong friend as a consequence of the war. The bulk of the story centres around the soldiers ancestor’s in 2015 who are the caretakers of this same tortoise who is now 100 years old, their journey to Gallipolli and what they discover there.

So why should people should watch Shellshock?

Shellshock combines a lot of different artistic influences. It’s kind of historical, kind of abstract, and there are puppets.

Apart from Shellshock, what has been your favourite production to work on?

It varies. My most successful production, and the one I found most exciting as a whole was when I did Henry V from Belle Shakespeare. I always enjoy doing Shakespeare because you get a bit more freedom with the designs. The play itself was quite difficult to put on the stage. We used a World War 2 setting, with kids acting out the story. These kids would make the story real on the stage using whatever they had in this bombed out shelter.

Is there a person or an artist that particularly inspires you?

I’ve always loved Gustav Klimt and Leonardo Da Vinci, all those old dudes. I also love designers out there at the moment, like Alice Babbage, and designers in film, like Catheryn Martin.

What future career plans do you have?”

I just want to keep working and be as sought after as I can be. I want to work interstate, and with big companies like STC. I really just want to keep getting work.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering working in costume and set design?

Get out there and get into it. It’s a very hands on and involved job. Try to get into companies, or even independent theatre, so that you can experience what it actually is and figure out wether it’s really what you want to do. I’d say, see as much theatre as you can, but the big thing is that you actually get out and try it.

 

Anna somehow put up with me and my barrage of questions. But not only that, she also gave these effortless responses that you could tell were straight from her heart. I could hear that she really loves and is passionate about her job, and that is so rare these days that I can’t help but kind of be in awe of her.

If you do anything today, make a plan to see Shellshock and check out Anna Gardiner’s website (which she designed herself). She tried to undersell it by saying she used an “online template thing” to create the site. But don’t let that fool you; it’s bloody magnificent, just like her work. I’ve already made plans to pop into Riverside theatre and check Shellshock out. Why? Because Anna Gardiner … and puppets!!!

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