Sean Breault is a renaissance man …
Aside from being a sought after designer for the theatre, Sean is also a master woodworker, metalworker, artist, painter, (and in his spare time), custom home builder/remodeler.
But, as you will read, Sean’s path to design appeared after taking a step back, after one of those, “let’s take a second”, moments we all sometimes face.
In Sean’s case, (and much to the benefit of the theatre), he listened to those voices around him during his reset.
His way of working has garnered Best Scenic Design at the Independent Theater Awards, for his design of the set of “Art Of Memory” by Tanya Calamoneri at the historic St. Marks Church in NYC.
The results speak for themselves …
B.I.T.N. asks every Designer the same 6 questions in the Design Forum. I know, I know, seems pretty lazy on our part, but each designer is unique, and their individual take on the same subject can prove a fascinating peek into the mind of an artist.
Plus, it’s our blog …
Q1 – How and when did you first get interested in designing for theatre?
I was a late bloomer when it came to theater, really to the arts in general. I took a year off from college, Northeastern University in Boston, just to regroup and think about what I really wanted from my life. Up until then I felt like I was on a fast moving treadmill. When I returned to Northeastern I decided that I wanted to make films so I jumped into photo class 101 to understand how composition worked, framing a picture just the basics of what it would be like behind a camera.
Well, that class was the beginning of my adventure as an artist.
The teacher, Jane Tuckerman, took me aside after looking at one of my projects and said that I should think about doing “this”. I didn’t know what “this” was, I was just taking pictures and being creative but she really saw something in me.
I didn’t come from an artistic family and had no reference point to being an artist of any sort. It was all just hobby where I came from in Massachusetts.
After that class I took an acting class to get a sense of how actors work. If I wanted to make movies then I better get a sense of how they worked as well. Well a similar thing happened during that class.
After a production of a show we were working on the teacher took me aside and asked me if I ever thought about doing “This”. Once again I had no idea what this was, I was just taking an acting class to understand a few things. But here I was faced with these two big moments in my life. No one had ever taken me aside and told me that I should pursue anything.
During that acting class the teacher had us do an assignment that was basically in my mind, a set design for The Seagull by Anton Chekov. I did this big installation piece with floating windows, and glowing red eyes, illuminated by candles and the audio of dogs barking in the distance.
The teacher just loved it and took me aside once again and said “I know I told you that you should think about being an actor but THIS is where you really belong. I think that, unknowingly was when I realized I should be designing and building for the theater.
I got caught up in the acting bug and continued to study. I also decided to go to art school up the street at Mass Art for fine arts which I did for 2 years. I had to choose what path to take and decided I wanted to be in NYC and go to drama school which I did at Circle in the Square Theater School.
I loved circle, and got caught up in being an actor for a while, not ever really giving up on my visual art but my time was spent being an actor. Time went on and I worked some, made some films, did some plays but nothing was really “happening” and I needed to eat and pay the rent. I waited tables of course, but I was terrible at it …
Then a friend of mine got me involved as a carpenter at the Atlantic Theater Company. I did carpentry, so it seemed to be a good fit. There I met some really great people, and super talented!
I really started with a hands on approach to all this.
Time went on and I started working more and more on Broadway shows. Watching the best at work was a real treat and I sucked up all that I could. I was there to learn and see how people solved problems and I learned a tremendous amount. I was always hanging around listening when I could, looking at drawings, reading the plays, seeing how people worked, seeing all the problems that arise, always.
One day a dancer friend of mine introduced me to my now close friend Tanya Calamoneri who had a dance theater company. I was asked if I wanted to design and build a set for her upcoming performance at The St Marks Church on the lower east side of Manhattan.
I said no at first, for some reason, but then decided to say yes and see what happens. I wound up winning Best Scenic Design at the Independent Theater Awards that year. It really blew me away and sent me on a path to pursue more work like it. So I’ve been in love with the theater since my college days but designing came around 2007. That’s when I realized that my teacher was right and this was where I belonged.
Now just how to make a living at it was the challenge …
Q2 – Who and or what are some of your inspirations?
I am inspired by people and the way they do things. I love to watch and listen to people and hear about how they deal with life on all levels. How they deal, how they get up in the AM and what they think about, how they deal with the day to day grind and where they find solace and peace of mind, or if they do.
I love psychology and what makes people tick. If the play or story being told is strong the ideas are just limitless so in that sense I get a lot on inspiration from the play itself or the creator of the story. Its such a collaboration that I find the energy when problem solving or coming up with initial designs very inspirational.
As far as artists I love joseph Cornell, Lucian Freud, Sargent, Francis Bacon, Charles Bukowski and many, many others.
My wife who is a photographer, Flynn Larsen and my kids are a constant source of inspiration and motivation.
Q3 – When you design for the stage, what is your thought process?
The story is what comes first. I approach my designs the same way an actor approaches a role. My role is the design and hopefully the builder. I understand the theater from the boards to the grid iron above as well as what it takes to make a character work on the stage. The design comes initially from a deep sense of what the story is about.
I read the play over and over, mining it for information, impulses, bursts of light, sound, movement, composition. I design for the characters on the stage and I want them to have fun and be engaged. I want them to be moved but on a subtle level. I want the audience to be engaged and be attracted to the design but not drawing from the story. Enhancing the story on a psychological level.
I sketch and draw, I doodle everywhere I go, I look for answers in the streets, in what people are saying, what they are eating.
Once I sign on to a project it is game on and the adventure begins.
Q4 – What, if anything, do you think technology brings to the worlds of theatre design?
When you are working simply and minimally tech does not come into play so much. Tech is money usually and if you have it you can make it work. I think some tech has enhanced the theater and made it more intimate and film like. Being microphoned is a big difference from belting out each line. People can hear the most subtle emotions now. Its like film that way. I think the big LED walls that have become scenery take away sometimes if not done well.
I’ve worked on some big shows with lots of the latest tech. It can work and people want the spectacle. It’s Disney that way. Big prices and people want a big thing, something to write home about. They want to see Spiderman fly overhead and Harry Potter zip by on his broom. The tech works if done well and it can be a lot of fun. Its just not for every show. People sometimes use it to cut costs and maybe for ease but again sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. You just need the right group of people working together.
Q5 – What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
I got a late start at this and it makes it hard to break in. I spent a lot of time living and learning, watching and waiting, listening and creating my own work.
So I would say some of that to people.
Follow your instincts and go with what interests you. See yourself as an artist and create wonderful stuff. Design school is not for everyone and there are a few different ways to get things done these days. Find someone you admire and talk to them. Get your hands dirty, do many different jobs, don’t spend all your time in the classroom, learn how to do it all or as much as you can. Be of service and bring a lot to the table. Its competitive but stick with it and do your own work. I guess that sort of stuff.
Q6 – What else do have to say?
- The theater is an incredible place with the power to heal all sorts of wounds. When working together with people of like minds, the process is an incredibly rewarding thing. Part of my mission is not only to share what I desire and understand with other theater or show biz folk, but to the young people out there who were just like me, even adults just like me. Not even knowing that this world even exists for them, that this path could free them from their personal prisons. That they have something to bring to the table, experiences to share and love to bring. The tools of the theater can be very powerful and should be shared with everyone. Not just the lucky few …
FOR MORE ABOUT SEAN, TO SEE HIS DESIGN PORTFOLIO OR TO CONTACT HIM DIRECTLY CLICK THE LINKS BELOW.