PROFILE – COMA LAND SET DESIGNER – PATRICK JAMES HOWE

Posted by Cecile Lucas, July 18th, 2017

Emerging Set & Costume Designer and WAAPA Graduate Patrick James Howe generously took time to chat with us during this epic week that is production week. Some of you might already be familiar with Patrick’s previous projects including Venus in Fur (Black Swan Theatre Company, 2015), A View from a Bridge (Yirra Yaakin), Wax Lyrical Productions’ Carrie The Musical (2016 Mathilda Award Winner Best Musical) and Jasper Jones (Barking Gecko). While this is not his first collaboration with Will O’Mahony, it certainly is one that brings great challenges in designing a minimalist set that doesn’t distract the audience from the play but still conveys the mood, and we were very curious to find out how Patrick tackled this new project!

 

This is not your first collaboration with Will O’Mahony. What is it like working with him?
Working with Will, over the last few years, have been some of my best experiences. Will has a fantastic theatre brain and for every show we have worked on together, the approach has been slightly different. However what has not changed is Will’s passion and work ethic. Will puts so much into the show he is working on, there are times when I feel like I’m not doing enough, compared to the amount of work he is doing. This pushes me to do more and I like that.

 

What is about Coma Land that grabs you most? And how do you think the audience will respond to it?
Coma Land is exactly the kind of play I want to work on. Coma Land, unlike a lot of other contemporary Australian plays, deals with existential questions in a way that is separate from our everyday lives. This allows us to ask the big questions about ourselves without getting bogged down in trivial aspects of everyday lives. This is a beautifully crafted story, and I think audiences will find their own things to love about this play.

 

What was the design brief for this production?
HAHAHAHHAHA. The design brief for the production, has and still is an ever-evolving idea. However, through the many design explorations for this production, we kept coming back to the same things. The world is continuous and confined, it is an ethereal terrain and on its own plain of existence. It is soft to touch but has a feeling of coldness.

 


Oklahoma! (by MUSEA)

 

Can you tell us what was the most challenging part of designing the set for Coma Land?
From a designer point of view, this is a play with endless possibilities.  When I was doing my initial visual research, I don’t think I came across one image that I think would work. The challenging part was being precise and definite about our choices, and only using ideas that we knew for certain helped and worked with the story.

 

How did you become interested in working in the Performing Arts? And how did your parents take it?
I dropped out of High School in year nine and did a cabinet making apprenticeship. It was after finishing this that I decided I didn’t want to just go to work every day. I wanted to be doing and giving more. I wanted to be a part of creating things that inspired people. The Performing Arts, was the ideal industry for this. As for my parents, well, like children of most baby boomers, we were told we could be anything we wanted to be.

 


Wax Lyrical’s Carrie The Musical (2016 Matilda award winner: Best Musical)

 

Now that you’ve been working for several years, can you tell us a bit about how you work and how does the process begin for you?
After several years, I probably still can’t tell you this. Every project is different and truth be told, I probably approach each process like it is the first time I am doing it.

 

How true is the final set to the ideas you get during or right after reading the script? And how much is the design affected by the creative team input?
I think any ideas you get right after or during your first reading is a good starting point. However, they are only a small piece of the puzzle. Your design is affected by many other aspects of the production: other creatives, the director’s brief, production parameters and the actors are all pieces of the puzzle you must put together. Once you do that then you may get a more truthful idea about the final set.

 


Fracture (New Ghost)

 

In terms of your work in general, is there a style that defines what you do, or a signature of some kind?
I like to think that I don’t have a defining style. I like to approach every play in a way that best helps the story. However, if you ask my peers what they thought of my designs, they will probably say something like “Oh that design was totally a Patrick design”.

 

 
Venus in Fur (Black Swan State Theatre Company, 2015)

 

Which designers/artists do you admire and where do you get your inspiration from?
Artist: Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollack.
Designers: Joseph Svoboda, Edward Gordan Craig, Katrin Brack.
However, even though all these artists’ works are beautiful and I love them very much, it is not their art that inspires me the most, but the fact that they didn’t accept the status quo, and challenged the boundaries and ideas of their respective art forms.

 

What’s your best advice for aspiring set and/or costume designers?
It only can’t be done until you do it.

 


Hamlet (WAAPA/Barking Gecko)