INTERPLAY INTRODUCES… Pedro Sánchez Cervera
In our very first issue we want you to meet Pedro. You’ve probably stumbled over his amazing watercolour collages on our socials already. Pedro has been busy developing the design for our upcoming show This Land – The Story of Woody Guthrie and he will also lend us his creative skills for the multi-sensory adventure My Life with the Wave. With him being such a positive force, it’s about time to catch up with Pedro and talk about his inspirations, how his architectural background helped him shape his artistic approach and what he’s learnt from the current pandemic.
Hi Pedro, let’s start with a quick introduction. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I’m a performance designer, or scenographer, which means that I have to make decisions about the design and visual aspects of a performance event. I started to consider theatre design as a professional career while studying architecture in Seville, in the south of Spain. It was during my second year that I joined the theatre group of the School of Architecture, Vaujaus Theatre, and there I did a little acting and set construction.
Then five years ago, I came to Leeds to work as an architect but was still really interested in theatre. So I started volunteering with local theatre companies like Riptide or Red Ladder. I finally quit my job and got a Masters in Performance Design at the University of Leeds.
You are an architect as well as a scenographer. How is your architectural background reflected in your theatre work?
I would say it’s reflected in the way I conceive the space and the materiality of a show.
I think that when I’m designing I can do it in the same terms as architecture. For example, its context: In the same way a building is not alone in the universe, a play is immersed in the world we live in. And there is a lot to think about. Not just the obvious things like the text, the author or the time it was written, but other things related to our present times. This can be the message you want to communicate or the reason you are doing the performance. Of course, all these questions and answers need to be discussed with the director and crew, but ultimately, you know they will have an impact on the design.
I tend to draw a lot. First I sketch ideas, trying to imagine in my head how the space works, how the actors would relate to the scenography and how the audience would feel. As in an architecture project, the conceptual stage is very creative and free. But then I need to translate it into materials, dimensions and technical solutions. And this involves numerous skills for which architecture can be very useful.
“In the same way a building is not alone in the universe, a play is immersed in the world we live in.”
What was the most challenging project you’ve worked on so far and why?
One of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on was “A Digital Odyssey”, for the Leeds Digital Festival. Guided by an app on their phones, the audience was invited on a walking tour through the city of Leeds. The aim was to create an acute awareness of the spaces that define the city, making people notice things like the cracks of a wall or the fence that delimits a park. Succeeding in that purpose, without being physically there and only through the app, wasn’t easy, and that is why I had to continuously put myself in the shoes of the viewer and do numerous tests.
What lessons have you learnt from having to adapt your approach during the pandemic?
There are many things that the pandemic has changed that will likely stay the same for some time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just that we will have to adjust a bit. These are definitely challenging times and, again, I think architecture has a lot to say. We were already following a lot of health and safety regulations for the spaces we use. Now we must face these problems and limitations, be hyper-creative and find new spatial solutions so that people can experience theatre in a safer environment. Perhaps this situation lays the foundation for new forms of theatre that we didn’t think of before.
“Perhaps this situation lays the foundation for new forms of theatre that we didn’t think of before.”
Who or what are you inspired by?
I try to find inspiration in as many things as possible – be it other scenographies, paintings, drawings, architecture, photos or films… If you ask me about a designer, I would say that Svoboda and Jocelyn Herbert are great influences.
What’s your favourite building in Leeds and why?
I wouldn’t say I have a favourite but I especially like all the 19th century industrial architecture that you can find along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. That is one of my favourite walks and I really enjoy seeing the almost abandoned buildings merge with nature.
If you could build any stage design you like, no matter how tall or expensive, what would it be and how would it look?
It would be great to adapt Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, not as a traditional theatre setting, but as an immersive experience. The counterpart is that it would need thousands of dark corridors and impossible rooms, and it could also be quite scary, but it would definitely be exciting to work on!
What are your plans for this year?
The pandemic has put everything on hold, so it’s still too early to plan for the rest of the year. At the moment, I’m focused on This Land, a show about the life and music of American musician Woody Guthrie. This project is becoming a real challenge due to all the COVID-related regulations. But at the same time, I’m very excited to see how these limitations magically help shape the atmosphere that we want people to experience.