Mathias Wardeck - Set Design

The Hamburg Express. Local news for an international community. | Interview with an unsung hero | 09/05/2010

Interview with an unsung hero

Written by Patrick Tästensen, editor in chief
Sunday, 07 June 2009

Mathias Wardeck creates sets for The English Theatre of Hamburg . The " Londoner , " who originally comes from Hamburg , has been designing sets for Hamburg's professional English theatre for years now. THE HAMBURG EXPRESS interviewed this unsung hero of local theatre on the occasion of the English Theatre's latest play , Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks .

THE : Compliments on the set you created for Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. Once again we are presented with a crisp and engaging set that fits perfectly with the play. Was it difficult to create?

MW: Thank you very much . The challenge on this one was to get the feeling of an apartment in Florida with a large picture window that creates a fantastic backdrop and gives us the opportunity to do different lighting effects for each scene - for example, a sunlit blue sky and shimmering sea or a vibrant orange sunset by the end of a scene. We needed a lot of space on stage for the dancing , and we had to create the effects behind the window in a relatively small space. A lot of new lighting equipment had to be bought to make that possible. The flooring was another challenge. We had to get the right surface for dancing , and we had to crawl under the stage to enforce the supports in order to get rid of all the squeaks !

THE : Your profession is fairly uncommon. How did you arrive at doing set design ? 

MW:  Originally, I trained in engineering and hydraulics and started working for big opera houses in Berlin and Hamburg - later for musicals in Hamburg and London .  For example, I was involved in the setup of Phantom of the Opera. I always loved art and painting and had the dream of designing my own sets one day. That ’s why I decided to get another degree in Theatre Design in London .

THE : And how did you arrive at the English Theatre ?

MW: I worked in London for a while , and one day I read an advert in the paper that the English Theatre of Hamburg was looking for a set designer. I knew Hamburg well because I lived here before and I spoke German (which is a great benefit when you try to find props and materials) , so I applied for the job and got it. That was the start of a long working relationship. I have created about 60 sets for them so far.

THE : Which other theatres do you create sets for?

MW: I have designed for several theatres in the UK - for example the Young Vic Theatre , Greenwich Playhouse or the New Players Theatre in London . Unfortunately, funding for the arts in England is very low. Most theatres here in Germany are subsidized by the state and that helps a lot. 

THE : Set design – to you , is it an art or a craft?

MW: Set design has the advantage of being a cross - disciplinary art form . You have to be a bit of a painter, a sculptor , an architect , an engineer and a craftsperson . That ’s the beauty and attraction for me . But like many art jobs , its about 10 percent creativity and 90 percent hard work and organization .

THE: In your view, can a set make or break a theatre performance – and why ?

MW: Yes , it can . Since the theatre is a fairly small enterprise , you have artistic control from the beginning to the end . The directors allow me a great deal of freedom . You have a vision when you read the script , and you see it finished on stage the first night of performance . I am closely involved with all the stages in between ; that is a luxury you don ’t always have in a bigger theatre. Additionally , we have very good facilities for a relatively small theatre ; we build all the sets in house .

THE: Tell us about the set that you are most proud of?

MW: Usually, it is the last set that I have done . Every performance brings different challenges in the way it is staged , what the script demands , the space, the number of actors, and that ’s what makes this job fulfilling and exciting . When the creative team works together and ends up with a good quality and innovative production , there is really nothing better. But when I look back, it ’s usually the ones that are different , where I tried a new approach and experimented with different structural or visual concepts . For example April in Paris and Sylvia come to mind . When everything actually works out in the end , it ’s a big reward .

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