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by Karon Lui 

With less than a month until her show starts, Camellia Koo’s set designs are still just sketches on paper.

“It’s very last minute. We have three weeks but it takes six months,” said the technical theatre graduate.

Koo spent last Saturday in rehearsals for Stori Ya, the first of four productions to be showcased at the third annual HATCH: Emerging Performance Projects. It’s a program put together by the Harbourfront Centre to provide assistance and venues for Toronto performance artists.

Koo got involved with designing for productions in high school where she met people in the business.

After working with the first workshop of Stori Ya for the Rock Paper Sister Festival in the spring, she was requested by the director, Ahdri Zina Mandiela, to design the full production set to debut at HATCH.

Stori Ya is a one-woman show written in English, Swahili, Tanzanian and Nyamwezi. It’s based on playwright Joan Maria Kivanda’s experiences with gender, racial and social constructions when she came to Toronto from Tanzania.

“Everything starts with the script,” Koo said. “You read it, take notes of the story and the technical components, meet with the director and sometimes they have a vision. Sometimes it’s more realistic, sometimes more abstract.”

Her design for the first workshop consisted of simply a backdrop and a single chair in the centre with chains attached, representing the woman in the story who’s trapped and abused.

“I’m working with the director to make it work without money,” she said with a laugh.

“Camellia’s obviously someone who’s sought after,” said Jason Murray, director of operations at Upstage Productions. “When I talk about her designs, I want to do it justice.”

Though she has many sleepless nights, Koo said she loves every aspect of set and prop design.

“You get to be a bit of everything. Architect, fashion designer, carpenter, sculptor, artist. And you get to tell a story with other people.”

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