Centre Stage with Set Designer Lenore Brooks

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Time for another fun filled blog to get you through the weekend!

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the set designer, Lenore Brooks, and she gave me some great inside information into how she designed the set for The December Man.

 (Lenore Brooks - Photo Credit Ange Clayfield)

Lenore isn’t just set designer; by day Lenore has her own residential interior design company. She started working as a designer back in 2004 after finishing school at Humber College, and her business officially took off in 2013. Theatre design is one of Lenore’s many passions.


“For my thesis project in school, I actually converted one of the historical distillery buildings into a theatre. That was before SoulPepper theatre moved into the distillery district in Toronto… I’ve always really liked theatre; I’ve really been interested in set design and I jumped at the opportunity to do that on a small scale, so it will work around my own business.”   


Lenore has been a member of our little community since 2014 when she was the set designer for the production of The Book of Esther. The set design for that production was similar to the design of The December Man: a hyper-realistic set from the early 1980’s depicting a poor Canadian Family on a farm in act one, and a low income Toronto apartment in act two.

Lenore’s connection to theatre stemmed from an early age with her desire of becoming an actor, but her passion for design was much greater, so she combined the two.


“I like to work on a project and then move to the next thing…[And] one thing I really like about theatre and set design is… it’s like designing in a vacuum: it is completely unrelated to anything else. You can go full on historical, or full on avant garde. Depending on the play you’re looking at doing things that you wouldn’t do in normal design setting like someone's home… Theatre allows you to do a bunch of fun stuff in that kind of sense.”


Colleen Murphy, the beloved playwright, had a specific idea of how the layout of the set would look and Diana, our wonderful director, wanted to honour that. It was Lenore’s job to design the room based on that description, but she did have her say in some of the little things.

“I have done research, some historical research - both visual and reading - and I have done a lot of thinking about who [the Fournier’s] are, what their home would mean to them and what their income would have allowed them to do at the time… I thought ‘when are these major design things going to happen in their home and what are they going to be able to afford’. [For example] they would have replaced the couch; they would not have replaced the wall paper… One thing I was really proud of was finding a dye cut wallpaper border. This was a BIG deal in the 80’s to get dye cut. That means that it’s contoured along the pattern instead of one straight top and bottom edge… I did one a whole wall of plaid and had the dye cut border stop in the corner.”


This technique was to show two things: 1) the trend at the time was to have an accent wall and 2) the family also would not have been able to afford more than one spool of the border. Since they are riding the poverty line, there are many limitations to what they can get for their decor, which is why the drapes look as though they are from the 60’s and that the couch and chairs don’t match etc. If you take a look, a real close look at the walls, you’ll notice that one section of one of the walls looks different and there’s a reason for that.


“I specially mismatched one pattern match, so that the flowers line up but has though one sheet was cut wrong.. And in one corner I pulled it down a little bit and then put it back up so that it’s a little bit wrinkled. I have attempted to not do a perfect, professional wallpapering job. There are a couple of patches, because I want them to be there if people look for them.”


You should definitely see if you can spot them when you come see the show! 

Lenore’s main overall goal in designing this set, is to have the audience feel a sense of nostalgia. She hopes that when the audience walks into the theatre they don’t look at the set and think "Boy that looks ugly." She wants them to see that this is a home: a realistic home that some members of the audience may have lived in or have known someone who has lived there. Getting a sense of familiarity and connection to the place and yet still knowing they are in a theatre is Leanore's goal. 

“What I really am hoping is that people walk in and go ‘Oh my gosh! This looks like my grandmother’s home’ or ‘ This looks like photos of what my parents homes looked like growing up’... I’m trying to show that this is a home that’s filled with love, thoughtfulness and that was done to the best of the people's abilities at the time, given the styles, treads and money.”


When it comes to designing a set, Lenore views the challenge the same way she views a paid project. She treats the director like she would a client. She listens to want they want and gives them various options and suggestions to make sure she properly captures their vision with her vision.


“I have the script, I have the stage directions, but what I need to do is find out from the director is what their vision is.What the feel of the play and the atmosphere is; what they want to convey to the audience with their set. And that is the starting point if any set with me… Directors have very different visions and [each] play is different and so without speaking to the directors and finding it their vision, it's almost like I can't even start."


Lenore has some great advice for anyone who might be interested to expand their creativity in to set design or any other technical aspects of theatre. 


“I think that the best thing to do, if you want to see what it’s like, is to volunteer. There are always things that need to be done: little things, big things. There are always opportunities to help with set design or the construction of the set, and it is always helpful  to have an extra set of hands.”


The December Man has two more shows this week and three next week. Come on out an see this amazing set and watch the wonderful cast put on a truly touching show. Tickets are available at the door or through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/kwlt-presents-the-december-man-lhomme-de-decembre-tickets-78987470651

Final Remarks:

“This was really, for me, a labour of love. This is an era that I am very familiar with… This was really fun to look back at how people used to live; how people’s home used to be viewed. Before design was so accessible and disposable. And it was really quite fun and nostalgic for me to go back.. It was a walk down memory lane.”


Coming soon: I talk with professional voice actor Graham A. Yeats about voiceover work and his love for KWLT