Alec Davis, a man with two hats, is interviewed by John Ghent
Q: How and why did you first become involved with Theatre?
A: I acted at school and college, but soon found I was more fascinated by the illusions created by scenery. When at college I started working in a local professional theatre in order to eke out my grant.
Q: Are your artistic talents a family trait?
A: Very much so. Both my parents were artists and designers. Their specialization was fashion, however, and they made me promise never to enter the rag trade!
Q: What is a Production Manager and what does he do?
A: The Production Manager coordinates the production and enables it to come together on time and within budget, hopefully! He must have a global view of the production and be aware of how all it’s various parts impact upon everything else. He has to control the budgets for the show and solve the technical challenges with the help of the technical crew. I prefer to see the job as enabling things to happen rather than saying that they cannot. Above all else, I think he should be prepared to seek help from other specialists and base his own judgement and decisions upon that advice.
Q: Which qualities are important for a Production Manager?
A: Organization is vital. He should have a schedule in mind which is flexible enough to change if necessary at any moment. He must be a leader who can inspire other people, and although he needs to be able to say “No”, I think it is important that he can suggest alternatives. As such I find lateral thinking is essential. He must NEVER be negative solely for the sake of being negative!
Q: Are these the same qualities that you feel a Set Designer should possess?
A: Yes, but the Set Designer needs to be inspirational on top of this. His role is to come up with the idea for the magic. The Production Manager enables the magic to happen! I learned to build and paint scenery before I ever designed any, and this gave me the practical knowledge to do both jobs. The designer in me looks for the artistry…the production manager makes it fit!
Q: What steps do you take when embarking on a new design?
A: I discuss the script with the director for initial ideas, then research using the internet, books and any other appropriate medium. This hopefully gives me several more leads to discuss, and from these will come the design. I prefer to draw sets rather than produce models – I find it much faster, and frequently draw my ideas while talking to the director. In this way I can explore many ideas simultaneously, then synthesize the design. Once that point is reached the process is almost mechanical.
Q: How involved do you become during the rehearsal period?
A: Not enough is probably the honest answer! I rely heavily upon the asm telling me of any needs or problems, but I should attend more rehearsals. Not only can you spot problems that way but you can also see how improvements may be made to the production.
Q: Taking account of both your roles, when is your busiest time on a production?
A: The period when we build the set on the stage, usually. This is generally the week prior to the opening night with LDS productions.
Q: Do you ever get bored?
A: No way! I usually have at least six productions in mind at any one time – frequently more. Even when I was in hospital I was designing and drawing – it kept me sane and enabled me to escape in spirit.
Q: Were you ever stage-struck and craved for the spotlight, or are you content with what you are doing?
A: Of course! I adored acting and performed a lot at school and college. However, I love what I do now. I learn so much through the research and find the illusion of theatre so enduring.
Q: How old were you when you first became interested in Theatre? Were you following a family tradition?
A: I was twelve or thirteen. I went to see Bernard Breslaw in “Of Mice and Men”. I was SO moved! I decided there and then I wanted to be part of the team that created such emotion. I wasn’t born in a trunk, but my grandfather was a scenic artist at Elstree Studios.
Q: How did you ‘arrive’ at the Little Theatre?
A: I think I wormed my way in! I started as a freelance designer.
Q: How encouraging would you be to a young person wishing to follow in your footsteps?
A: Very! It is hard work, and the hours can be horrendous, but there is so much fun and friendship to be had. Theatre-folk are a unique breed.
Q: What is the most difficult thing you have ever had to achieve as part of your job?
A: Staying awake for three days and nights! We were producing two shows simultaneously in Plymouth and I worked on the studio production of Dracula each day and the main-house production of Cinderella all night. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t do it now, but I was a lot younger then.
Q: What is your worst experience in the theatre?
A: Probably that one! No…the worst was last year, at a point when everything was about to become so busy for me I would have no spare time at all for several months I was involved in a very serious car crash and found I had all the spare time in the world. I thought I might never work again. That was the most terrifying time.
Q: What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you in the theatre?
A: That is VERY difficult! I find so much to laugh at every day in this crazy profession! However…once when I was building scenery in Oxford…
A lorry arrived one Sunday afternoon with the set for “Outside Edge”, and the driver told me it was to be destroyed. The following day the producer phoned to find out what state the set was in.
“Black and charred”, I said.
“WHAT?! It goes out next weekend!”
“No…you’re wrong there…” I replied…
They had a new set built…