Having grown up in a church environment that allowed him to cultivate his creative skills, Josh McIntosh now brings God into his professional workspace on a daily basis.
Whether it’s asking God for fresh inspiration and new ideas or using his voice to help direct subject matter in a script, Josh is certainly a powerful witness in the creative landscape in Australia. We caught up with him to find out how his faith intertwines with his career as a Production Designer.
Interview:Aimee Cowan Read:10mins
Josh, you’ve got a fabulous job now as a Production Designer but when you were a kid, what did you dream of doing?
When I was little, I think I just wanted to be a race car driver. I didn’t know anything about racing cars or really anything about cars, but it seemed like a fun job. I remember meeting a Production Designer when I was in grade 12 and I asked him, “What would you say to somebody who wanted to be a Production Designer?” and he said, “DON’T!”
I didn’t take his advice.
What does your job involve now?
For about the last 15 years, my day job has been as a Production Designer, which is a simple way of saying I design sets and costumes and props for predominantly live theatre. So that’s opera, ballet, dance, musical theatre, plays, circus, and burlesque. I really, really enjoy it.
You grew up at Kenmore Baptist Church, how did you find it growing up being a kid in church?
I always blame the fact that I do my job now on growing up at KBC, because it was a community that nurtured me and celebrated what I could offer. I had so many opportunities to decorate the top hall for the youth group night or write songs or to write theatre pieces or to contribute art. And then later on, we used to do set designs on the main stage half a dozen times a year.
My skill set and the life of KBC seem to coexist really, really heavily. It was great.
Your job requires you to be constantly creative, how do you get your ideas?
Coming up with ideas is one of those things that is impossible to categorize; that’s kind of the essence of creativity, I think. Whether it’s a set or whether it’s a song or whether it’s a notion for a new musical, whatever it is, those ideas, you can’t plan them. And when you do try to plan them, they only feel very planned and very contrived.
Some of my favourite musicals that we used to do with Directions back in the day were shows that I didn’t set out to write. They were themes or characters or storylines that just kind of coalesced out of praying and thinking or going for a ride on the motorbike or being inspired by a magazine article or being inspired by my own kind of collection of experiences.
Transit Lounge, which was about four very normal people and how their lives coordinated, that was me basically meeting those people in various forms and collecting conversations that I was having with checkout chicks and the dude at service station. It’s putting all these things together and looking at how life is, looking at how people connect and looking at what people need. Every time I approach a set design or a show design, I need inspiration and so I do ask God to inspire me with fresh ideas and fresh aesthetics. And because I don’t like copying: that’s illegal! I don’t like doing it. It’s not illegal, but for me it feels wrong.
I love the fact that the first thing that God did was create. He has made us as people who intuitively create and not just, you know, artists per se, but scientists create, and marketing people create. We devise, we build, we dream up things and, I love the fact that I work in an industry where a lot that is not necessarily of God, but where people are using, what I believe are God-given skills and talents.
One thing I’ve really found about the theatre and live performance industry is that there’s a lot of acceptance for all sorts of ideas and all sorts of people. I’ve never, ever, been shunned or made fun of for being Christian, for going to church or for saying that I’m not going to answer my emails on a Sunday; that’s always been celebrated and accepted and worked with. I feel that also gives me enormous freedom to be very honest about who I am and the way I work and my ethics towards certain subject matters. To be in a working environment like that, it’s great.
What does it look like for you to share your faith with people in the workplace?
I’ve had loads of opportunities to talk about my faith and to talk about what it means for me in my industry. Particularly over the last couple of years that have been really scary and dicey, it’s been easy for me to say, “Yeah, I understand that you’re terrified; I would be too if I didn’t know that God was looking after me.” It’s been really simple to have nice little conversations like that.
It often comes up in the few times that I’ve been interviewed – I did a podcast a couple of years ago where that ended up being the whole subject of the podcast, about what it was like to be a Christian in this industry, and that was not for a Christian forum. So, it comes in very naturally and easily into many conversations.
How do you navigate your work ethically when you are asked to work on shows that push the boundaries?
Every now and then you do design a show that has subject matter or costume requirements that, probably don’t fall into what you consider ‘mainstream Christian behaviour’, and that’s actually just part of the job. But even in the midst of that, there are amazing opportunities to use those moments and use the subject matter of those shows to talk about what I believe and to talk about where I think the line should be and say, “I don’t know whether that’s appropriate that we use that terminology because of this or that.”
It has been fascinating to have moments where even within the narrative of a script, I’ll be able to challenge it and go, “Do we need to say that in this particular way, or can we give that angle on this particular subject matter so that we’re being a little bit more balanced in our approach or in the outcome of this script?”
Actually, now that I think about it, the shows that have the challenging material in it, are the ones where I’m able to be the most vocal about what I think and what I believe. And so that can be amazing!