Paula Varjack In Conversation With Lucy Adams

Paula Varjack: When did you first decide you wanted to work in technical theatre? What is your earliest memory on deciding that? I feel like we don't often (ever) hear about people's journey into backstage roles!

Lucy Adams: I started being interested in technical theatre at uni, I'd picked Drama and English as a course because they were my two favourite A Levels and at the time I wasn't told there were any other options after school than university. When I turned up I realised I was not a good actor (and also that I hated it!) and that I'd have to find something else to be good at if I wanted to turn my course into a career when I graduated. We had to do some basic technical skills as part of our course and I really enjoyed all of it but the lighting part particularly, I think it was the mix of something technical whilst getting to be creative. I don't really remember deciding that technical theatre was going to be my career, I was lucky enough to get some professional work as a Stage Manager at the Edinburgh Fringe whilst still at uni, which allowed me to make some connections at CPT in London who I pestered until they'd let me work there! It was there that I learnt the most about working in theatre, and during that time that I decided lighting design was the thing I was most interested in making a full time career.

PV: If you were to say you had a style in your work/way of working what is your signature? How would you describe your approach?

LA: I'm not sure that I necessarily have a style (although I'm certainly a sucker for some side light) but I definitely have a preferred way of working. If possible I like to be part of a process from early on, I try to design alongside the devising or rehearsals so that the lights are trying to do the same thing to the audience that the performers are. This means ideas often change and some get totally scrapped as the process goes along, but I think it makes my job a lot easier and the end product more cohesive with the work, rather than some lights just put on top of the show.

PV: When you think about working in a theatre again, what do you most miss? What are you looking forward to?

LA: What I miss most is working with other people, the feeling of being in a room with a group who have the common goal of getting the show up. Mostly I think I miss the feeling of sitting in the audience on press night, when you know the work is done and you can be proud of what's being put on, you get to see people enjoying it and the anticipation of how it will be received. I'm looking forward to making again, I've found being creative really hard during lockdown, so I'm excited to be presented with a situation and think practically and creatively to come up with a solution.


Dressed - Photo Credit Lidia Crissafulli


PV: If you were to say there is a particular kind of theatre you really like as an audience member, what are you looking for? Is this the same in terms of the shows you decide to work on? Why or why not?

LA: I really like theatre that tries to change my mind about something. I think working at CPT at the start of my career really helped to shape the kind of work I enjoy, as the work there often leans towards more live art. I love being in a room with a performer who is reminding me that we're all in that room together, experiencing what's happening in real time, and it's important that we're all there. Being a designer I also really like visual, conceptual work, something that uses different mediums of storytelling. I think my taste in shows certainly informs what I work on in some ways, but I also love working on things that are totally different. The process of designing a naturalistic show with a fourth wall is very different to designing a live art piece, so having some diversity in what I work on is important for me as I always want to learn more and develop my practice.

PV: What Is a project you are currently working on that you are excited to get back into?

LA: I'm doing a project with ThisEgg called Dismantle (more info here we're in the early stages, but it's an installation and performance piece in a building that used to be artist’s studios and is about to be knocked down and turned into a new hotel, looking at themes of capitalism and gentrification. I'm excited to put some lights in a space and see what we can make with limited resources, and see how making work is different during this time

PV: What is a question I didn’t ask you that you are currently preoccupied with?

LA: My biggest question at the moment is how does the theatre world I used to work in continue to exist in this 'new normal' and really - should it exist in the same way? I just wonder what the theatre landscape, especially fringe theatre, looks like now that Covid has happened. How many artists will have slipped out of the industry because of lack of financial support? Will buildings make solid commitments to diversifying their programming that they actually stick to, or will it be lip-service? I’m worried that in a rush to get bums back on seats and work back on stages, we’ll be asking workers to do more for less, and the work that will be put on will go back to more ‘traditional’ plays.


Art Heist - Photo Credit The Other Richard


PV: Do you have any questions for me?

LA: As someone who makes work encompassing film within your live performance, how have you found the shift to more digital work during lockdown? Has it made you more comfortable in the work style, or more bored of it?

PV: So I guess like most people who work in theatre my initial response to the pandemic and impending lockdown was denial. It’s important for me to say that, because I think I've often found myself saying I accepted it early on , and then decided I would rather work differently, than not make work at all . But at first, there was a huge loss for me around 2020, a year that was going to be full of opportunities that were the result in some cases of five to six years of graft, and talking, and building relationships. Suddenly it was all gone. I found that really really hard. But then I moved on to - I'm going to keep making work, because I need to make work.

So I took it on as a creative challenge, like ok I like adaptation. I can't make work in the way I normally do -in theatres touring . What can I do ? I can make work digitally, by which I mean I can make work that can be experienced on devices. What does that mean? Ok I guess it means video work, but it can also mean audio work. And what does it mean to think device specific? To make something for a laptop? Make something for a phone? And then it just became another brief that I needed to respond to. I think the hook for me became, well as someone who was interested in theatre, and then trained in film , who then makes performance and using video extensively, Maybe my new challenge was, how do I bring the sense of theatrical performance into my video practice, and into a digital space. That felt and still feels quite exciting for me.

One of things that is frustrating for me now , is I see a lot of untapped potential and working in this way. I feel really uncertain about when theatres can safely open but because I guess the question of how to monetize digital work is uncertain, venues aren’t that interested I think, or not yet anyway. So its hard to know what to do. I could adapt and rethink my practice for this period, or wait it out. But how long is this period even for? And then there’s outdoor work, but in a country with such inconsistent weather, it’s hard for me to get excited about producing that. Meanwhile in terms of digital work, I have seen some exciting experimentation over this period of lockdown. And audiences seem much more open and forgiving of that experiment , in a way that they're not in theatre spaces. So I see a lot of potential that I'm interested in. That's not to say I don't desperately want to perform again in the way that I was five months ago in theatre spaces. I just don't see practically how it's going to happen the way it used to, for quite some time. So I'm interested in figuring out how I work now.

LA: As someone who's had lots of roles within creative industries across your career, do you think you'll continue doing performance work post-Covid, or do you think your focus will change?

PV: It's hard to say anything about what the words “post-covid” even name to be honest. What I can say is it took me thirty years to figure out what I wanted to do, more than anything was to make performance and be a performer. So having spent my whole life figuring it out, and feeling like, in terms of our industry I figured it out quite late I am very determined to continue to find ways to make performances, knowing that can manifest in lots of different ways. I'm interested in finding all the different potential there is to perform now, that we can't be in theatre spaces, and what that looks like in future.

I imagine we won't be able to get back into theatres for a while anyway, or we're going to have to work with smaller capacities, or maybe have socially distanced seating. All of that has an impact on the way audiences respond to the work. I think there's probably going to be blended performances, with small audiences for work, that is also streamed. But I think whatever the future holds with the pandemi, and what the pandemic looks like in years to come, I will be performing. But what shape that takes and how it functions ,and what the relationship to the audience is, and how close we are in a space, it’s all impossible to know. But I would like to think that as someone who's adapted between forms, between cultures, cities and even sexualities, it's just another adaptation for me to work through

Lucy Adams is a London based freelance lighting designer, working mostly in devised work and new writing. She is an associate artist with ThisEgg, and previously was Technical Manager at Camden People’s Theatre. She was recently employed at the National Theatre as a Lighting Technician.

Cover Photo Credit: Greta Mitchell