Meet Jo Briscoe, Lecturer and Course Coordinator in Design and Production at the University of Melbourne

Lecturer and Course Coordinator in Design and Production Jo Briscoe. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Lecturer and Course Coordinator in Design and Production Jo Briscoe. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

Jo Briscoe is a production designer working in film and television and is a Lecturer in Design at the Victorian College of the Arts. Her professional design practice includes design for both stage and screen. Since completing her MFA in Design, she has maintained a diverse practice across theatre, opera, film and television. Here, she answers some of our burning questions about studying Design and Production at the VCA.

Hi Jo. Can you tell us about who you are and what you stand for?
I’m a designer for narrative forms, which means I’m primarily a visual storyteller. I bring the world of a story to life, build backstories for the characters, and ensure the audience has a rich understanding of the action. I am passionate about telling stories that have impact and represent the true range of the human condition.

I especially love stories that make us laugh and then sneak up with a big emotional punch. I also love narrative design because it’s so collaborative, and working with a team to realise something greater than the sum of its parts is incredibly challenging and satisfying. No day is ever the same.

At the moment I am working on a production of Cyrano with Melbourne Theatre Company, written by Virginia Gay and directed by Sarah Goodes.

Is there a philosophy or piece of advice that has held you in good stead throughout your career?
I try to select projects that I have a personal connection or response to, trusting my gut instinct and working on material that matters in some way. Design requires emotional, intellectual and physical commitment, so it’s important to work on material that deserves all that effort.

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about working at the VCA?
It’s wonderful to be surrounded by so much creative energy, in so many different fields. It’s incredibly inspiring to see the variety of work and ideas produced by both students and staff, and to see the opportunities for collaboration across so many fields of expression.

Teaching is also incredibly rewarding. Our courses are intensive, and students make huge progress in a brief period of time, which is thrilling to witness.

What makes a good production design student?
Production design requires a wide range of skills and interests, and is equally practical and intellectual. A passion for storytelling is essential. Students need a genuine curiosity about the world, researching all kinds of people and places, and will learn a lot of different practical skills.

Designers need an open mind and open heart to empathise with characters and situations. As design is a practical field, students also need to be able to balance their creativity with pragmatism. Being a collaborator is essential, as is the desire to get your hands dirty. There are few roles that require such a diverse range of attributes, but it’s one of the most exciting aspects of the job.

Can you complete this sentence: If I wasn’t teaching at the VCA ...

I'd probably still be designing full-time and telling stories that speak to me. I can’t imagine another career that would be so diverse, challenging and rewarding, and offering so many opportunities to grow and learn.

What excites you about your field?
Design is often misunderstood, because often designers have done their best work when the world they create is so complete, so total, so right for the characters, that it is almost overlooked by the audience.

Few areas strive to go unnoticed in this way, but I love it when there is no question about the environment because it feels true. I love seeing a director or performer "meet" a space for the first time and find delight in the details. I love seeing a space come to life as it’s lit and framed on camera – it’s alchemical.