Production Designer & Alumni Lee Ward creates Santa’s Grotto for Newcastle’s Grainger Market.
Lee Ward, Production designer and recent graduate of our BA (Hons) Production Design degree has gone from strength to strength since leaving The Northern School of Art this year. From wowing visitors at our final year show with his full scale set entitled “The Billion Dollar Nightmare” a set design for the HQ of “a group of anti-capitalist drag queen activists trained in espionage, as they fight for liberation for all” to working on multiple stage productions, making a full scale dungeon and most recently working with Newcastle council to create a Santa’s Grotto to celebrate the cities Grainger Market.
We spoke to Lee about working on these versatile projects and life after graduating, if you want to gain some insight into what it’s like starting out as a young production designer read on to find out more:
Tell us about building a Santas grotto of Newcastle council, how did you get involved and what are your ideas/ inspirations for the set?
After constructing the set for Haddock and Chips, the producer of the play, Carole Wears put me in contact with Craig Wilde of Niltoni ltd recommending I’d be good for the project. Craig has been working on marketing with Grainger Market Via Grainger Delivery as part of the city’s plan to revitalize the now 186 year old Market in Newcastle City Centre.
I really wanted the grotto to have a large impact to make the most of the limited space inside the unit of the market. So I created a contrast by making the outside space a cold winters evening in the north pole. The Northern Lights projected on the walls and ceiling, everything covered in snow with a limited colour palette. The inside being a welcoming, warm and cosy space with traditional style Christmas decorations in every corner. Doing this adds to the sense of adventure to it.
Tell us about your work on theatre production Haddock & Chips?
I was hired to bring the designs of production Designer Louis Price to life for the play and due to the short turn aournd time I reached out to Norman Austick at The Northern School of Art for advice. Working remotely with the Stage Manager and designer I constructed the set in the church street university workshop as construction manager, with Mark Robinson the legendary workshop technician and enlisting the help of some kind and eager students along the way. Within just under 2 weeks we managed to create a fancy looking fish & chip shop that got packed into a van and sent off to be put up in the first theatre of the tour!
You worked on a dungeon for Geek Retreat, tell us about it and how to got involved in the project?
Geek Retreat Middlesbrough is a gaming café where people can hangout with friends and play some games with food & drinks. From casual free to play board games available to anyone to trading card games such as Magic The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh to Warhammer and Dungeons $ dragons, the space is used by lots of different communities.
I’ve worked along side the owners of the shop from the beginning as we are on a mission to create new exciting ways to enhance player experience by adding an extra layer of physicality to fully immerse players in the games they play. The first step in this was the dungeon room named ‘The M.A.D.S.T.A.R’ which I built for them in the summer of 2020. It’s a room predominantly designed to facilitate Dungeons and Dragons games, creating an atmospheric setting for the players to get into their role playing characters they create. The room comes with its own back story and characters which myself and the GR team developed during the design and construction phases. We are now currently in the next phase of this mission as we are taking the immersive game playing into the world of interactive theatre. The first interactive theatre event on Halloween 2021 was a success in which I was lead designer of, recruiting the help of current Production Design student Kerry O’connor and fellow graduate Caitlin Mills.
Tell us about what you are doing now in your creative field?
I’ve just been hired as the production designer for an adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Gaddas and Clark Productions which will be going on a national tour from February – April.
I managed to get my first professional foot in the door with working in the music industry being a runner on a BBC shoot for Later: with Jools Holland In October. We shot a live performance with Sam Fender at Tynemouth’s Watch House Museum. Hoping to eventually work in the art department for music videos as it’s something I’ve aimed for before I even started my degree.
Moving forward into the new year there’s a few projects in the pipeline that I’m excited to be part of and I’m feeling blessed to be further expanding my portfolio as a Production Designer / Art Department Assistant / Art Director so soon after graduating.
How was The Northern School of Art special for you?
Being around so much creativity while working in the studios really makes it special. it fuels your creative side being around people you can bounce ideas off and see what they’re getting up to. Its a healthy communal way of pushing yourself to produce work you and your peers can be proud of. The small class sizes makes for a more intimate learning experience. If you allow it, you can get really close to not just the academic staff but everyone. Shout out to the queens working in the Art Café; Dot Lesley and Joe!
Any advice for future creatives?
Make the most of your time studying because you’ll blink and its over; experiment, take risks, make mistakes and most importantly, give people a good reasons to remember you. It might just get you where you want to be.
Make sure you stay up to date with Lee’s work by heading to instagram and following @itshollowproductions
If you are interested in making the back drops for theatre, tv and film productions come alive find out more about our established BA (Hons) Production Design for Stage & Screen