When it comes to outstanding alumni, it’s hard to beat award-winning theatrical designer Patrick Du Wors. Not only has he made a name for himself on both national and international stages, he was recently hired as the new assistant professor of design for the Department of Theatre.
Running July 1-9, the juried showcase features 350 outstanding examples of international theatrical design in two categories: professional (200 displays) and emerging (150). Du Wors is firmly in the professional category, with his design for the Ghost River Theatre production of The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst selected from nearly 500 submissions worldwide. His work will be seen by between 13,000 and 15,000 visitors during the exhibit’s 10-day run on four floors of the Taipei National University of the Arts museum space—with nearly half those visitors coming from abroad.
Despite being the only Canadian production accepted, Du Wors is characteristically humble about his inclusion. “It’s such an honour to be exhibiting my design,” he says. “There were a number of [Canadian] submissions, so it is nice to be selected.”
Described as “a multimedia meditation on ambition and the artistry of deception,” the world premiere of Last Voyage was produced by Alberta’s Ghost River Theatre during their 2014/15 season. It won six awards at Alberta’s Betty Mitchell Awards, and also received multiple nominations in the 2016 Alberta Literary Awards and the Calgary Critics’ Awards.
Du Wors — who is both attending World Stage Design and was on the jury for the “emerging” category — is proud to have his work seen beyond the original production. “This is a traditional exhibit in that we’re showing artifacts from the process: models, costume drawings and production photos,” he says.
This is in stark contrast to the inherently ephemeral nature of theatre as an art form, where many productions only exist for their run and are then never seen again. “One thing I learned from my classes with Mary Kerr is the importance of exhibitions, being included in catalogues, having some trace of your work.”
His work on the Belfry Theatre’s 2008 production Turn of the Screw — alongside fellow alum Erin Macklem and frequent Phoenix contributor Brian Linds — was also one of only six Canadian design teams selected for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial, which Stichbury described in this story as “the Venice Biennalie of stage design.”
Du Wors (BFA ‘02) began teaching at the Phoenix in 2016, following the retirement of veteran stage designer Allan Stichbury. “Having seen what other institutions are doing, I was happy to come back here,” says Du Wors, who also trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Banff Centre and the University of Alberta. “I’m ready to make this position my own.”
Brother of noted School of Music alumna violinist Kerry Du Wors, Patrick followed his UVic BFA with a position as resident assistant at England’s prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where he spent a year working on RSC productions in both London and Stratford-Upon-Avon. “That was incredible, because I got to work with a number of really incredible designers, including Richard Hudson who became famous for The Lion King.”
After another year freelancing in the UK and working on productions for the likes of Frankfurt Opera, Royal Scottish Ballet and Netherlands Opera, he returned to Toronto to design for various national theatre companies — including locals the Belfry and Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre — as well as being a guest designer at a number of universities (National Theatre School, Sheridan, York, Ryerson, George Brown) before earning his MFA from University of Alberta. He was on faculty at the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts before being hired at UVic.
“I loved Calgary, but when this position came open I couldn’t help to see if I could come back home,” he says. “I had quite a good sense of what kind of students would thrive in different training environments, and it made me realize that the UVic program was incredibly strong and a program I could get behind 100 percent. Having seen what other institutions are doing, I was happy to come back here.”
And while he’s a product of our own Theatre department, Du Wors is also an advocate for the more comprehensive Phoenix model, which allows students to get a sense of what everyone does backstage regardless of specialization. “As a designer, there’s a big difference working with a student who went to UVic and a student who went to a conservatory — their interactions with the rest of their collaborators is very different.”
But it’s his on-stage work designing sets, lighting and costumes for which Du Wors is mostly know, including such memorable local productions as the Phoenix’s Dark of the Moon (2008) and The Monument (2002), the Belfry’s Turn of the Screw (2008) and A Number (2006) and many Blue Bridge shows, including Death of a Salesman (2009), A Streetcar Named Desire (2010), Fire (2011), Little Shop of Horrors (2012) and My Fair Lady (2013).
As for the future of The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst — which tells the story of the titular British sailor who was poised to win a solo, non-stop round-the-world sailing competition before disappearing — Du Wors remains optimistic that it will reach a wider audience.
“As a theatre production, it was a massive experiment,” he says, noting that show creators David van Belle and Eric Rosehad had worked on it for five years — including an unusual 10-week rehearsal process “where tech and design were integrated from the first day of rehearsal.”
“We were simultaneously working out the projection design, the set, the acting, the blocking and adjusting the script accordingly,” he continues. “It broke all the rules of conventional, English-Canadian theatre making . . . . I remain optimistic that a larger audience will get to see it, because it was a very special production.”