Bringing a Production to Life

Darren Diggle takes team approach to building worlds on stage

By Ally Van Deuren (B.F.A Theatre, B.A. Journalism ’15)

After the SMU Division of Theatre mainstage production of The Sparrow took its final flight a Saturday afternoon in March 2015, graduate designer Darren Diggle (M.F.A. Design ’16) reflected on his experience bringing the production to life.

The Sparrow, written by SMU theatre alumni Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton, was first produced at the House Theatre of Chicago.

“What excited me most about the story was all the possibilities that came with it,” Diggle said. “I love it when a script is so open-ended in its format that you have to really think hard and discover new and exiting ways to share those magical moments with your audience. It’s all about creating a consistent language for the show and how you tackle those challenges that written in the script.”

Diggle collaborated with alumna Molly Beach Murphy (B.F.A. Theatre ’09), who flew in from New York City to direct the show, and with fellow graduate designers Janet Berka (M.F.A. Design ’16) and Hunter Dowell (M.F.A. Design ’16). He attended every rehearsal.

“The nature of this play does really warrant the designer being in the rehearsal room,” Diggle said. “It allowed me to really have a strong handle on how the show was developing artistically. It allowed me to try things.”

Diggle, who has a background in theatre and dance, says that he prefers working this way and that it is not foreign to him as a designer.

“It takes a community, a team to build a show,” he said. “I have learned a lot. I learned I couldn’t ever give up on this type of process.”

Diggle has a background in working on devised theatre and new plays. For the past four summers, he traveled to Scotland, where he worked to devise shows from scratch as well as design shows for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, put up a national tour, and work for the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

“What’s great about being a set designer is you get to create an environment or world for the actors to live in and that world or environment can mean many things,” Diggle said. “You get to set the rules and establish a language that helps implement your storytelling.

“I loved working with everyone every day,” he said. “It was always so much fun to create art among other people who are just as committed to the process. It makes everything so much more rewarding.”