I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Medb Lambert, head of design for What I (Don’t) Know About Autism. Medb is well versed in this arena, working as the head of Equinox, an inclusive theatre company within KCat.
Media pieces often observe autism visualise it as children separated behind glass or imagery that plays to isolation.
I’ve worked in inclusive theatre for fourteen years. We’ve developed ways of thinking in ways that respect individuality. One of the things I’ve been developing is the idea of design as pure function. Jody needed this set to become lots of things. Tables, chairs, offices, torture chambers, isolation rooms, all sorts of things. She also needed the set to clear on occasion to make a blank space. My approach, which would b, was to create something that represents nothing so that it could become everything. If for example we had tables and chairs we couldn’t do all the other things she wanted. That was the goal, I don’t know if I succeeded or not (laughs). It was more of a theatre design issue than an autism issue. But I hope that it is open enough that everybody can enter into the world that we’re creating.
Is there any specific challenges translating Jody’s vision to the stage?
I needed to be a sympathetic space to use. It had to function well. So one of the things we did was to ensure the set was ready for use from a very early stage. From December we had an almost complete set. The set is small and in sections. Altogether it forms a cylinder in six segments. For me function comes first, then form, colour and texture. It was really important for it to be fluid but also functional and safe.
Tell me about colour.
It doesn’t have a linear plot or a main character. None of the cast stands out from the others in terms of importance so I wanted the clothes to be both comfortable but not have colours that jumped out or override the others. I didn’t want outfits to suggest ‘this is the main person.’ There’s a lot of browns and oranges and greys. I was inspired by an image in the Irish Times of Galway Bay with two hookers with orange and brown sails. We use dark blue to suggest shifting waters and skies. Hopefully we can reclaim blue (laughs).
How has your design been informed by your experience with inclusive theatre?
I think in every way it’s been embedded in my practice. I’ve been working in Kcat and inclusive theatre since I graduated. I can’t separate my professional practice from my inclusive practice. It’s about respecting the people who need to use design, to the people who’ll be watching it and just treating everyone in the process with respect. It also means not letting ego get in the way of things, which is challenging! We sometimes get so obsessed with making something brilliant, we forget the people who are involved. We’re not just serving a vision so much as an ethos and a philosophy. These factors can’t be separated.
What I Don’t Know About Autism today finishes its sold out in the Peacock. Tickets are also available on 11th – 13th Feb in The Everyman, Cork and 15th Feb Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray.