Designing Cinderella

6 May 2016

Emerging production designer Candice MacAllister makes her design debut with Victorian Opera on classic fairytale Cinderella. Read about her first experiences in the theatre and her plans for this much-loved story on stage.

Designer Candice MacAllister

What were the first costumes you saw on stage that made you fall in love with design?

The first show that really blew me away was definitely Wicked. I came to Melbourne to see it – growing up in Adelaide you don’t get many productions of that scale. I saw this amazing, multi-million dollar production and was blown away by the costumes, the set, the music – everything. I didn’t know you could have an experience like that. It was a massive turning point.

Is that the moment you realised you wanted to work in theatre?

I watched Wicked and didn’t know where in theatre I wanted to be – I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. It took me a while to realise it was the visual aspect of that world which excited me most. I had done a lot of singing, studying and drama. I eventually ending up designing a show and realising that’s what I wanted to be focusing on.

What had your experiences of theatre been before that point?

I remember seeing The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular when I was six years old. I was so impressed by that as well, but it was Wicked which taught me that theatre can be such a real experience – so tangible and immediate.

How has this thinking guided your design for Cinderella?

I always think about colour and how all the different colours represent characters. I love creating a fantasy world; on stage, you never have to be completely accurate as much of the time it’s a fairytale and audiences can suspend their disbelief. We can create and imagine a different world from scratch.

Candice MacAllister's design sketches for Victorian Opera's production of Cinderella

As your first production you’ve designed for Victorian Opera, what can audiences expect from your designs?

I hope audiences feel a sense of fun with the costumes and can see links between the worlds created on stage. In Cinderella, there are two distinct worlds. We enter into a world where Cinderella is out of place – she doesn’t match the Step Sisters or her Step Mother. Whereas, Cinderella truly does belong in the Prince’s world. I hope the audience can see the links and tricks I’ve added to connect the characters to their worlds.

How classic will this production of Cinderella be?

Our director wants this to be an iconic production and for audiences to instantly recognise that they’re watching Cinderella. Our ball gown is definitely going to be blue and I’m excited to design our glass slipper. Our Step Sisters will be different though and hopefully not something audiences have seen before.

How will you be approaching the ball gown and glass slipper?

The opera is written in French and is more closely based on the French poem than the Grimm Brothers’ tale, although they’re quite similar. I discovered that Cinderella actually has historical ties to Ancient Chinese Folklore and even further. It’s such an old, old tale. Given that we’re looking at the French text, we’re setting it in an 18th century French world. The gowns will reflect that silhouette though it is fantasy – we can play with it! Think Marie Antoinette with lots of sparkle!

Cinderella was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne Playhouse Theatre as part of Victorian Opera's Season 2016.