Welsh National Opera announce the first winner of their opera Design Challenge

 10 February 2017

As part of the opening night of Welsh National Opera’s 2017 touring production of Madam Butterfly on Friday 10 February, Katie Alcock from the University of South Wales was announced as the first winner of the new WNO Design Challenge

Winner Katie Alcock, with the Welsh National Opera Design Challenge judging panel.
Winner Katie Alcock, with the Welsh National Opera Design Challenge judging panel.

The Challenge

In the autumn of 2016 Welsh National Opera (WNO) launched their first theatre design challenge to uncover new talent in stage design. WNO Technical Director, Jan Michaelis launched the Challenge with the Youth and Community team to connect with future national design talent.

Working with the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural further and high education network, the partnership targeted non-theatre design colleges and universities, opening up new possibilities with illustration, fine art, and production arts students.

Matt Morgan, Lecturer in Illustration at the University of South Wales said “Working with Creative & Cultural Skills and the WNO has been a great experience and a fantastic opportunity for our students."

The panel were hugely impressed by the standard of the work submitted

"The Illustration course aims to give our students relevant, industry-facing briefs that help engage the students with creative professionals and clients."

The WNO live brief challenged students to conceive a touring set for their upcoming production of Madam Butterfly. Broken into two parts, initially over 50 students pitched their concept for the set through sharing a portfolio to the Artistic team of the opera company.

They were asked to consider the construction constraints of touring. From entries across the UK, the three finalists were given the opportunity to realise their designs into a professional model box provided by WNO.

Choosing a winner

The finalists were then invited to the Wales Millennium Centre on 6 February to pitch their designs live to a panel including Jan Michaelis, David Pountney (Artistic Director) and Ed Wilson (General Manager of Cardiff Theatrical Services) demonstrating a coherent artistic concept taken from one of the director’s visions written by the Company.

The judging balanced the technical execution of the opera’s practical opportunities within the score and text, and an interpretation of how a theatre environment can be stretched.

The WNO Design Challenge has allowed students to authentically collaborate 

Jan Michaelis, Technical Director of WNO said “The panel were hugely impressed by the standard of the work submitted."

"It was obvious that a lot of time and thought had gone into the portfolios of the applicants and the models of the three finalists."

"We are looking forward to continuing the challenge over the next years and engaging with future talent.” 

As part of the opening night of WNO’s Madam Butterfly, Katie Alcock (University of South Wales) was announced as the winner of the inaugural Design Challenge, alongside an exhibition of all the finalists’ work.

Looking to the future

Pauline Tambling CBE, CEO of Creative & Cultural Skills said “Live briefs put young talent in front of their future employers. The WNO Design Challenge has allowed students to authentically collaborate and start building a network with one of the country’s leading opera companies’."

"As our research has shown, as self-employment, globalisation, and the collaborative economy grows, we strive to build projects to reflect training for our sector’s training needs”. 

With the aspiration of finding talented new designers in Opera, the Design Challenge has taken students through the process of concept to model box. The opera would be touring six venues across England and Wales, with the added challenge of adapting its set for the smallest venues on tour.

The finalists were Corben Jones (Gateshead College), Rory Hopkins (University of South Wales) and Katie Alcock (University of South Wales).

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