Meet Maree Kearns our MFA Course Director Stage Design (Set, Costume, Lighting)

Maree Kearns, Course Director MFA Stage Design (Set, Costume, Lighting) is a renowned stage designer, primarily in set design.

She is a multi-award winning artist, recognised for her work on theatre, dance, opera and musicals. She leads our MFA progamme and continues to work professionally at the same time. You can see more at her website here.

Maree spoke to us about her background and the MFA programme.

Tell us a bit about you and your background?

I have been working in theatre for nearly 30 years, I studied design and then stagecraft in college and went to work at the Abbey Theatre very early in my career. I was an Assistant Stage Manager and prop maker and then a design assistant. I was lucky enough to be mentored and influenced by some of Ireland’s most iconic stage designers, most notably Monica Frawley and Joe Vanek throughout my career. I have been a freelance set and costume designer for 20 years, working in theatre, dance, opera, musical theatre and occasionally in television and film.

What is the work of a stage designer?

The stage designer, in collaboration with the rest of the creative team, dreams up what the world of the production looks like and brings it into being for others to create and build upon. For me, it is the ultimate creative challenge on which the rest of a production hinges. There are many skills that go into being a successful designer including script analysis, drawing, researching, model making, technical knowledge, but most of all, people skills and collaboration.

What do you need to get started in stage design?

Once you’ve got your practical skills down, passion for the project, a great work ethic and a strong collaborative instinct are the building blocks of a career in stage design.

A great way to fast forward your career is to do a year-long MFA like ours at The Lir Academy where you are building industry connections alongside developing your design skills. It has really proved to help graduates to get a foothold in the industry and develop their career prospects.

What is good stage design?

The physical elements of good stage design shift and change depending on the project. Design should support the action of the performance, challenge and surprise the audience and manage to bring the audience on a beautifully complete, visual journey.

What undergrad do you need to have for the MFA?

We get applications from a wide variety of undergrad backgrounds including Theatre, Architecture, Technical Theatre, Fashion design, Fine Art, Interior Design to name a few. We do look for an interest and passion for theatre alongside academic qualifications.

What sort of portfolio do you need to apply?

Your portfolio should predominantly display your interest in theatre in whatever design discipline you are applying for. You don’t necessarily need to have made lots of shows, but demonstrate through your portfolio, your passion for set, costume, or lighting. We do not need to see endless projects that have nothing to do with the stage. Theatre design project work you have done in your undergrad or self-directed work is great to see, it gives us a sense of your potential.

What do you learn to do on the course?

All the tools you need to work as a set, costume or lighting designer are covered throughout the year. Each year is crafted to the meet the needs of the cohort of students we have so the skills focus can change slightly year on year. We cover the technical and design skills required for set, costume, and lighting design, for example: model making, drawing, scenic art, programming, costume making, presentation skills etc. We work on a variety of plays, operas, and devised performances to apply design skills and thinking to a wide variety of possibilities. We put great emphasis on collaboration throughout all our design disciplines, knowing that one does not exist without the other.

What are the career prospects afterwards?

Designing for sets, lighting and costumes is a busy and competitive industry. There is a lot of work out there for those who make connections and work hard. Most of our graduates are working in their chosen field, whether that is in theatre, film/TV or education.

Will the MFA give you work experience?

Yes, there are two work experience opportunities during the year. The first is on an internal Lir Academy show with a professional designer and the second is towards the end of the programme where the student will be matched to a professional designer for work experience on a production for Dublin Theatre Festival.

You will also work as the lead designer on Gradfest - the end-of-year festival of shows directed, produced, designed, creased and performed by Lir students.

What gives you great joy from working as the Course Director?

The one-year MFA in Stage Design is intense and challenging. My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing students challenge themselves, get out of their comfort zone and surprise themselves at how good they can be. Seeing designers out in the industry, working hard, and creating great work makes me very proud of what The Lir Academy has helped them achieve.

See more on our graduates at this link here.

Read about our other course tutors here.