Meet Bethany Fellows, Master of Design for Performance student, University of Melbourne

Although Bethany Fellows knew she wanted to study at the Victorian College of the Arts, she never knew she’d end up studying stage design in the Master of Design for Performance – but from making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to making tiny furniture, stage design was definitely the right choice.

It was a circuitous path to studying at the VCA. I majored in printmaking and art theory during my undergraduate degree and shifted to focus on live art during my honours year. I’ve done lots of different things – graphic design, sock-selling, bike store management, event management – and I was at a crossroads in life. I realised stage design was a good nexus of my skills, because I’m creative yet practical – and I also really wanted to collaborate with other people.

Out of the postgraduate options in Australia, I knew I was more suited to the course at VCA. I always knew I’d end up here but I thought it would be in the Visual Art area, not Production.

There is no “typical day” at the VCA – it’s a rollercoaster of activities. There’ll be some meetings, some classes, some searching for sustenance and caffeine. If I’m working on a show I might be locked in a shed cutting wood for a week or running around the city looking for a very particular but seemingly innocuous T-shirt for a character.

I’m inspired by human ingenuity – people coming together to make something happen. My brain is so lateral, I find inspiration in the strangest places, like rubbish discarded on the street, a cookbook, or the tilt of a tree. I try to keep my mind open and take in everything around me. You never know where your next idea might come from.

Bethany Fellows. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

The biggest challenge I’ve had during my course is figuring out my work/life balance. It can be exhausting but it’s also immensely rewarding. And working with so many people can be difficult, because everyone always has an opinion! But I love meeting new people. I’ve met some wonderful collaborators who I’ll keep working with past my time here at VCA.

The very first collaboration I did in the Master of Design for Performance degree was the most ridiculous thing, but it was also an absolute highlight. It was just three hands in a box trying independently to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – but I knew then that I had made the right decision to go into stage design. It was a reassuring signpost in life.

One of my favourite projects in the course has been making 1:25 scale models – I cannot describe how much joy it brings me to make tiny furniture for tiny actors.

There is no one path into a career in stage design, but there are so many important things to do to begin. Go to shows. Look at art. Learn to draw. Observe the world. The VCA has also really given me a leg-up that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. The industry experience, contacts and practicable outcomes that our course offers are considerable.

In the foreseeable future I just want to keep making theatre. Other than that, I like throwing sticks for my dog, Onion.

By Kelly Southworth.

Banner image: Bethany Fellows. Photo by Giulia McGauran.