In The Haus: Frances Story

In The Haus: Frances Story

From Australia to stages in Singapore, Auckland and Canada, Frances Story has etched her mark in scenic and construction design across the globe and nationwide. Her latest project brings her creative talents to Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre, in their latest comedic adaptation of Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’.

With a background in dance and interior design, Frances crafts scenes that are both functional for performers and visually captivating for the audience. Her work on ‘Cinderella’ promises an imaginative journey. This adaptation aims to charm and surprise, highlighting Frances’ skill in creating engaging, immersive worlds on stage.

In our upcoming “In The Haus” feature, we spotlight Frances’ journey in the performing arts. From her early days as a dancer to her acclaimed design career, we explore the passion and creativity that drive her to redefine theatrical experiences. Join us as we celebrate her contributions to the arts and get a closer look at the magic that happens behind the scenes.

We’d love to know more about the beginning of your career – where and how did you get your start? 

I grew up learning ballet and continued dancing into my 20s. Alongside studying Interior Design at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), I also delved into contemporary dance with choreographer Claire Marshall. Knowing my passion was design, it was Claire who encouraged me to take the leap from Interiors to Production Design and I have never looked back!

What or who were some of your early influences or inspirations that shaped your career?

Es Devlin & David Korins are among my industry heroes. For some influences a little closer to home: Moving into Production Design, a friend put me in touch with Jason Raft and Gavin Hampstead at Iceworks Design (IWD) – two talented and funny humans who have been invaluable to my career trajectory. Jason, Business Owner of IWD, taught me to value my worth as a Designer and creative contributor. Gavin, Creative Director & Set Designer, has imparted the critical value of detail; to deliver brilliant creative concepts and be able to back it up with full construction specifications of exactly how it needs to be built. This attention to detail in 3D modelling and 2D drafting affords me complete creative control and understanding of how it will be achieved.

Cinderella Set
The beginnings of Frances Story’s design in Empire Theatre’s ‘Cinderella’.
What are some of the most defining moments or milestones in your career so far?

Designing the Set and Costumes for Friends! The Musical Parody produced by SK Entertainment was a defining milestone for many reasons. The show was first in development when COVID-19 hit, early 2020. It was an extremely difficult time for our industry with lockdowns and live events cancelled. Developing Friends with Director Dash Kruck and Producers Sam Klingner and Katharine Head was a brilliantly fun process that brought hope and creative expression at a difficult time when we weren’t sure what was happening. I recall ordering ’90s vintage clothing items from America, and then waiting months for them to arrive. Creating in a time of uncertainty and chaos was stabilising. When the show finally opened in January 2021, it brought immense joy to audiences who had been through the wringer in the preceding months. Developing this show sparked my love of design for Musical Theatre particularly.

What is a quirky fact about you? 

From 2017 to 2019, I toured nationally and internationally as a touring construction manager for the House of Mirrors, an outdoor installation designed by Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney. The installation consisted of approximately 100 mirrors which were craned into a steel base frame. Nick Vanderwert and I led the construction team for this installation eight times across Australia, then to Singapore, Aukland NZ and Toronto CA. I gained a wealth of experience running local crews, being on the tools, and navigating language barriers.

What are you currently working on and how has that creative process been?

I’m currently designing the set for The Empire Theatre’s Cinderella in Toowoomba, opening this Friday (15 March). It’s been a joy working with Director Tim Hill, Producer Tim Pantiz and the entire creative and production team to bring to life the vision for this show. We’re inviting the audience into the Fairy Godmother’s world as if she has had a hand in creating the very cottage in which Ella and her family have lived in for so long.

The Empire Theatre also has an incredibly exciting partnership with wallpaper company, Milton & King, based in Toowoomba, who are printing the custom wallpaper for Ella’s Cottage – I’m so excited to see this beautiful print on stage!

We also have both Iceworks Design and The Empire Theatre’s workshops building the set so it’s fantastic to see the collaboration between the build teams and scenic painters to bring the set to life.

What’s in your rehearsal bag that you can’t go without? 

I take my work bag with me to rehearsals. Quintessential inclusions are – a tape measure, fountain pen and note paper, iPad with keyboard, water bottle, and snacks… ok, lots of snacks.

Do you have a reading, teaching/advice, institution or resource that changed your life/perspective, which you’d recommend to others?

Designing for performance is an incredible and fulfilling process. I also thrive on assisting other designers with construction design, turning their concept designs into detailed construction designs for accurate quoting and building. The value of accurate construction design is rarely taught in institutions for Set or Production Design. For me, it has been dependent on the pursuit of detailed and accurate information, and partnerships with build workshops and construction managers to better understand the how behind achieving the design concept.

That said, here are a few book recommendations –

  • Stock Scenery Construction Handbook, Second Ed., by Bill Raoul.
  • It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, by Paul Arden.
  • Damn Good Advice (for people with talent) by George Lois.
Frances Story
Frances Story working on the scenic and construction design of ‘Cinderella’ at Empire Theatre.
What advice would you give to a young person today aspiring to walk in your shoes? 

I’m passing on the invaluable advice I received when starting out: Gain experience in a set build workshop and as many different production departments as you can – costume, stage management, lighting, etc. This way you will know better how to communicate with these departments when you are a Set Designer. It also broadens your skillset, especially whilst you’re establishing yourself in the industry.

What are your future aspirations or projects that you’re excited about? Do you have a dream role or position? 

There are a few projects in the wings but nothing I can discuss yet. Continuing to design for performance and immersive experiences is the dream – be it here in Brisbane, regionally in Queensland, elsewhere in Australia or internationally.

Theatre Haus is the ‘home of theatre’, where, what or who do you call home?

My incredible husband, Chris – he’s home to me!

Experience Frances Story’s epic scenic design in Empire Theatre’s ‘Cinderella’, playing until Saturday 23 March in Toowoomba. Find show information and purchase tickets here.

Alternatively, you can follow Frances on her Instagram, connect on LinkedIn or view her work on her official website

Want to feature in our In The Haus series? Email [email protected].

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