Adam Gardnir’s ‘Vietnamese vision’

Adam Gardnir, Miss Saigon set designer.

Adam Gardnir, Miss Saigon set designer.

Footlight Productions have been wowing audiences for over a decade with their innovative set and costume designs for productions ranging from Cats and Les Miserables to Annie Get Your Gun and My Fair Lady. Footlight’s latest offering, Miss Saigon, will prove to be no exception when it hits the GPAC stage later this month, with a new addition to the Footlight team taking the creative helm.

Miss Saigon’s set designer Adam Gardnir is a new member of the Footlight family. This will be his first time working with the company, and he brings a wealth of experience and ideas to the table. A 2003 graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Adam has forged an eclectic career providing costume and scenic design for operas, plays, ballets, musicals and films. He has worked with the Victorian Opera, Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, the Australian Ballet and the Production Company. Throughout his professional life he has been the recipient of six Green Room Award nominations for his work.

Despite this extensive list of credits, Miss Saigon has been one of the remaining items on his bucket list. A lover of the musical since childhood, Adam is relishing the opportunity to bring his ‘Vietnamese vision’ to life.

“I’ve loved Miss Saigon since I first heard the music when I was about ten years old, ” said Adam. “The director Chris Parker rang at the start of 2014 asking if I was interested and I immediately said yes.

“I just never thought Miss Saigon would become available to me as it’s always been done as a professional Cameron Mackintosh production. Given the chance to design a show to such beautiful music, with a director like Chris, was an absolute no-brainer.”

For Adam, coming up with a design for any production always begins with research. Investigating the intricacies of the show itself, the theatre, and the producing company are the first three pivotal steps of the design process.

“I of course start with research about the show, its context and content – in this case Vietnam, the war, life as a soldier,” explained Adam.

“I also research practical things about the theatre. I want to know what the facilities and expectations of GPAC are. Questions like is there a fly tower, what’s size of the space, and so on. Then I conduct some research into the company, learning about the skills and capacities of the Footlight team.”

“And then you can finally start coming up with a creative concept of how you are going to form the show.”

Adam’s vision for Miss Saigon is one that has been in close collaboration with director Chris Parker.

“Chris Parker is an interesting director because he looks at things in a very operatic way, ” said Adam. “He looks at a musical and he wants to find the big idea in each scene. That’s what I love about Chris’ work.

“When we designed each scene, we obviously had to have the realistic elements such as the prop detail in order to maintain the story telling, but we were also concentrating on the big picture. We want to keep the audience’s imagination alive, we don’t want to be pounding them over the head with too much detail.”

While Adam takes a backseat role in the construction process, he is constantly negotiating and workshopping new ideas with the construction team.

“There is a lot of back and forth between the workshop,” said Adam. “I physically don’t build or construct the set, but there is a lot of collaboration.”

With the bulk of his recent work taking place in the professional industries, Adam has found his time with Footlight Productions to be an easy transition into the amateur theatre scene.

“There are probably amateur theatre companies where they do experience skill shortages, but Footlight is not like that,” said Adam. “The company is set up very well. The history is there, the professionalism is there.

“That’s exactly why Footlight is seeing some of their cast members moving onto professional productions within the space of twelve months, like Lisa Hanley being cast in Once. That succession is no accident. I think it’s really obvious that pro directors like Chris Parker and Martin Croft, who have worked with Footlight, are providing those linkages into the professional circuit. ”

Footlight Productions’ Miss Saigon opens January 23, 2015 at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre for a limited three-week season. Bookings at http://www.gpac.org.au or phone the box office on 5225 1200.

Adam Gardnir was interviewed by Jacob Petkovic, a Professional Communications graduate of RMIT University and a member of the Footlight Productions Marketing Team.