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A lifetime addiction to theatre

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Attentive to detail: Andrea Sundt’s work is on display as part of the Bermuda Biennial at the National Gallery (Photograph by Nadia Hall)

Andrea Sundt remembers her first time at the theatre.

After curtain call she remained, glued to her seat, expecting the show to go on.

“I was mesmerised. The curtain had dropped, but I refused to leave,” she said.

“The lady sweeping the floor of candy wrappers had to usher us out. Reluctantly, I agreed to leave, but I was smitten and forever addicted to the true theatre experience.”

She was four years old. At 20, she started working for the props department at the National Theatre of Norway in Oslo, her home town.

“After some time finding and creating props, and countless free shows, I realised how much I was thinking about what impact costumes and set design had on the many different universes on stage,” she said.

Ms Sundt was officially intrigued. She studied costume design in Paris and, in 2008, left for New York with one telephone number in her pocket — that of a film-maker she met through a friend.

“I was fresh out of school so it was a wonderful opportunity and great to get to know people,” the 34-year-old said.

Three years later she pursued a second degree in fine art at Parsons School of Design where she met her Bermudian husband, Peter Lapsley. The pair moved to the island in January.

She has worked in Oslo and New York, most notably designing costumes for She’s Lost Control, an independent film honoured at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival.

Unsurprisingly, it’s been the highlight of her career.

“Following its premiere were Q&A’s where I was asked about details in my designs. I was thrilled to be recognised as a participant in the story’s narrative,” she said.

“Simple moves, like a hole in a shirt which helps to flesh out a character within the scene — I often use that as an example of the type of work I do and not the large theatrical costumes and period pieces people often associate with the job.”

She credits her mother and father for her attention to detail.

“My father is an architect and my mother has always been fascinated by interior design, so I grew up thinking about how things are built and the atmospheres a room can create,” she said.

“Details are so important, especially in costume design.

“It’s not just coming up with the concept and colour range and the feel of the film — you create that in conversation with the director.

“When you are the on-set costumier you have to think about continuity. When you shoot the same scene three days later, you have to make sure those details are right.”

She was once pressured to provide an NFL-style football jersey that exactly matched one from earlier footage. She rose to the challenge, creating it from scratch.

“I couldn’t find one, so I sourced materials and used another jersey to template out the new one. In three hours I had one that matched, logos and all.

“There’s a story behind every piece of clothing. Making films is very much about collaboration and creativity under pressure. When you prevail and then get to see the outcome weave seamlessly together on the big screen, that’s a really good feeling.”

Her work is on display as part of the Bermuda Biennial. Don’t go looking for costumes.

Obligation, Constraint is a giant, wavelike structure that looms large in the Bermuda National Gallery.

“Because of my history with theatre I’m very intrigued by how you relate to the stage as a viewer, but also how you relate to a piece of art,” she said.

“I’m so happy that they let me have freedom to play with the gallery space, especially with the scale of my work.”

The move to Bermuda has “absolutely” sparked new ideas, she said.

“Coming from Norway, nature has always inspired me — immense mountains, the snow. And here, the lush foliage, architecture, the colourful houses; you have yellow and turquoise and red and 50 different shades of pink and obviously water, as you can see. [Unlike costume design] when it comes to my art there are ideas that brew for a long time before they come to fruition.

“My grandmother has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration. She was an artist at heart, but she never pursued that.

“She painted all her life and she was the one who told me to do it. She said, ‘I see what you’ve got. I see myself in you and you’ve got to pursue that’. [It] meant so much to me.”


Andrea Sundt (Photograph by Nadia Hall)