Karen Stansfield portrait

Karen Stansfield

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I am a designer maker who has worked in the Creative Industries for the past thirty years. My early career was as a surface pattern designer, screen printer and garment maker for the fashion textile Industry. In the late 1990's I combined my designing, printing and making skills with my love of theatre and gained commissions to facilitate engagement by communities to make sets and costumes for performances.

During my BA in Scenography, I began working on a cult children's television programme ‘My parents are aliens’ for Yorkshire Television constructing costume props. After graduation, I continued this work for designer Sue Smith and developed connections with regional professional theatres such as Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance, and Leeds Playhouse as well as community theatres such as Faceless.

I continued to work as a community artist devising and delivering workshops with communities for local authorities, arts organisations and schools. The commissions were varied from enabling learning and experiencing new creative skills and encouraging a creative discourse towards regeneration and public art initiatives. In addition to this, I am also a practising visual artist, exhibiting my work regionally and nationally.

What made you want to apply to your MA course and to Leeds?

The MA Performance design was a natural choice to complement the BA in Scenography which I had previously studied. Members of staff on the course had previously taught me and are prolific published researchers and leaders in the area of extended scenography. Dr Joslin McKinney and Dr Scott Palmer were fundamental in my previous learning, with their guidance, support and passion for Scenography, and I felt that the MA would be equally as engaging and stimulating in directing my creative practice.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I have always been drawn to the holistic nature of scenography, elements both human and non-human working together towards a performance that is experienced by an audience.

The developments within scenography over the past fifteen years have mirrored in areas of my own creative practice. The creative boundaries have expanded, incorporating and complimenting other practices within the creative industries and beyond which makes it a vibrant, stimulating and challenging discipline, and one which I wish to contribute to.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most? 

The lectures and seminars delivered by the academic staff whose knowledge and passionate enthusiasm for performance illuminated creative possibilities.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The facilities are excellent, they have a wide range of fully equipped theatrical and rehearsal spaces to use.

I personally liked the study pods in the Edward Boyle library; the booking system is easy to use and they are comfortable and quite when you have to stop procrastinating and write!

I had been out of academia for quite a while, therefore; I took full advantage to the extra curriculum ‘skill sessions’ to enhance my academic studies and the ‘webinars' online sessions, again booking on a course is easy and they have classes on a semester-based rotation. All the library staff across the university are friendly and helpful with enquiries.

Did you work closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? Tell us about that experience.

I was privileged to be mentored by Dr David Shearing for my individual module. I had previously experienced one of his performance design pieces, which was a new theatrical experience for me. As my tutor he allowed me space to be explorative, offering guidance and suggestions outside of my creative comfort zone, after a period of resistance I applied elements to my performance piece which altered my perception of myself and my creative practice.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

There was a wide variety of activities on offer for students to take part in. For me, I enjoyed relaxing and being social in the bars and coffee shops.

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

I am developing my creative practice to incorporate the new learning and experiences from studying the MA Performance Design. Currently, I am developing projects around my interests in the phenomenology of the role of objects and materialism, researching funding initiatives and networking to seek partnerships and future collaboration.

During my time as a postgraduate student at Leeds I was approached by a gallery interested in my previous portraiture work and I am in the process of realising new pieces which have been informed by expanded scenography to exhibit in the near future.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

I would recommend wholeheartedly to someone thinking about applying for the course. It is an intense, challenging and equally enriching experience. The University of Leeds has a vibrant, positive community, filled with a diverse range of people in one of the best cities in Britain.