As part of our Meet the Makers of ‘I Am Baba’ Series, we got to know the cast and crew a bit more. This time it’s designer- Jen Shepherd.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, where you are from ?
I’m from Wales, though my family originate from the north of England, the Isle of Man and Ireland, and these days are spread all over the world. We moved around a bit in my earliest years, between Germany and Wales, and then settled in North Wales where my folks still live now. I took time out to travel Europe, then went to Cardiff to the Welsh College of Music and Drama, before touring the world as a Production Manager, living in various places in the UK and finally settling in Northern Ireland a decade ago. I now live in Carrickfergus with my husband Ciaran and our daughter Emily, and work as a freelance Designer, Production Manager and Producer.
Could you tell us a little about your journey into the arts and how it all happened for you?
I remember putting on puppet shows in our basement in Germany, and terrible revue shows in a friend’s garage over the road back home in Wales, but it never occurred to me at that age that it might be possible to make a career in the arts. I remember school trips to the local Christmas show, and a crazy space adventure show that once came and set up in our primary school hall, but really the spark happened when I was a teenager, and joined the Clwyd Youth Theatre in North Wales as an assistant stage manager. I absolutely LOVED everything about the process of making a show happen, and for the next show found myself at the age of 15, as Deputy Stage Manager, calling the show (The Crucible) each night in the studio of Theatre Clwyd. At the end of one show I found the Company Stage Manager of Theatr Clwyd had been stood watching me and commented that I was ‘just like a professional’ and that praise really stuck with me. I continued to stage manage youth theatre shows until I went to study for my theatre degree, and never looked back.
Where do you find creative inspiration, have you any particular idols, role models?
Everywhere! Nature in particular, and I’m lucky enough to live right on the seafront and to see the ever-changing view as Belfast Lough is transformed by the weather, the tides, the light, the seasons. I love wandering in art galleries, especially these days with my little girl Emily, who has her own unique view on what we see. She particularly loves the murals in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast and also points out random graffiti to me saying ‘look mummy! A painting!’ and I love that to her it is all somebody’s art and worth looking at. We spend a lot of time drawing and colouring in together too, which can actually be pretty freeing and inspirational.
If you hadn’t been in ‘showbusiness’, what would you have done?
The only thing I ever really wanted to do, before discovering theatre, was to be an artist. When I started working in theatre all my free time seemed to vanish so it’s unfortunately rare now that I’d get to sit for hours and draw or paint or make something just for the sake of it. I’m pretty lucky to have a creative job though, although it is totally different.
What is your role in I am Baba?
Designer (set, costume, lighting) … I’m also mum to Emily, who inspired the title 🙂
What do you find most interesting about early-years theatre?
What I find most interesting and inspiring is the huge transformative potential of early-years theatre, through the power of connection, and inspiring new and fun ways for parents to connect with their own children from the earliest moments.
Do you remember your first visit to the theatre, can you describe it for us?
As I mentioned above, the earliest memory of theatre was in my primary school hall. The visiting company built a structure in the hall that you could only enter by crawling through a tunnel, that began out in the corridor, so the inside of the structure was all we saw, not the hall itself. It was a spaceship, and we had been asked in the days and weeks building up to the show to make our own costumes (which I think were mainly black plastic bin bags with tin foil and glitter stuck on, but were very exciting to us at the age of 7 or so!). The show itself was complete escapism, and we took a journey to the planets and stars and met alien creatures. I’m sure in the early 80s there was no fancy technology, I don’t remember, but it didn’t matter at all, it was so much fun.
What was your favourite TV programme as a child?
Hartbeat with Tony Hart and Morph! I absolutely loved the creative ideas for making so many different things, not only with proper ‘grown up’ art materials but everyday things you’d find about the house. It could be so basic with tissue paper and crayons, or suddenly use computers, or teach all about light, or colour, or cut-away to a silly sketch by some random performers or, of course, the brilliant Morph. I once sent something in to be featured in the Gallery and loved seeing everyone else’s pictures.
I AM BABA is commissioned under Exploring and Thinking: A Collaborative Framework for Early Childhood Arts in the Dublin region. Exploring and Thinking is an initiative generated in partnership by Fingal County Council, Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It is funded under the Arts Council’s Invitation to Collaboration.