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Designing Stages

Stage designs by Martin Morley for Welsh Theatre Companies 1973 – 2007

From first jottings and doodles to models and costume drawings, the process of converting an original idea and discussion with director to finished product will be revealed in this exhibition of stage designs by Martin Morley.

Theatre is a transitory art and the models and drawings created for the sets are but a preliminary stage on the way to the final creation, often to be discarded after the opening night. Unlike painting or sculpture, the set piece is not really complete until populated by performers in front of an audience.

Dates : 16 January : 28 February

Venue : Galeri Caernarfon (Wales)

pwy syn sal sketch

Exhibition notes:

In this exhibition is a range of designs that I have done in Wales between 1972 and 2008. Those prior to 1984 were for Theatr Cymru. After that, for Theatr Gwynedd, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and finally ‘Llyfr Mawr y Plant’ was for Theatr Bara Caws. 

‘Pethe Brau’ was my first design for Theatr Cymru. It was done as a Summer project while I was still designer at the Liverpool Playhouse. It was designed before there was a chain of purpose built theatres in Wales and was consequently built to fit in schools and halls. It was a most refreshing experience.  By the next year I was resident designer with the company and stayed with them until 1984, when it collapsed. Although never mastering the language, Welsh culture has become central to me, and has given a rich variety of theatrical experiences. David Lyn was the first director that I collaborated with but over the years there were many more, notably Wilbert Loyd Roberts, Gruff Jones, Graham Laker, Sian Summers, Cefin Roberts and most recently Tony Llewelyn. 

By its nature theatre design is transitory and does not have a complete existence when divorced from the production for which it was done. Consequently it is difficult to exhibit meaningfully, so the purpose of in this exhibition is to show a few of the designs in finished model form but to include as well preliminary sketches and working drawings and plans plus a few written notes from directors to try and convey that this art form only exists as part of a collaborative process and is to be understood in a different way to painting or sculpture because it has to include the extra dimension of time. During the early part of my career I designed both sets and costumes, but for the last decade have concentrated on set design.

The purpose of stage design as I understand it is to create a world in which the particular production can inhabit. It might be very naturalistic or much more expansive and abstract but either way, it needs to an integrated part of the production and not a ‘stand alone’ object. It also has to satisfy practical as well aesthetic considerations.

Different designers take models to different levels of detail, but their purpose is always the same: to convey to the director, actors and technical staff how the set will look and work and to show as clearly as possible the style that is being sought. For the construction staff and stage management there is the further stage of plans and working drawings, but even then the model is the main reference point.

The costume drawings are from the earlier designs and their purpose is chiefly to convey the character and atmosphere and style of the production, but are not technical drawings. I have always relied on the skill of the wardrobe staff to interpret them.

Most of the models have been previously exhibited as part of regular SBTD (Society of British Theatre Designers) exhibitions. 

‘Dyn Hysbys’ was part of the British contingent at the 1999 Prague Quadrennial exhibition.

Martin Morley http://www.martinmorley.cymru1.net/

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