Head of Design at Bangarra Dance Theatre
As many of us can relate, Jacob Nash didn’t quite know what he wanted to be when he grew up. But with an interest in photography, art, and design, he knew he wanted to tell stories visually.
It was seeing his first Bangarra Dance Theatre production that opened Jacob’s eyes to what storytelling could be, and proved to him he could pursue his varied interests through a career in production design.
‘That first performance was such an important moment in my life,” he said. “I felt connected to culture in a way that I had never before. I saw how we can tell stories as Aboriginal people in a contemporary form, and I felt so inspired as an Aboriginal man connected to the work.’
Graduating from the NIDA Design Course in 2005, Jacob soon found himself at Bangarra, where he started out unloading trucks and answering phones with the company. He soon went on to design of earth & sky for Bangarra in 2010, winning a Green Room Award for Best Design in Dance, and was appointed Artist-in-Residence at Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2011. Now he holds the position as Head of Design.
‘I didn’t always know what I was doing but I was totally engaged in the work and Bangarra; I was young, but I figured I better just work hard and learn on the go and trust my gut, my instincts.’
Jacob’s other theatre credits include work with Belvoir St Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival, and more, as well as a host of digital, film and television projects including ABC’s sci-fi drama series Cleverman.
There is a constant revolving door of projects and ideas, but at the time we speak with Jacob, he is enjoying a few weeks of reprieve after the opening of the latest Bangarra production, Bennelong.
This ‘creative quiet time’ includes making playdough with his two-year-old son Ollie, taking walks to the beach, fishing and catching up with family – a testament to just how important it is for the creative process to stop and reset, before jumping back into collaborations.
‘It’s always nice after opening a Bangarra show to have a little bit of a break to refresh, then creatively focus again. It is a really beautiful creative period where you just step back, discuss, and start to formulate new ideas for the upcoming productions.’
Life, creative inspiration and work tend to roll into one for Jacob, as his partner Phoebe Collier also works at the company as the Touring and Redevelopment Manager. ‘We’ve had this amazing journey, travelling together all over the country and the world, sharing Aboriginal culture with audiences. We both work very hard at what we do and never take for granted the life we live – It’s been an amazing time.’
He remains open to learning about the world around him and pushing himself further within it. ‘I love what I do and I’m proud of what I do, but I also have a whole lifetime of work ahead of me and who knows what that could entail.’
It’s a reminder for us all that our lives and careers can be fluid. ‘My career will always involve designing and being a storyteller, but I am just quite open when it comes to building creative relationships and sharing the stories we need to tell in this country, and it’s okay to be fluid.’
‘Good people, good projects, and then good things happen.'
"Good people, good projects, and then good things happen."
Having a two-year-old son definitely changes your daily routine and I’m waking up earlier than I used to, which I quite enjoy!
I now have a human alarm clock that goes off at around 6.00am (or earlier!). My partner Phoebe also works at Bangarra, so we’ll get up together and make some porridge for everyone. I don’t drink coffee, but I just got a cold-pressed juicer that I love so I’ll have that in the morning.
To get the day pumping I usually put something on the stereo like Triple J or put on Spotify. My routine is not very glamorous – it’s just whatever happens and you’ve got to be pretty fluid in the mornings with a two-year-old.
We drop our son off to day care and try to be at work somewhere between eight and nine.
The Artistic Director of Bangarra, Stephen Page, will meet with myself and the other creatives, and we will go through the day-to-day stuff while the dancers are in a class before rehearsal starts at 11.30am.
I’ll usually break for lunch around 1.30pm so that I can also catch up with Stephen or hang out with the dancers. There are almost 20 dancers and there’s a beautiful, big kitchen to have lunch in – and they’re all so healthy. I’ve become really interested in what they’re eating because they come up with such healthy, interesting things to fuel their bodies, and I get inspired.
Recently, I’ve been having quinoa and brown rice with salmon, avocado and kale with lemon juice.
The Bangarra office is on Sydney Harbour, so sometimes it’s also nice to go for a walk and sit at a one of the cafes and just look out at the water to clear my head.
I’m often out on the road either sourcing materials or checking in on sets. We have quite a lot of discussions about sets pieces and props to build – how they’re being made and what stage they’re up to – so I’ll often visit the different workshops around twice a week.
I also might be designing something for the show. The beautiful thing about working at Bangarra is that no two days are ever the same.
If my partner Phoebe and I are both at work together, we’ll try to leave the office at about 4.30pm so we can pick up Ollie.
When we get home in the evening we might go for a walk with Ollie to the park, before going home to cook him dinner – he loves sweet potato at the moment, so I’ll make sweet potato chips in the oven, which are delicious and of course I’ll pinch a few.
Then we will give him a bath and put him to bed. I really like to cook, so I’m usually in charge of what’s going on in the kitchen, which is always fun.
By the time Ollie’s in bed and we’ve had dinner, it’s probably around 8.30pm and so we’ll probably find something to watch and have a little chat about what’s going on in the world and unwind a little bit before we go to bed. We’ve been watching Cleverman, which I did the Production Design for but hadn’t seen until the episodes were out. We have also just started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which is so amazing.
Truthfully, I probably fall asleep on the couch at about 9.30pm, which is such a Dad thing to do!
"People want to put people in boxes… it doesn’t have to be that way – we can be who we want to be, and you can use all the skills you’ve got to fashion the person you want to be and the career you want as well." – Jacob Nash