May 21st, 2024

Themes of ‘Design For Living’ ahead of their time

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - LETHBRIDGE HERALD on November 13, 2021.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman University of Lethbridge drama students Andrew Burniston as Otto, Carter Debusschere as Leo and Melanie Frisen as Gilda, perform a scene from their upcoming play 'Design for Living' during a media call at the University Theatre.


The University of Lethbridge drama department is taking the audience back in time to bring ‘Design For Living’ to life. A play written by Noel Coward that explores contemporary themes while taking place in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
Julia Wasilewski, Set and Costume Designer explained that this play required a lot of research, as they wanted to do it in a realistic style and really embrace the period in which the play takes place.
“The play starts in 1928 and it goes until about 1932, so there is a lot of changes in society that are happening during that time and also in the lives of the characters,” said Wasilewski.
It explores contemporary themes like gender, sexuality and not normative relationship structures and it follows three main characters that are stuck in a love triangle, Gilda, Leo and Otto.
“I think Noel Coward was consistently ahead of his time and he really took so many risks in his time to even consider writing scripts of this nature, because it would’ve been very dangerous for him to be publicly outed or accused of being embracing gay themes at the time this play was written,” said Wasilewski.
She explained that she proposed this play couple of years ago, but it continually got postponed because along with Director Jay Whitehead, they believe that it needed to be done in person.
Wasilewski explained that the main characters start as young bohemian artists living life to the fullest and as the story progresses they sort of deny their personal drives in order to fit into society’s expectations of them better, which contributes to them regressing in terms of their happiness and their joy.
“Which takes us to the final moments of accepting the love that can be anything and any binary and any shape and number of individuals, so empowering these individuals to find themselves and be honest with themselves in the end,” added Wasilewski.
The play requires a lot of props, scenery and many costumes. There are twelve characters, and the three lead actors have a minimum of five costumes.
“There has been a lot of garments to be built, designed, pulled and fit. But it’s been a lot of fun, it’s been really great to just put beautiful clothing on stage, build beautiful scenery and invite an audience into share it with us,” said Wasilewski.
For Melanie Frisen, the actress playing Gilda, the costumes make the experience feel more real and help her get into character.
“Putting on the dress, and the earrings and doing the fun hair, makes it believable for you which makes the audience believe even more, which is great,” said Frisen.
Wasilewski said that the set was painted by hand, with the help of three student painters, with a number of scenic paint techniques and stencils and many long hours.
“The staging is three full realizations of different apartments. We start in Paris, moved to London and end up in New York and as the story progresses the staging also becomes bigger. The Paris setting is small and intimate, London is a bit larger and more suburban and New York is very grant and opulent,” said Wasilewski.
The play runs nightly from Nov. 16-20 at the University Theatre. Tickets are available for purchase at the University Box Office or online at

Follow @APulidoHerald on Twitter

Share this story:

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments