Jennifer Browne, Freelance set designer & dresser, costume designer and technician working in theatre. Also, working in television as a set dresser. Graduated in BA Theatre Arts (Technical Theatre Arts), Middlesex University, 2016.
I work freelance, specialising in set design and costume design for theatre. I also work as a technician during theatre shows. Working on set design, I create an original concept and models for the set, then I build the real thing and paint them. Once the set’s in place, we ‘tech it’ with lights and sound.
Working as a technician, I operate lights and sound for theatre shows. I also work with lighting rigs, and I’m involved in stage management.
I also work as a set dresser for the QVC television channel. It’s my job to get in all the sets for specific shows, dress the set to the brands tastes and work with the lighting team. We also have our own workshop, where I can work overtime, building and painting sets.
You’ll also find my work in ‘Fringe Theatre’: emerging theatre companies, low-budget companies and other small spaces around London. You might have seen my work at The Lost Theatre in Stockwell, the Avenue Q National Tour, Sadlers Wells Theatre or the Theatre Royal Drury Lane production of Charlie and the Chocolate factory.
My freelance work is my dream. I don’t even think of it as work, because I just love designing and being in live television studios or theatre. It’s a fast-paced environment where anything could happen and something could go wrong at any moment, which keeps me on my toes and ensures I do my job well! I’m a hands-on, practical person and I absolutely thrive in this environment. I’ve always been a creative person, so to be paid for being creative and making beautiful sets and spaces, really makes the long hours and sleepless nights worth it! The comments and feedback I receive from people that like my work, really spurs me on.
I’m very proud of the CV, jobs and opportunities I’ve made for myself since graduating from Middlesex University in August 2016. It’s not all been easy – I still have to work hard and put myself out there and find opportunities – but I’ve been very fortunate to gain the experience I have.
My course – BA Theatre Arts (Technical Theatre Arts)- was very practical and prepared me for the reality of the theatre world. The range of modules we were offered was fantastic, and it also enabled each student to tailor the course for themselves. For me as a designer I was able to take a specific design route, whereas the actors could instead take the performance pathway. However, if you fancied a bit of both, you could do that too!
When I was at Middlesex University, lecturers and technicians on my course had all worked professionally and were able to really offer great advice based on their experience of working in theatre. They were also very good at emailing us with job opportunities. The lecturers were always very passionate about theatre and all wanted us to strive and succeed. The facilities we had were top-notch too.
I jumped at the opportunity to do a placement in my third year, knowing that ‘real-world’ experience is important in my chosen industry. The placement module only required 100 hours of work experience, but I ended up doing a lot more as my employer asked me to come back and do more shows! I did my placement at the Chickenshed Theatre company for their Christmas show and I’ve worked with them again, since then.
Completing a work placement was the best thing I’ve ever done, I gained industry contacts and gained experience doing what I love best. I learnt so many painting techniques, and about how theatre works. I also got experience in practical things such as doing tax returns, how fee’s work for a freelancer and when to say ‘no’! This really helped me to make a good start as a freelancer.
I’ve always wanted a career in theatre, but to make a living you have to gain a lot of ‘hands-on’ experience, which is why I pushed myself to work in theatre throughout my third year at university. To start with, there’s a lot of working for little-or-no pay (so for me it was best to get this out of the way while I studied). But by making connections and gaining contacts, opportunities gradually started finding their way to me. My advice to anyone who wants to start a career in theatre or television is ‘throw yourself out there’, don’t just expect opportunities to come to you. Be pro-active about sending off your CV and make lots of enquiries and build your network of contacts. Above all, if your course offers a placement I highly recommend that you do it! Completing a work placement put me ahead of other graduates and gave me an advantage in quickly finding paid work after graduating.
Jennifer Browne, Freelance set designer & dresser, costume designer and technician working in theatre. Also, working in television as a set dresser.
(Interview by Matt Lewis, MDXWorks On-Campus / Online, Middlesex University)
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