• Vale Sally Jacobs: Illuminating designer and director

Image: Set model for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Designer Sally Jacobs, Director Peter Brook, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1970 – UK. Image from Victoria & Albert Museum – Shakespeare in 100 Objects, https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/asset/2516?cmsAsset=1

Sally Jacobs designed and directed for the stage since 1960. She worked for many years with UK director Peter Brook, designing some of his most influential productions and created set and costume designs for the Royal Opera House, The English National Opera, The Royal Court Theatre, Paines Plough, The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre in New York, and many Off-Broadway and Fringe theatres.

As a young designer, Jacobs’ work came to my attention with the groundbreaking RSC production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Peter Brook (1970). Jacobs’ white box – an exemplar design for Brook’s “Empty Space” tenet (“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space, whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”) is widely regarded as one of the most influential set and costume designs of all time. Consisting of an undecorated white box, scribed with entrances (echoing the Globe) and populated with simple, but brilliantly coloured costumed characters, set the stage for open theatricality, where a dream could be dually created onstage by the players and in the audience’s own imagination.  Sally Jacobs’ designs showed me that as a spectator I can imagine far more, by being shown less. Therefore, as a designer I have aimed for open designs that can be activated by both the performers’ and spectators’ open, agile and generous connection. It’s not easy, but Jacobs made it look so. In my mind, her design and theatrical legacy is unparalleled and still affectingly relevant. Vale Sally Jacobs.

For more insight into Jacobs’ work:

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