From traveling the world to hanging out with the world’s biggest stars, NYC-based Jason Sherwood has a career many would dream of.
The scenic designer – an ‘Irish-Portuguese-raised-Catholic, atheist’ from New Jersey, who studied at NYU – has also worked on shows like Rent Live on Fox… And he’s not yet 30!
‘My job is create the visual world of the play,’ he explains. ‘I dive into the story, and mine the visual clues, storytelling ideas and motifs that help the audience immerse themselves in the story.’
For an iconic example of his work, look no further than Camila Cabello’s iconic Grammys performance of Havana earlier this year. The stage featured everything from a cross-section two-storey house to a meticulous recreation of a Cuban sidewalk.
Here, Jason shares a typical week in his job, while also opening up on his working relationship with Camila, Sam and more.
Can you describe your contribution to the new Spice Girls tour?
The Spice Girls tour has been a dream come true from the start. With our creative director Lee Lodge, I created the architecture of the stage, and brought the show to life alongside our other creative team members. Essentially, every physical object that is onstage that is not a costume, falls under my design umbrella.
Did you get to meet any of them?
Of course! We worked closely with Melanie, Mel, Emma, and Geri to bring their vision of the tour to life.
Did you have to visit the venues they’re playing in?
We rehearsed the show in an old aircraft hanger in north England. Then we traveled to Dublin for the first show. Our incredible production manager and team make sure the set goes up the same in each city.
What’s the craziest idea you’ve put across to someone that has come to pass?
The Spice Girls stage has a 180-foot diameter runway that juts halfway out into the stadium, immersing the girls in a sea of fans. That was a pretty wild suggestion! I’m so glad it came to be.
What was it like working with Camila Cabello?
I loved designing the opening of the Grammy Awards for Camila. She was such a lovely collaborator, and had awesome ideas about the vision of the performance.
And Sam Smith?
Designing for Sam was such an honor. I’ve loved his music for a long time. He and I worked very closely to make sure his TV performances and tour stage all worked to tell the story of his new music. It was a very close and intimate collaboration.
What are your other career highlights to date?
Designing Rent Live on Fox was an unforgettable experience. Getting to design that musical, which meant so much to me as a young gay person, and honors the story of the generations lost to the AIDS crisis, was such an honor.
How did you get your career in theater production design started?
As a teenager, my interests in writing, graphic design, theatre, and drawing converged as one into a love for scenic design. I blame my parents, who took my sisters and I to the theatre when we were kids. My mom used to take me out of school for a Wednesday matinee from time to time.
What is a typical week like?
A typical week is 7 days of 12-18 hour days. At any given time, I am designing upwards of 20 projects at once, and they all require a lot of attention and time. There are design meetings, conference calls, hours spent drawing and dreaming, rehearsals, workshops, shop visits, and on and on. My favorite thing about my job is that I am constantly collaborating and communicating with new people, from all over the world.
Does it involve much traveling? If so how many countries have you been to and what was the most random or most far-flung?
I traveled 300 days last year! Last year I was in China for a few weeks, which was thrilling.
Are there a lot of LGBTI people in your industry?
There are many LGBTQ+ people in my industry. And for that I am very grateful. It’s incredible to work with so many people who bring their own unique, individual experiences to our work.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
My primary motivation is to continue to challenge myself with new and unique projects, and to surround myself with people who challenge, support, and inspire me. I think that the most enriching part of my work, and my life, is the community of people I get to call friends and colleagues.