Interview by Makeda Cox
A multi-talented interdisciplinary artist, Charlotte Haywood works in a variety of mediums, from installation and textiles to sculpture, stage, film and television. She currently serves as set and costume designer for NORPA’s show Wildskin, a dark road-trip tale with an all-female cast …
Makeda. Wildskin draws upon the Australian bush horror genre. How would you define bush horror and what are some of its conventions?
Charlotte. For me, bush horror really taps into ideas of the Australian Gothic — that’s a thing that’s been around with us for probably a century with the likes of things like Picnic at Hanging Rock. I think it’s a genre within Australian cinema and storytelling that has come from Australian Gothic and evolved into this idea of bush horror. What that really means for me, I suppose, is creating a psychological space. It’s about ideas that play with the vastness of the mind and the Australian landscape and ideas of fear and belonging and Other … In the nighttime, when it’s dark in the bush, your imagination runs wild.
Makeda. What is the link between the female performers and the animal skins they wear?
Charlotte. In designing Wildskin and looking at the narrative there, we’re using ideas around assemblage. In that sense, when we look at the skins, we’re using the skins on the female form to create a sense of wildness, a sense of going back to nature, a sense of connecting with the idea of nature and fury and nurturing. The skins give her that pathway back to nature. And in saying that, back to her own self. But there’s also a lot of layering. We start with this idea of there’s always a base costume or a base set-piece, but we’re able to assemble and add alternate skins or narratives or motives on top of that. In it being female, I suppose for me, the link between being wild and female, or nature and female, is really harnessing those motives of nurturing and fury — the ability to destroy and create at the same time, which both women and nature have.
Makeda. Set design — mise-en-scène — is a crucial if perhaps often overlooked component of dramatic storytelling. How can set design affect an audience?
Charlotte. In this piece particularly, Wildskin is very collaborative. It’s a devised piece between the performers and the directors and writers and myself as designer. For me, in working with such great physical performers, you have the ability to transform their bodies into various forms and assemblages … What I really wanted to be able to do was to play with the aperture of the psyche for the audience and for the characters themselves. It’s really about creating a psychological space and how I can do that with set design. How do I create ambiguity which really taps into that genre of bush horror? So it’s almost allowing the audience to fill in a lot of the gaps … this psychological space, this infinite space … and how can I allow the audience as well as the characters onstage to inhabit this space, and explore it? It’s really about creating the void. And in creating that void I need to be able to give certain pointers or signals that place the audience and the characters in certain settings. The work itself is quite existential in a sense, because it really is about a metamorphosis, as it were. And sometimes those metamorphoses don’t take place in the physical world but in the psychological world.
Makeda. How long have you been contributing to NORPA, and what do you find most satisfying about your work?
Charlotte. I think I’ve been working on and off with NORPA for a year or two. What I love about working with NORPA is the collaborative nature there. Also, the works they’re producing are very experimental, in that they combine a lot of physical theatre with traditional theatre. But also, there’s a lot of new works coming out of there. That’s really exciting for a regional place. Those stories are being told from a regional centre in Australia, and they’re new stories, they’re old stories, but at the end of the day I think they’re really collaborative and experimental so that makes it really exciting. As a designer but also as a visual artist, being able to help tell these stories … in my art practice itself, I look to really uncover stories or narratives. Working in theatre, working at NORPA, it’s exciting, because it’s the telling of stories.