Designing with giants
By Christopher DiRaddo
It is the end of October, late in the season at Stratford, and 33 year-old Katherine Lubienski is busy doing sketches and building models. The recent Set and Costume Design graduate is assisting on a production that won’t take to the stage until May of 2007
(My One and Only) but she is still quite occupied, supervising the construction of sets and props while the head designer is away.
Krystin Pellerin in Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton's The Honest Whore, directed by Peter Hinton, December 2004 NTS production. Costume design by Katherine Lubienski.
“Right now I am back for a small contract,” she says, humbly. “When I return in January, I’ll not only be assistant set and costume designer on the same musical, I will also design the costumes for Derek Walcott’s The Odyssey.” Carolyn M. Smith (Set
and Costume Design, 1987) will design the sets, Peter Hinton will direct.
A general contract for a designer at Stratford runs January through August and this will be Lubienski’s second season at the Festival, a place she has worked at almost steadily since graduating in 2005. “It was a natural switch in some ways,” she says, “coming
from the School in Montreal and going into a place that’s also all encompassing... It’s a great continuation as far as my learning curve.”
Among the productions she worked on last season, Lubienski was assistant to French designer Alain Lagarde on The Liar as well as assistant to Carolyn M. Smith who designed the sets and costumes for Peter Hinton’s production of The Duchess of Malfi.
“I met Carolyn before when Danièle (Lévesque) had taken our class to Stratford. I knew a little about her work on The Swanne and so I spoke with her about it, briefly. Two years later, I was working with Peter Hinton on one of my grad shows and after a meeting with
him in Stratford, I went to see The Swanne to understand his style of work. That’s how I ended up in Stratford.”
Lubienski is one of a great number of NTS alumni currently working at Stratford (last season 28 NTS graduates were employed by the Festival). “Carolyn has been extremely generous towards me,” she says of her time at the Festival, “and there
is a very nice rapport with the senior designers in our offices as far as answering questions or offering support if I need it.” Lubienski felt very well prepared and accepted when she first arrived at Stratford. Among the things she loves about her work is that in many ways her training continues.
“There is a very nice rapport with the senior designers in our offices as far as answering questions or offering support if I need it.”
“Working with Alain Lagarde from Paris was a phenomenal experience for me,” she says. “He comes from a European school of design and his stress to me all the time was to continue to stay knowledgeable about contemporary art, film and installation work... That theatre
is a contemporary art and as artists we really need to continue to push the boundaries of theatre in the same way that painters and sculptors do.”
Lubienski also got to work alongside Charlotte Dean, Santo Loquasto and Desmond Heeley – all renowned designers who left a lasting imprint on her work. “Desmond Heeley was like a grandfather,” she says with great reverence. “He was just very
very generous... He was always trying to remind us of the joy of it all. He came out of retirement to do London Assurance... The man is in his 70s and he was there building and painting half the set. He was also always the first person at any party or event to thank the talent and the
people in the wardrobe and props for their gift.”
Being around designer giants like Heeley has been an endless source of inspiration for this young designer who is just beginning her career. “He was always very generous towards people that were beginning to get excited about being in the business and I think
that probably was the nicest advice: to continue to find the joy in it.”
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