A Christmas Carol Mark Dawson

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Theatre Designer Fi Russell appointed as Lecturer for Costume Production at Arts University Plymouth

Fi, who has over 13 years experience, has worked on over a hundred professional productions, with skills in both set and costume design

Theatre designer Fi Russell has been appointed as a Lecturer on BA (Hons) Costume Production at Arts University Plymouth. Fi joins the university after over 13 years of experience as a theatre designer, specialising in both set and costume design. Working across the spectrum of theatre practice, Fi has designed large and small productions, creative learning projects, tours, site-specific theatre and event design, with skills in AutoCAD software, prop making and scenic painting.

Fi Russell high res 7

Fi Russell

“I have been primarily a professional theatre designer for the last 13 years, and I still continue my practice on the days I’m not teaching. A theatre designer designs the set and costume for theatrical productions, though like many freelance professionals, my work often spills over into related fields. I’ve designed for film and worked as a wardrobe supervisor, costume maker and a stage manager, to name a few! Not only do I love the day to day variety of being a theatre designer but I get to design across such a wide range of performance styles and venues. From working in ballet to opera, working with London Children's Ballet choreographed by Samantha Raine and Erico Montes to The Merry Opera Company directed by Kit Hesketh Harvey. Across a wide spectrum of periods one day designing 18th century for School for Scandal at The Park to guiding Michael Billington through the intricacy of modern fashion for his production of Pinter's 'A Celebration', In such wonderful locations such as 'Pope Jone' in St James' Picadilly to 'Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers at 'The Bristol Old Vic' which was a personal ambition of mine after first seeing a School for Scandal there when I was 15 and falling in love with costume design and the venue in one magic evening.”

A Christmas Carol Mark Dawson

A Christmas Carol - Mark Dawson

“I initially trained in scenography, which is a fancy word for the design of space for an audience, including set and costume design, at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, where I was taught by two amazing practitioners who were both active in their fields as well as teaching; Simon Banham, the fantastic resident designer at the Quarantine Theatre Company and Richard Downing of U-Man Zoo. It was so inspiring to be taught by people who were actually ‘practising what they preach’, it gave us real insight into the industry and its current practices as well as gave us opportunities to assist on productions or observe the processes first hand.”

Fi then went on to study a postgraduate diploma in Theatre Design at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), where Fi assisted professional designers as well as designing her own productions.

“Teaching feels like it has sort of brilliantly snuck up on me. During my first eight years in the industry, I frequently found work designing for theatre school productions in London. When working in such educational establishments, as well as designing sets and costumes, there’s also an element of mentoring and teaching. Depending on the school, the teaching element varies, from mentoring aspiring designers to teaching workshops on key design skills, and from supervising technical theatre students to guiding acting students through the costume fitting process. Whatever it was, I loved it, it was so fulfilling.”

Jerusalem Robin Savage

Jerusalem - Robin Savage

Through a recommendation from another director at another institution, Fi ended up as resident set designer for Eton College from 2015 to 2017.

“I ended up being the resident set designer for Eton College for two years. Eton College has three theatres and at the time, did over 12 shows a year. As well as designing the sets for all the productions, I was responsible for teaching the students stage management and scenic painting. It consolidated my sneaking realisation that I would like to explore teaching further, it was so rewarding to see students find their creative potential.”

After working at Eton College, Fi moved to the South West to settle down with her Devonian partner and in her spare time enjoys going to the theatre and gigs, taking her spaniel on long walks, rowing and taking advantage of the local sea swimming spots.

Eisteddford photo Robert Workman

Eisteddford - Robert Workman

“Not knowing the local scene, I was initially worried about finding work, but ended up designing for regional theatre companies such as La Navet Bete, Scratchworks and Quirk. I also continued to work in educational settings, designing productions for Marjon and mentoring their students while also running design workshops for TR2, Theatre Alibi and Doorstep Arts. I was drawn to working at Arts University Plymouth when I met the costume students through a show I was designing at Marjon. I was blown away by their enthusiasm, the amazing resources they had access to and their knowledge. They were brilliant advocates for the course, so when I saw the job advertised at Arts University Plymouth, it felt like the natural step to take.”

“I love being a theatre and costume designer because I get to be incredibly creative while also working as a part of an amazing team. A theatre designer works with a director and other creatives such as lighting designers and choreographers to come up with the visual world for a production. I thrive on creative conversations and collective effort while working towards a shared goal. An effective design has to communicate to an audience the world of the play, so everything I do has to be inspired by the text. It’s so satisfying getting to know a play and its characters and then building designs around this structure. No day is the same, one day I can be buried in books for research, the next I’m sketching costumes, or I’m whizzing elements through a sewing machine or adding decoration to final makes. This is all before I spend a magical week in a dark theatre as everything weaves together before the audience gets to enjoy it.”

School For Scandal Nobby Clark

School For Scandal - Nobby Clark

Marie Dunaway, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader of BA (Hons) Costume Production said, “I am so thrilled that Fi has joined BA (Hons) Costume Production at Arts University Plymouth. Her experience will only continue to develop and strengthen the costume design element of the course, especially when it comes to her skills in digital drawing and AutoCAD software. Along with her professional contacts, students will really benefit from having Fi on the Costume team."

Costume Production students frequently collaborate with other students from across the creative community at Arts University Plymouth. Working alongside BA (Hons) Commercial Photography, BA (Hons) Animation & Games and BA (Hons) Film & Screen Arts students allows for interdisciplinary opportunities to be explored in an environment where all students are pursuing creative practices. If you’re interested in what it’s like to be involved in a creative community, or would like to know more about BA (Hons) Costume Production, visit www.aup.ac.uk or you can attend the next on campus Open Day on Saturday 26 November 2022.