APATA – The Australian Performing Arts Teachers Association

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Posted by Team APATA | Mar 11, 2021

Sometimes all you need is that one piece of golden advice to keep you pushing forward. That advice can get you out of your comfort zone, make you see things from a different perspective and empower you to never give up.

Conversations had between friends and colleagues can open a door you may have assumed was closed.

Meet Frances Story (nee Hannaway) Senior Set Designer for Iceworks Design in Brisbane and dance enthusiast.

Frances’ love of ballet found some competition when she discovered contemporary dance with Claire Marshall at Mill St Studios.  It was Claire who could see the spark in Frances during Mill St’s Test Pressing Youth Program. A whole stagecraft experience from the design elements to the performance. Majoring in Interior Design at QUT, Frances spent the next few years working a 9-5 and teaching dance. Where to from here?

Claire saw something in Frances though and asked her to manage an entire Mill St Production – FLAUNT, debuting at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane’s Powerhouse. That undertaking put Frances on an immersive learning curve that only fuelled the flame.

A conversation with her teachers at the end of a short set and costume deign course at NIDA delivered a simple snippet of wisdom that would imbue itself on Frances’ future. They said get as much practical experience that you possibly can, in all the areas that you needed to communicate. That was the best advice I had received up to that point. I then diversified and pursued other avenues in theatre that connect with set design so that I could understand all of the different roles that I need to talk to as a set designer.” 

Becoming a theatre mechanist at Brisbane Powerhouse gave Frances ample experience in the inner workings of theatre performance.

She then toured with Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney’s House of Mirrors as the Construction and Build Manager running the local crews in each location as the installation became a solid major festival drawcard both nationally and overseas.

So when did Iceworks Design come into the picture? Well one conversation with a friend, led to another conversation with Iceworks Design’s Owner and Director Jason and Creative Director Gavin. Frances was put on in the workshop as Trade Assistant. Two and a half years later in yet another casual convo Frances mentioned how much she enjoyed the work, that Iceworks was where she wanted to be, and the rest, well, you can guess the rest.

“My goal has always been design…I love that so much. I just needed some practical runs on the board with understanding how sets are built and understanding how they’re used. I already had the understanding as a performer, on the performance side of things, but understanding how they’re used backstage and the function of how they’re used in a theatre right through to knowledge of how they’re built as well. It allows you to be a better designer. If you are armed with that intel you can use it to your advantage in your design rather than getting all the way through the design process and then finding out that its not actually practically possible due to budget, time or touring etc.”

What are the first things you need to know when you are designing a set?

  1. Get a really clear brief. What does the director envisage for the production?
  2. Ascertain as much as you can about a project – “At IWD we quote our design at the start and allocate design hours working to a budget, which is critical. We can design a $5K or a $500K set but it all depends on what the client has to spend. As designers we have to design to a budget because it can be detrimental to the project as a whole if we don’t. We want to build that relationship with our client, we want the best outcome for them and part of that outcome is maintaining their budget!”
@iceworksdesign: With The Emerging Designers program coming to a close Iceworks arranged a skype meeting with the incredible Tracy Grant Lord. Opening up conversation between the Emerging and the Experienced, it was an opportunity for The EDs to gain insight and ask questions from an industry legend whom we all love working with!

At Iceworks Frances runs the gamut from corporate theatre and brand experiences to television, opera, ballet and theatre having recently designed the sets and costumes for ‘Friends the Musical Parody’ currently touring Australia. In an industry that requires the design tap to turn on and off between projects she still manages to limber up for her first passion- a ballet class – to disconnect and mentally unwind. Finding things to give herself a break and relax is all important.

Frances recalls a conversation with a lecturer while studying interior design at QUT. “He asked me what do I do outside of uni hours? I said, I dance…and he said, ‘Don’t give it up! Your passions, your interests. Those are the things that will differentiate yourself as a designer…and lo and behold I am now a set designer.”

Frances and the Iceworks team ensure they keep the real conversations going with the next gen with the Emerging Designers Program. Mentoring the successful program applicants in a production design project. The project focuses on providing the group with experience across the entire scope of commercial production design. From initial brief, concept work ups, research and build methodologies through to construction plans, pricing and presentation. “If you present with an attitude to learn as well as contribute it will make the difference and it will open the doors that people are willing to open for you.”

“What are those things that make you say, this is it? If I could do this for the rest of my life, I want to be involved in this. Start talking about it with people, let everyone know. Everything that has happened to me has come from a conversation.” Boom. You’ve just been Franned!!

Find our conversation with Frances here: Frances’s PODCAST

Find Frances at Iceworks Design


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