Guest column: Westminster students Skype with 'Curious Incident' Scenic Designer

Curious Scenic Design Bunny Christie
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Scenic Design by Bunny Christie. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Students learn first-hand how technology collides with scenic design in the Denver-bound Curious Incident

By BreAnna Romero
For the DCPA NewsCenter

On May 15, CenterStage Theatre Company at Westminster High School had the unique opportunity to Skype with Bunny Christie, the scenic designer of the upcoming national touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which opens on May 30 at the Denver Center.

Bunny, who is from Scotland and attended an art college called Central Saint Martins, was calling in from London. We learned about everything from Bunny’s background to everything that goes into designing a set to all the hard work backstage it takes to make a show come to life.

Curious Incident Skype Westminster High Bunny ChristieBunny told us that scenic designers in the U.K. sometimes do much more than just design the set. Not only do they have to integrate their work with the lighting and costume designers, they sometimes have to take on those tasks themselves. Bunny also designs costumes for the National Theatre in London. 

For The Curious Incident, Bunny has created a set that is both interactive and incredibly technical. In this story, technology symbolizes the life of the main character. Christopher is a 15-year-old boy who falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, so he sets out to identify the true culprit. But Christopher is not your typical teenager. His overactive mind isn’t equipped to interpret everyday life normally. Because of Bunny’s imaginative work on the set, we are able to visualize what is going on inside Christopher’s head.

As I sat in the classroom with Bunny’s face projected in the front of us, I found it interesting to hear how she integrated technology into the production. In rehearsal, the actors were unaware how the technology would play out until they got onto the actual set. Bunny had to work hard to create the pictures in the actors’ heads so they could better understand why the scenes were being staged the way they were.

BreAnna Romero quoteBunny faces additional challenges when a show she has built to be performed in one theatre then goes out on a national tour, like The Curious Incident. For the tour, she has to build a whole new set from scratch that can travel across the country and play in multiple venues. Because the size of the stage can vary greatly from city to city, she has to make sure that the touring set can fit into each theatre. So essentially, she has to build the touring set so that it will fit into the smallest venue on the road schedule.

I thought the most interesting part of the Skype call was when Bunny was asked the most difficult part about being a scenic designer. “When you have to get deep inside your head,” she said. “You start off with a blank page, and you have to create an idea. You have a deadline you have to meet, and you have to meet that deadline with work presentable enough to work with. A lot of pressure goes into this job. You have to learn how to be self-sufficient but at the same time, you have to learn how to work with a lot of different people. At times the job is tricky, but the end result is more than worth it.”

Her advice to young scenic designers: “Get training, and get familiar with all you can in theatre. Learn everything you can and take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Feed your imagination.”

Speaking with Bunny opened my eyes to the world of a scenic designer. I realized that they deserve more credit than they are usually given. A lot of people might never know all the hard work that goes on backstage before a production is brought to life.

The world Bunny creates in The Curious Incident is breathtaking. That she would take the time to speak to us from London was much appreciated by all of us Westminster High School. We are looking forward to seeing the show on May 30 at The Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

(Editor’s Note: The Skype conversation was moderated by DCPA Associate Director of Education Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, who has been working with the Westminster students all semester as part of a Broadway League Grant.)

About the Author: BreAnna Romero

BreAnna Romero fullBreAnna Romero is a 16-year-old student at Westminster High School. Her interest and love for theatre sprouted when she was young, and her love for the arts has never stopped growing. She hopes to pursue a career as a casting director and continuing to devote herself to the arts.  Her teacher at Westminster High School is Andre’ Rodriguez.

About Bunny Christie

Bunny Christie is a multiple award-winning scenic designer. She works mainly in London but has designed shows all over the U.K., Europe and in the U.S. She has a long relationship with the National Theatre of Great Britain, designing in all their theatre spaces and devising shows at the N.T. Studio. Her work at the NT covers set and costume design for many of the classics and a huge number of new plays. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time began life at the National Theatre, subsequently transferred to the West End to huge acclaim and completed a U.K. tour. The show is currently touring the U.S.

Video excerpt from Bunny Christie’s Skype call:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:
Ticket Information

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeMay 30-June 18
• The Ellie Caulkins Opera House
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829
• ASL, Audio-Described and Open-Captioned performance 2 p.m. June 11

Previous coverage of
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:
For Denver actor Gene Gillette, a long road from Curious to The Curious Incident
A deep dive into a ‘Curious’ mind and mystery
Gene Gillette will return to Denver in Curious Incident
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

Video: Your first look at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

Selected previous Guest Columns:
Judy Craymer on the origins of Mamma Mia!
Douglas Langworthy on ‘translating’ Shakespeare: First, do no harm
David Nehls: Live theatre returns to Elitch Gardens after 24 years
Gillian McNally: Colorado’s oldest theatre celebrates Artistic Director Tom McNally
Margie Lamb on the Henry Awards: Something doesn’t add up
Bryan VanDriel on Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley
Jessica Jackson on Creede Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season

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