Design and Distribution

This segment began with Keynote Speaker Richard Pilbrow, founder and chairman Emeritus of Theatre Projects describing his own involvement in the planning and design of the National Theatre.

Architect Denys Lasdun, the only contender for the job who turned up on his own without a party of advisers, proposed that he would work for a year hearing what people’s dreams were and then would then do it without interference. He had never designed a theatre and the story of his confusion, and the input of the distinguished panel, Pilbrow’s own crucial proposal and Iain Mackintosh’s studio theatre input will be the subject of a book which Pilbrow is completing.

Pilbrow raised issues of the role of the audience in theatre design, social equality and future development and the impact of video on theatre’s future, but his main message is the need for theatre people to speak up, that creating living theatre requires co-operation.

Designer Tom Piper spoke next. A passionate believer in the one-room space, he made a particular point of the attempt on the recent RSC tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to extend the performing space beyond the proscenium and the delight of the company when they returned to their home thrust stage.

Katy Marks, director of the Citizens’ Design Bureau, drew attention to changes in the audience and the need to accommodate cabaret or promenade when the brief is a generic flexible box. Some of her work has been for museums that want a theatre like space, often listed buildings. Putting performances in a black box loses energy. You need an atmosphere that makes people want to go there. For her, the stage is not the hallowed space and she sees a need to test out ideas before committing money to them.

Architect Simon Erridge, Director of Bennetts Associates, spoke of the difficulties of adapting post-war theatre buildings to meet changing demands. Developments in technology and changes in theatrical formats and approaches now mean adapting to rapid change. We have to make our theatres that permit that, providing a shell space that makes change possible. Theatres can share space with other public buildings, increasing the surrounding activity and making them more lively.

Angus Morrogh-Ryan, co-director of De Matos Ryan, also emphasised the need to increase activity, to get people into the building to generate income. He expressed as much interest in why people did not come to a building as finding out why they love it. Citizens should feel they can own the space not that they can’t use it. They could be locations for activities such as after-school homework classes. Often right on the high street or in key locations, they can fill gaps what is provided around them: free toilets would get people into the building, free wi-fi, lockers where shoppers could leave things or collect goods ordered online.

Andy Hales, a managing partner at Charcoalblue, looked out at the audience and said, “we don’t reflect our society so well,” before drawing attention to how much mobile 'phones have changed life and introducing the role virtual reality technology may play in future theatre.

Panel discussion ranged over technology making more epic productions possible, to its use to show what is on offer at the front of the building while Tom Piper asked for technology that still made you use your imagination and Andy Hales thought the essence of theatre was being able to sense it together. Past belief that performance requires a neutral space has changed to wanting a setting with personality.