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Mika Handley On ... Designing and Budgets

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What are you working on at the moment?
I've just designed the set and costumes for The Long Way Home by Charles Way for Eastern Angles Theatre Company. It's their spring tour production – four months and over 50 venues. Also, I'm associate designer for Out of Joint's Andersen's English, which means that I deputise for the designer Lucy Osborne for part of its 12-week tour, while she is in America on another show.

All theatres work to tight budgets these days. Do you see this as a hindrance or an opportunity, and why?
Both. Of course lack of money hinders you, but part of your job as a designer is to work to the budget given. I find a budget helps to make decisions for you, when there are a million different ways you can design and make something. It also can help you to distil your design ideas, and make you look again at what the play really needs to work, and that maybe you could use one potent thing to say something, instead of five. So sometimes it can be a blessing!
    It is a compromise though, often with quality of products used or staff employed, but all this has to be taken into account when designing, so that the audience don't see that! With smaller budgets, often the designer is doing five other people’s jobs, which can sometimes take you away from concentrating on the design as a whole. I think whatever budget you might have – whether it be £100 or £1 million – you always want more money, as your ideas will inevitably be bigger, but with that sometimes comes more problems..

Of the shows which you have designed in the past, which ones gave you the greatest satisfaction, and why?
They all do in their own way, with their own individual challenges that you have to overcome, which is always satisfying when you see the final product. Return to Akenfield, a verbatim play for Eastern Angles in 2009, was a challenge with many unconnected scenes and characters, not to mention changes of script, which took a lot of brain power, but seemed to come together really well in the end! Also, The Rover at Southwark Playhouse, for the sheer amount of period costumes versus an impossibly small budget. A testament to hard graft!

What was your training, and where?
I did a postgraduate course at the Motley Theatre Design School, Drury Lane (under course director Alison Chitty) after a BA in technical and production arts  at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. It was important for me personally, to have a background in technical theatre arts, as I think it is integral that you understand the production process, how things are built, and what is physically possible.

What comes next for you as a designer?
Getting Andersen's English into Hampstead Theatre, at the end of its tour, a possible revival of an old show I designed, and I'm waiting to hear back on an exciting opportunity…which it would be presumptuous of me to name!

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