Meredith B. Wagner: Interview With The Mise en Scène Founder
Meredith B. Wagner is a theatre artist, designer, administrator and educator based out of NYC. She is the founder of Mise en Scène, as well as a professional Set and Costume Designer. Meredith’s recent work has been with Princeton University, McCarter Theatre, The MCVTS Theatre Program, and Michigan State University.
“Mise en Scène, is a multi-faceted endeavour. The biggest part is an online marketplace for sustainably sourced, one of a kind goods created by theatre artists. Stemming from the marketplace is the blog, which will explore the intersection of theatre, sustainability and the artist’s craft with consumer culture, current trends and social practices. The last three facets of this little gem are under development – an artist resource platform and educational curriculum sharing page, an arts and artist appreciation page, and a crowd-source mentoring program for theatre professionals at any stage in their careers.”
Hi Meredith, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! Mise en Scène is a fantastically practical solution to the huge impact Covid-19 has had on the creative community. How did you get the initial idea and make the decision to launch Mise, and with a project of this size and scope, how did you set this up?
I have been rolling around different iterations of what The Mise could be for a couple of years; textile curiosity shops, specialty work studios, bespoke fashion, the list goes on. But it was always focused around one of a kind, specialty items, simply because that’s the Theatre MO, and a very appealing part of the profession. There is a lot of spitballing in theatrical production shops, which I happily contributed to, about non-theatre gigs, selling side projects, and the ever-present “if I had the time, I’d love to do X, Y or Z project”. So I had plenty of input – positive, negative, funny, outlandish – from colleagues, and kept bits and pieces in the back of my head for “someday”.
Then COVID. All of a sudden, everyone in theatre was NOT busy, and absolutely had the time to work on X, Y and Z. After I finished wallowing in the void of the shutdown and my new-fangled lack of employment, I realised that I finally had time, and a very big incentive, to put those bits and pieces at the back of my mind to work.
There was an entire industry of people that needed a way to support themselves.
At first I was just thinking of a resource for costume people, but I scrapped that – The Mise is about all of us in the design/tech side of theatre. I started with the website: photography, design, copy. I reached out to a few colleagues who I knew made beautiful side projects, and asked them to go out on a limb with me – to send me their work so I could photograph and list it on the site. And a few weeks later, we launched.
I’ve seen so many friends, colleagues and acquaintances in the creative industries completely improvise with their work over the last six months. What has the reaction been like from the theatre artists who have joined the Mise community and what’s this been like for you all?
Reactions have ranged from “I love this idea, let’s start this instant!” to supportive and sceptical willingness to give it a go, to “Finally, this is what we needed.” The best negative reaction I had was from a troll on The Mise Insta, which felt like a rite of passage.
COVID has been such a huge shift for the design/tech community. Some of it has been devastating, a bit of it for the better, most of it just hugely frustrating.
What I think many of us are currently lacking is a creative outlet, and people to share it with – essentially the two major tenets of a theatre career. That lack is felt whether people are those able to wait out the work (and pay) break, those who kept jobs but aren’t actually producing shows, or those who have found work in adjacent but not necessarily creative industries.
I have found quite a few artists are excited about The Mise and want to sell their work, but are a bit bemused or off put by creating without a pre-established design or production schedule. Starting with a blank canvas is really difficult when you’re creating alone, so some of my favourite moments with Mise are when I get to brainstorm with artists about what they’re going to make. We get to talk about their process, what we think will sell, and set up a personal production schedule.
I also think a lot of theatre artists would like to sell more of their side work, but when you already have a busy schedule and are hustling and advocating for yourself in one career, it’s hard to find the time and inclination to do it for yet another side project that doesn’t necessarily guarantee income.
The weight of the administrative duties of photography, posting, promoting, creating a following, shipping, customer relations, etc. usually seals the deal on writing off an Etsy shop or craft fair. Working as a collective makes this burden much more feasible, and allows artists to focus on their craft.
One of the main things that stands out about the items available on Mise is the ‘one of a kind’ selling point. Why is this such an important feature, and are you hopeful that owning a ‘one of a kind’ or ‘investment piece’ will fall back into favour once more after the decades of mass production and disposable consumerism?
The one of a kind concept is important because, in order or precedence, it respects the creative work ethic of the artist, our responsibility to sustainability and the environment, while also being an ethical, appealing and very effective selling point. The Mise focus is on artistry and craftsmanship, and any theatre artist will tell you how mind numbing it is to create the exact same petticoat, foam tree, or sound distortion over and over again.
Mass production also means mass waste. When artists make one thing at a time, they can consume smaller quantities of raw material, reuse or repurpose leftover material from a previous project, and generally have an easier time sourcing raw materials because they don’t have to worry about mass quantity of fabric, paint, wood etc.
We live in a world that is mass produced, copy catted and processed to within an inch of its life, yet I do feel a shift in collective mind-set is happening, spurred on by COVID and the resulting economic fallout and political upheaval.
One-of-a-kind is already in favour, due to hipster culture and the social media race to “discover” the next unique new thing. Brands like Supreme have shown us the effectiveness of the scarcity of product route, and that success was a supporting factor in Mise’s one of a kind emphasis.
The “investment piece” concept is harder, because it implies a certain level of economic privilege and education. The idea of investing in fewer things that last longer has taken hold in some circles, especially the minimalism and sustainability movements. But when you aren’t dealing with a fair amount of disposable income, or don’t have the ability or means to save up, or just really don’t give a rip then cheap, low quality and disposable is the answer.
I hope The Mise can be a part of a shift towards buying from smaller, independent makers that are directly supported by sales. It’s important to me that a range of prices are represented on the Marketplace, making hand crafted items available to perhaps not every, but many ranges of income.
How can theatre artists sign up to the Mise community and sell their creations? What do they need to know and are there any rules? Can artists be based anywhere?
The only rule is quality of craftsmanship.
We will work together to land on a project that is both satisfying for the artist to work on, and has a market we can feasibly sell to. Mise is completely remote, and artists can work for any and everywhere.
Where can I purchase pieces from Mise and do you ship items to where I live?
Mise Products can be found at miseenscene.org/shop, and we also ship everywhere.