‘I was fascinated by Ireland. I thought I could find inspiration here’

Life Lessons: Sabine Dargent, set designer

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?

Life throws many challenges at everyone all the time. This is what makes it exciting and terrifying. One of the challenges I definitively think about is my arrival in Ireland. I was fascinated by the country; I thought I could find inspiration here. I remember being on the beach in An Spidéal and really feeling the place was so powerful and could be such a source of imagination. I was living in Paris and even though I loved it there, I was seeking another place to live. Being in this Gaelic Irish village seemed right. I had zero English. I started to work as a painter on a film. The first two words I learned were “hammer” and “sanding”.

Is there a moment that changed your life?

One was my love at first sight of theatre. I had already spent a lot of time studying art and I knew I was on the right road, but I also knew I had not found the exact area of art. When I was about 22 years old, and I had to do work experience. I opened the Yellow Pages and looked for theatre companies. It was totally random. I thought, I like art, I like literature, it could be interesting to try that. I called a company called Compagnie de l’Epée de Bois in la Cartoucherie de Vincennes, near Paris. They said I could do an internship for a month. I arrived in the morning, and was given a big theatre floor to sand. I spent a few hours sanding non-stop. Then we ate together. Then I saw a rehearsal. I had tears in my eyes. I loved it. I understood I would never be bored. Theatre is about the absolute magic of the present.

What has been the biggest influence on your career?

First, the colours and sounds of childhood of North Africa where I grew up. Later, circus. There were lots of little companies that came to my village in the Loire Valley, and they were building those tents, and doing shows. I used to love the glitter and sparkle shaking up everyday life.

What is your biggest flaw?

Being over budget! Or being so idealistic and having chosen a career that has no safety net, in a world where you are supposed to have one.


What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of doing a job I love, working with people who I admire and respect, both in small shows and on a large scale. I am also proud of having worked on numerous shows, created in this small, fertile, country called Ireland, and touring abroad, showing this creativity overseas. Right now, I’m excited and happy to be working on Michael Keegan Dolan’s new show, Màm. Michael has a unique way of working. Art always leads his work, with no compromise. That way of working is demanding, because it is pure, it is simple. Being simple asks for each micro-decision to be right, in all design areas; light, costumes, set, but also in music, dance, the whole thing. It is quite philosophical, but it is also just enjoyable and sometimes so moving.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

To trust my instincts. It came from a great director and scenographer I assisted for more than two years. He taught me most of what I know in theatre. Sabine Dargent is set designer on Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teac Damsa's new production, Mám, which premiered at the Dublin Theatre Festival