The Enchantment of Bretta Gerecke

Bretta, along with being the set designer, has also directed the play "Elephant Wake"

Bretta, along with being the set designer, has also directed the play "Elephant Wake"

Bretta Gerecke is the set, lighting, and costume designer for Elephant Wake. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Interior Design in 1992 and from the University of Alberta with a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Design in 1996. She is the recipient of 13 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards, an Enbridge Award for Best Emerging Artist, and was short-listed in 2006 and 2009 for the elite Siminovitch Prize. Gerecke is currently the resident designer for the Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton.

I’ve read you were originally interested in pursuing a career as an architect. Can you tell us a bit about your shift to theatre and set design and what drew you towards it?

Theatre is so immediate – so interactive – it is an organic art form. Ever it is an exciting, volatile, unpredictable career – perfect for an adrenaline junkie!

Who or what were your greatest influences when you began?

Influences are tough – I am always drawn to architects and installation artists. I believe there are no real limits in what we do – shoot for the sky and cross your fingers.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?

Everywhere. I try always to keep my eyes and ears open. It can be a construction site, a concert, a group of protesters. There is nothing more powerful to me than the excitement of going into the unknown.

The set of "Elephant Wake"

The set of "Elephant Wake"

Talk about the process of creating a set—walk us through the creative process.  Where do you begin?

I begin with the script. I do what people have called visual dramaturgy – I talk to the director and playwright about what I see when I am reading the words on the page. The director and I go into a phase of offer/counter-offer. There are endless meetings about possibilities, clarity and inspiration. We draw, we talk about movies, artists, musicians, anything that will lead to a common vocabulary. Then there is drawing – sketching – talking – re-working. Whatever we need to get to a place that feels most supportive and most akin to an underpinning of the script. After that, it is putting into play the expert team you are given – regardless of the theatre. They are the ones who offer solutions and questions that lead to the end result being far better than you could have imagined on your own.

You’ve had a considerable amount of experience in theatre – have you changed the way you approach a project or design over the years?

I don’t know that I have. I have always felt the same philosophically – maybe now I have enough experience to know that being scared and in the dark of the unknown is ok – and ultimately leads to pushing yourself to keep learning.

Can you tell us a bit about the set design for Elephant Wake?

The set design for EW writes itself – when you read the script it is so full of imagery and visual story telling it is a designers dream come true. I am not sure there is any way to escape the power of [the main character] JC’s world – and that is told so clearly. A designer’s job is really to stay out of the way.

Elephant Wake is at The Cultch March 16–20 at 8pm, with a matinee March 20th at 2pm.  For tickets, order online at or call the Box Office at 604-251-1363. For more information on Elephant Wake, click here.

Bretta also designed the set for "Nevermore" presented by The Cultch and the PuSh Festival

Bretta also designed the set for "Nevermore" presented by The Cultch and the PuSh Festival

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