Zahra Mansouri

When it comes to designing for theatre my work is concerned with detail and making plays relatable to the audience through the design. When traveling round London the mind never rests, looking closely at details in buildings, finding characters on tubes and wondering who they are and what they might do based on external appearances. Simply by looking closely you can recreate that level of detail, When it comes to designing period shows this still applies, people did not wear costume they wore clothes like us so I am always trying to find real people in research that relate to the characters in the play. I then explore moods and characterisation through colour to create a visual story. An example of these details came out when designing ‘The Shallow End” at the Southwark Play House, it is set at a wedding this 1980’s piece examines the newspaper industry. Essentially Men in mourning suites, my pitch for the concept was that you can put 5 people in the same suite but each would wear it differently and make it their own, from the slick city boy through to the old school equipped with signet ring and pocket watch, these are the things that make a play real to the person watching. 

How did you hear about CSM?

I heard about CSM when I was still at secondary school, their used to be a program when I was younger called the Clothes show, all the designers they spoke of seemed to go there, then when a little older when doing work experience with a set designer I learned more about what the institute had to offer. I knew I wanted to study here at 12, though back then I did not know what. 

How would you describe your course? 

When I studied the course was Theatre Design for Performance, It was thought provoking, innovative, exciting and fresh this atmosphere when working made it for me when I was designing, and was refreshed all the more by inspirational tutors and a well picked year group who each had different skills so it made for a great learning environment not only from the tutors but by each other.

What sort of a person do you think you need to be to do well on your course?

I think in order to thrive on the course at CSM you need to be open, collaborative and always passionate. Your not always going to like the fed back you get from tutors at times, but in order to be the best designer you can be an openness to new challenges will further your skills as will being able to collaborate and learn from those around you. Whilst your passion will drive you to create and at times be the caffeine you need to get you through what can be an exhausting course!  

Why did you choose this particular course?

There were two reasons for this. My first was when I was assisting a designer, in my foundation year at CSM, I had been offered a place on the PDP course and also had an offer from LCF to do their costume course, I simply asked which would I get the most out of and he advised me that their is a special something that CSM injects into each of their young designers that helps them blossom when they become professional designers. The other reason was because I new that Alison Chitty studied here, she is somewhat of a hero of mine, I thought by following the footsteps of your heroes, you might have a shot at achieving great things too. 

What do you love about CSM?

I love the ability and freedom to dream when you create, and the fact that this is nurtured and pushed to the limits. 

What have your highlights been?

Well one of the nicest highlights was two weeks ago in fact. My latest show, which transferred from the EdFringe rather then a revival grew into a reimagining. There were lots of new ideas and growth to the play, so was hard work making new props and pieces to an already big piece. The cast was also smaller so so took some cleaver ingenuity to make sure the multi rolling was as slick as possible and had also riding on it. But the hard work payed off when I discovered to my delight that I had been nominated for two Off West-End Awards for both Set and Costume design. Though I have to wait a year to find out, but it was a nice start to 2014, especially as It was on my list of things to achieve in 2014.

What are you doing now?

I am now working as a freelance designer mainly in the area of fringe theatre. I have enjoyed an absolute plethora of different and exciting projects and this excitement with each new projects continues, I have been very lucky with the directors and teams I have collaborated with so the work is always vital. I am looking forward to the next one, as I get to work on an adaptation of my favourite child hood book, Alice in Wonderland, so their will be no end of fun and quirkiness to play with!    

Who inspired or motivated you?

Two people really. The designer who’s work I admire and respect whom I mentioned already, Ms Chitty, I was most fortunate to be able to interview her for one of my first year contextual studies projects the knowledge and passion was so invigorating, and I think put me on track when I was starting out. The other was a much earlier inspiration and was in fact my Nan. She was a great artist but never had the opportunities we had to express it. She taught me to draw by rubbing out those bad drawings you produce as a child, I was so bloody minded I wanted one day to draw something she did not correct! She also used to take me to jumble sales at the Chelsea town hall which were always magical, being Scottish she new how to haggle so I am now a producers best friend when It comes to budgets. The last great thing she instilled was love of stories and magic of the different forms they come in, she would let me know when to pull a sicky from school so I could go to Matinees with her. Sadly she passed before I finished uni so she missed what I am now doing with all of her hard work, but I have a picture in an Art Deco Locket (her favourite period for art and design) which I wear to every first night  and press night to make sure the show goes well.  

What advice would you give others?

Passion, collaboration and determination. Its hard being a freelance designer especially starting out. When you begin it is not the most lucrative of professions. But so long as you remember why it is that you do this the determination to succeed will never leave you. With passion you will always be open to work and indeed working hard which it is, sometimes you really are running a marathon, and find you’ve hit a wall, but by continuing through it eventually it will open doors for you. The industry requires some element of luck, being in the right place at the right time, but you have to create your own luck, work does not find you by being the most talented person sat at home waiting for the phone to ring. The ability to collaborate is just as important, your only ever as good as your team and when your starting out you do not get endless SM’s and wardrobe assistants, so inspiring and creating with others is vital. You must also follow your own path, piers might sometimes get the job, but it’s no good moping about it just keep looking forwards and don’t get distracted, if you want to succeed you are the one who needs to make it happen when the passion shines through then the rest will fall into place.

Much Ado About Nothing The Park Theatre 90