Meet Set Designer / Artist Linda Gordon
6 months ago
MHMT thrives on our volunteer work and Linda Gordon, for many years, has passionately brought her artistic talent to the theatre in a variety of different ways. Most known for her stunning set designs and set painting techniques, Linda is at the top of her game when it comes to creating illusions for The Playhouse audiences.
Born in 1952 in Melville, Saskatchewan, Linda grew up in what she calls a “Gypsy lifestyle childhood” that moved her and her family throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba so often she felt forced into constant change and adaptation. As a young girl she fell in love with art. She was highly motivated by her grade 3 teacher in Bissett, Manitoba when she was quietly told, while colouring the typical cornucopia, that she would grow up to be a real artist someday.
Linda’s maternal grandmother provided her first art materials including a John Nagy Learn to Draw kit, paint by numbers kit, and her first set of Grumbacher oil paints. She still has some of those early teen paintings of the Cypress Hills and Eastend, Saskatchewan landscapes. After graduating from university with a Social Services degree Linda moved to Medicine Hat in 1973 with her husband Lawrence. She resumed taking art classes where she introduced pottery, fibre arts, photography, silk painting, batik, and water colour to her repertoire.
Work, life and the love of art became a fine balance; she continued art lessons with George Glenn, who she calls her most influential teacher, all while volunteering her time teaching art for schools, clubs, and various groups. Soon Linda was introduced to live theatre in 1997 when she met a Medicine Hat local Jack Clement and the two formed The Linack Theatre Company. Together they brought young adults to the stage creating huge productions involving choreography, stage fighting, music, costumes, masks, and sets painted on easily transportable silk canvases. Shows such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “East of the Sun” were performed, and even taken on the road to be presented at various theatres in England.
Linda’s first set designs began with Hatterland Childrens Theatre, Firehall Theatre and eventually led her to Medicine Hat Musical Theatre where “Fiddler on the Roof,” at the Medicine Hat College, taught her what urgent and creative set design was all about. “After a few all-night sessions, post dress rehearsal, there was no time to paint wood to look like wood, so I used weathered lumber from farm dumps and roles of tarpaper to create the village scene,” she says.
When asked what all is involved with set design/painting her answer is as arduous as the tasks themselves. Reading scripts, space dimensions, measuring, sketching and composing are just a few of the beginning stages she mentions. Designing a set is an enormous undertaking and involves a consistent collaboration with other departments such as costume, lighting, and construction to result in bringing a director’s vision to life. Set painting also has its challenges, getting the right colours, and mixing and painting techniques which she says she won’t get into as that’s a bit like alchemy - and often a result of many hours of testing and guessing. It appears all the hard work is well worth the efforts, “I love working closely with all the crew members - it’s a creative process of forced compromise and flexibility that comes from many hours of working together” she says.
It is hard for Linda to say which is her favourite, of all the sets she has worked on, but a few that stick out would be “Wizard of Oz Pantomime” as the most colourful; “True West” as the most realistic and difficult as the set was demolished every night and had to be rebuilt for each show; “Little Shop of Horrors 2016” for updating and improving an old set concept; “Noises Off” for the wonderful revolving stage, and 2018’s “Young Frankenstein” as the most challenging with massive set pieces, interchangeable doors, very complicated set changes and the cursed collapsible wall. What she loves the most about any set is when well done visuals provide the actors, directors, lighting designers and costume mistresses the set they need without overkill and still respects the intelligence of audience members to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks.
Even with the countless number of hours that she puts in she says volunteering is a joy and getting involved in MHMT is simple: “Just show up and be willing to start with basic painting. I am so happy to have assistance, especially with huge sets, and I delight in teaching any of the painting techniques.” The best part about volunteering at The Playhouse is you can give as much or a little time as your schedule allows, as there are always jobs to be done. When not set designing and painting, Linda maintains her artistic craft by painting full time in her Montana garage studio, or at her Medicine Hat church studio. However, the theatre has become almost a second home and a personal dream come true. It is user friendly, welcoming, intimate theatre that guarantees high-quality productions that she hopes will maintain a very long life in the community.
As she puts on her well used painter apron and begins set touch ups to this season’s first show, “Titanic The Musical”, you can’t help but notice her infectious enthusiasm, excitement and pride when talking about the theatre. “We have a rare theatre company that we should be very proud to support, enrich and maintain - truly “professional” and yet all staffed by volunteers; quite remarkable!” That, Medicine Hat, is indeed remarkable!