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Simon Hall: Master Builder & Artistic Director

You will have seen our AD, Simon Hall, in EVERY Quirk show since the very beginning. But what you might not know, is that he is also the man behind every single SET, too! We sat down with Simon to find out just how multi-talented the man is. Have a read below:

Hi Simon! How are you?

Fine and Dandy, thank you.

How is the build coming on? Are you nearly there?

I finished about an hour ago.

It’s quite unusual for an Artistic Director to be the pair of hands making the set - tell us more! How come Quirk works like this?

I’ve never thought of it as unusual as I've always done it but you're probably right! I have carpentry and joinery skills and I love making. I have been making theatre sets for over twenty five years, both for Quirk and other companies. I enjoy the excitement of turning something notional into reality. As I co-write the Quirk scripts I know what is going to happen, so there’s a thrill in seeing how the set might be used in the different scenes. Sometimes ideas come mid build, which got missed in the design phase, and can open up the opportunity for a bit of additional theatrical fun. I’m not sure how I’d cope handing such enjoyable work over to someone else.

So when did you first start building things?

My first project was a rabbit hutch which I built with my Dad. I made a tandem in my teens out of two bicycles and cycled it from Wolverhampton to North Devon. I used to make funny bikes out of whatever I could find in the dump. When I left home my first home was a wooden boat which I restored and sold to buy a bigger one. I ended up with steel sailing barge as an empty hull which I spent some years fitting out. I made a spiral staircase for it from an old grain shute. I worked on many boat interior fit outs and refits. As a result there is often a slightly nautical feel to the theatre sets I’ve had a hand in. 

A triumphant Simon, armed with double-drill

What has been your favourite set to make so far?

One of the most pleasing ones to look at was probably Ernie and the Sea of Ice.

Have there been any particularly tricky ones?!

Ernie and the Sea of Ice was tricky. The show was beautifully designed by Ruth Webb and was a collection of stylised icebergs. A lot of very tricky angles but it worked a treat.

20,000 leagues under the Sea got a bit hectic. I got completely carried away and overspent trying to create a submarine. My children were drafted in to help make the hundred of plaster rivets on the pretend bronze hull.

Do you work with a designer?

If the show is funded then we always work with a set designer. We are currently working with Fi Russel, another very talented local designer. It’s a treat to work with a designer. It removes a lot of the head scratching and decision making and to be handed scale drawings to make from is a luxury. If we are unfunded then Katie Villa and I design the set on bits of paper alongside writing the script. It’s always fun but the time available does get a bit squeezed and it’s so much easier if we can defer to someone with a specialised artistic eye.

Any top-tips for aspiring set builders out there?

Share your vision with people who may be able to come up with suggestions and ideas. Go and take to designers who are up and running. Look up theatre design on the net and explore what grabs your imagination and why. Good outside input can build on your own ideas in ways that you couldn’t see yourself. Having said that, only take the suggestions that fuel your vision. Buy a scale rule and some quick drying cardboard glue from a model shop, make little card models and leave them in view. More ideas will come when you’re thinking about something else. 

Finally, on a different note (I promised Katie I would ask you this) - can you talk a bit about how you have juggled being a parent and your work with Quirk?

When Quirk started, my son was a toddler. I had no childcare provision so on some days I would have to take him into rehearsals. I’d take in a few bouncy balls and cars that he could send rocketing across the room. My fellow actors were very accommodating, though nappy changing in the middle of a scene was far from ideal. I would often find myself acting away with him on my hip. Both my children have grown up with it. As they got older they’d take more of an interest in what was going on. We’d try scenes out on them to see if they laughed. They've turned into keen but generous critics. They’ve even featured in trailers and as extras on bits of film for various shows. 

Thanks Simon! Best of luck putting together the final few pieces of the puzzle for the show!

Thank you. I’m looking forward to seeing it all put together in the rehearsal room and seeing the performers playing on it next week. Woohoo!!

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