How to become a Designer with Khadija Raza

Khadija Raza tells Get Into Theatre what it is like to be a Set Designer and the challenges she faced when starting to work in theatre. She has worked on shows including Hijabi Monologues at the Bush Theatre, London, and Spun at the Arcola Theatre, London.  She was also awarded Best Designer at The Stage Debut Awards 2018.

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My name is Khadija Raza and I'm a Theatre Designer and I'm 23 years old. I was born in Pakistan and I moved to East London when I was 11 and growing up there wasn't really much of a theatre going culture where I was from, neither in East London or Pakistan, so I didn't really get to experience live performance in any sort of way until I was about 18.

At school I studied Biology, Chemistry, English Literature and Fine Art at A-level and I originally applied to do a course in Radiography, but I also applied to do a foundation course in Art and Design, and in the end I kind of just went with what I really wanted to do which was the foundation course, and I went to a little college called The Working Men's College in Camden, and then I applied to the Central School of Speech and Drama to do a BA in Theatre Design.

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Since graduating I was one of the four winners of the Linbury Prize, which is a competition for theatre design graduates and after that I designed the Hijabi Monologues at the Bush Theatre, Mixtape for the Royal Exchange Manchester, Spun for the Arcola Theatre, and Loki and Cassie and Cacophony for the Almeida [Theatre]. And earlier this year I also won The Stage Debut Award for Best Designer.

Between design jobs I usually assist other designers doing model making, research or technical drawings and I sometimes also do design workshops for teachers and students. The first obstacle I faced when I decided to become a theatre designer was convincing my parents that it was a viable option and challenging their perceptions of theatre. The only way I could really do that was to show them what I loved about it and what it was all about. So I took my mum to an open day at a drama school and showed her exactly what I'd be doing and why it's creative and fulfilling and exciting.

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One of the obstacles for me as a Designer is finding the right people to work with and the right projects for me so that I know that I'm not working with people who only want to work with me for the way that I look or because I can tell a particular kind of story, but rather who I am as a designer or an artist and storyteller. And I think another struggle is just surviving as a freelancer and the key to that so far has been keeping myself self-motivated and organised and meeting lots of people and seeing theatre and keeping myself in that world.

Some of the things you can do if you're interested in theatre design and other backstage roles is go to TheatreCraft which is an event that is all about all the backstage roles in theatre, what they consist of and what the job is and you get to talk to lots of people who do this for a living. You can also go to open days for universities, I went to Central School of Speech and Drama and there's other drama schools as well and you should just go and see theatre as much as you can. There's places like Mousetrap who do cheap tickets to see big shows in the West End and it's just a lovely experience.

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Photo: Alex Brenner

Published: 12 March 2019

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