Interview: Designer Sara Perks Talks “Footloose” (Touring)

March 2022

Following two critically acclaimed tours and huge popular demand, “Footloose The Musical” is back and better than ever. Touring the UK until August, this brand-new production of “Footloose” is designed by Sara Perks who has designed in the region of 250 productions. Sara has been nominated for Broadway World Awards, a Whats On Stage Award and an Offies Award. She holds an Edinburgh Fringe First; The John Elvery Theatre Design Award and a Vision Design (Costume) Award from the BBC. Her work at York Theatre Royal includes last summer’s production of “Around the World in 80 Days”, and she designed for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre season in York. Here, Sara chats about the life of a Theatre Designer and her inspiration for the “Footloose” UK Tour.

Can you tell us a little bit about life as a theatre designer – what made you go into this field and who or what were your inspirations?

At the moment it’s very busy but it tends to be a bit ‘feast or famine’.  Currently I’m working on four shows which are all at different stages in the process.  For me Covid has meant that all my work suddenly got bunched up together which makes for a lot of plate spinning and juggling of schedules.

My inspirations were and still are the ability to create a live experience that an audience is able to experience together and enjoy together in the same room.  To be connected to something visceral that is happening in front of them – nothing will ever replace that.

You have designed both the costumes and the set for this brand-new production. What is the process of making this happen?

A designer’s process follows a set of deadlines really.  I discuss the needs and wants of the production with producers and the director initially, then filtering in what the choreographer, musical director and lighting designer would like to achieve. 

All of this along with my own creative reaction to the piece results in a preliminary design – a ‘white-card’ model box which is a scale model of the proposed design at 1:25, with technical drawings. This is then commented upon by the creative team and producers and roughly costed, because of course there is a budget attached to every production that needs to be considered as well. I would then take the design and model to the next stage – a final. This would be in full colour with all the chosen finishes and renders. This is then costed and signed off precisely.

An independent scenic workshop is selected on tender to build. From that point I work between them, the production manager, the rest of the creative team and rehearsals to try to ensure everything is on track, and make sure information and alterations proceeds as required.

And that is just the set.  What about costumes?

Amongst this whole process (which can span over years or just weeks depending on the size of project) I’m busy designing costume. There are similar deadlines, but these tend to be a bit more fluid especially if it is a show that is more based on sourcing vintage items to buy, rather than having a lot of costumes made.

Footloose being set in the 1980s was almost all vintage sourcing so I worked very closely with a costume supervisor, my right hand really when it comes to costume, to make that happen.  We shop, buy online, fit and alter, adapt and repurpose all through the rehearsal process and well into the technical rehearsals in order to create the right looks.

It’s a big cast – how many costumes were sourced and created?

After we got past 80+ we stopped counting!

Can you tell us about what audience expect to see in terms of design and what helped to influence this.  Can we expect a real 80’s vibe?

When we started the process (over 2 years ago – a small thing called a pandemic got in the way!) the restyling 80s retro look was very in vogue. We looked at shows like Stranger Things and 2 years later – Sex Education, in the way that they are clearly 80s but restyled with a modern eye, and not completely slavish to period. It was all about looking cool and right for character.

However I’m old enough to the remember the film when it came out and was the same age as the characters in the 80s so my own experience went to some of the costume and hair inspiration!

In regard to the set the inspiration for it really is the classic iron rivetted bridges that you find all over America spanning rivers and gorges. Like the Potanwey bridge that is mentioned by Ariel in relation to her brother. The Williamsburg bridge in New York is another example. The bridge and town limits are central to the plot of the show and why the town of Bomont is under restrictions on socialising, so it seemed a good metaphor to use as a frame for the whole concept.

Do you have a favourite costume in the show?

I love Wendy-Jo’s yellow jumpsuit; and there are several great classic 80s prom dresses in purple; green and cerise, but I think the Rev’s white sequin jacket for the mega mix would have to be the favourite. And Darren Day wears it so well!

Many might say ‘the gold pants’ (and those who see the show will know why!)  Tell us a bit about the gold pants! Although most of the design is new they’ve been revived from previous productions is that right?

These are a bit of a ‘surprise’ in the show – won’t give it away completely – but they always go down a storm with audiences so we decided to keep it in for this new production.  For me it’s the highlight of the show!

Finally, what would be your top tip for audience members who might come along dressed up for the show – how do you create the perfect ‘Footloose’ outfit?

It’s not just a pair of legwarmers or neon socks. You could choose to go full ‘cowboy’ and join in with some line dancing at the ‘bbq’ at the start of the 2nd half; or grab a taffeta block colour party dress or ra-ra skirt for the prom. If you want a more tailored look a velvet or sequin tux with jeans would fit right in as well.

So there you have it! Based on the 1980s screen sensation which took the world by storm, “Footloose The Musical” sizzles with spirit, fun and the best in UK musical talent. With cutting edge modern choreography, you’ll enjoy classic 80s hits including “Holding Out for a Hero”, “Almost Paradise”, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” and of course the unforgettable title track “Footloose”.

Footloose plays York Theatre Royal from 28 March to 2 April and you can find your tickets here.

Interview courtesy of Steve Pratt.

 

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