Meet Grace Laubacher, scenic designer and recently named one of Live Design's 2015 Young Designers To Watch.
Residence: New York, NY
Current project(s): Designing The Barber Of Seville at Rice University in November and The Magic Flute on the Juilliard main stage this spring; assisting Derek McLane on David Mamet’s China Doll at the Schoenfeld and on the Roundabout’s Noises Off this January.
Most notable achievements: I was recently a finalist in the 2015 Opera America/Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer showcase. I have also designed shows recently for Juilliard, Actors’ Shakespeare Project (Boston), Stella Adler Studios/NYU, and I have been an assistant/associate to set designer Derek McLane for the last year on some of his myriad projects. I have an MA from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and a BA from Harvard.
When I started in this industry: My high school had an amazingly well-equipped theatre and scene shop. When I was 13, I helped build three nearly full-scale house exteriors on stage, and by opening night, I was in love.
How I got into this industry: One example out of many: Right after I graduated from college, some friends of mine asked me to design a set for a pop-up performance in Bryant Park called Starbox. It was sort of a blend of theatre, performance art, and public stunt. We spread the word that a “star” would be inside an 8' x 8' box in the park, and anyone could line up outside for a turn to go in. I designed the box, and my friends devised a scenario with 30 actors pretending to be members of the public. Well, some days we had 400 people line up outside this box! In the end, there was no celebrity inside, just a private performance for one person at a time. It was an amazing feeling to create a space for people to gather together and have an authentic experience that momentarily transformed their reality. It made me think, “I can keep doing this.”
Influences: I’ve had incredible mentors, collaborators, family, and friends who have strengthened me as an artist and a person over the years. I’m very lucky. Aesthetically, I draw a lot of inspiration from installation artists, whose works come alive in the presence of the audience—Anish Kapoor, James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson—and photographers like Kim Keever and Tim Walker, who create fantastical worlds using the simplest means. On this particular day, my biggest influence is Joseph Cornell. His shadow boxes are playful and visually entertaining yet also emotionally complex and completely metaphysical. His work is heavily influencing the design of The Magic Flute.
Worst advice I’ve ever heard: “You should do more of your work while drunk.”
Best advice I’ve ever heard: “Failure is the best teacher.”
My favorite thing about the production industry: Every project involves new challenges, new collaborators, new ideas to explore. Every day is different, and you never stop learning.
Favorite design/technical trick: I love to establish the space of a play and then transform it in a surprising way, sometimes in the final moments of the show.
Plans for the future: To keep making discoveries, creative ones, but also of people, places, and ideas.
Other interests/side gigs: My first job in NYC was as a stage manager for Sleep No More, and sometimes they still let me come pay a visit and fill in for a night. It’s a pretty cool show to run; something unexpected always happens.
Awards, honors: Alan Symonds Award for technical theatre and mentorship, 2009; Harvard Council Prize in Visual Arts (for excellence in stage design, 2009)