Hannah Sibai

By June 3, 2014

Theatre & Dance. Leeds.

[Image: (c) RUDRA, Manasimitra]

Already this year she’s designed three stage shows and a music video for the Kaiser Chiefs, and later this year brings a new show to premiere in July followed by a tour of her latest show ‘Home Sweet Home’, produced by Freedom Studios, in the Autumn.

Hannah Sibai is a freelance Theatre & Production Designer based in Leeds and a founding member of Oscar Mike, who make playful theatre and theatrical games. Since her training at Wimbledon School of Art in London, Hannah has designed shows across the country for companies including the West Yorkshire Playhouse, RashDash, Red Ladder, Freedom Studios, Starving Artists, Pointed Arrow, Manasamitra, Northern Creative, Middle Child and Upstart Theatre.

Hannah is increasingly working as a Production Designer, designing a number of short films and pop promos over the past few years. She has a keen interest in transformation, mixed media and naturalism vs the surreal, with colour and detail playing a key part in her designs.

In April 2013 Hannah was appointed Designer in Residence over the period of West Yorkshire Playhouse‘s acclaimed Transform Festival. She has been credited as a scenic artist for Slung Low and Interplay, and set model maker for various large-scale productions, including shows for the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House.

Hannah tells TSOTA about the highs and lows of working freelance in the Arts and what’s in the pipeline for 2014….


“You live off how much??!” the Production Manager on my recent show ‘Home Sweet Home’ yells across the workshop one Sunday. We are talking about our tax returns and I revealed my average salary for the hours that I work. “But how can you live?” he continues. I’ve been a freelance Theatre & Production Designer for the past 5 years, toiling away on many varied projects with lots of different companies in and around Yorkshire. I get by, have two holidays a year (bargain ones), buy nice things for me and the flat (second hand ones) and have never felt deprived of anything or been in trouble financially. I work for myself, sure I may work 14 hour days when I’m teching a show or on a shoot, but working for myself means I mostly pick my own hours, and more importantly the projects I want to work on. This year I’ve already designed three shows plus a music video for the Kaiser Chiefs, each one so completely different in both presentation and aesthetic.

Right now though, apart from running a few workshops, I’m embarking on a possible six weeks off work. I’ve not had more than a week off work since I started out, so this IS a treat. ‘Home Sweet Home’ involved months of hard work, from the meetings stage, to the set design stage, to the costume design stage, through to rehearsals and actually creating the thing. I am physically and mentally exhausted and I need to get my social life back on track, as well as have a bit of time in my pajamas in front of Buffy.

9 to 5 was never for me. I’ve had a bit of temping work in the past and ended up spending the whole 8 hour slog watching the clock whilst feeling awkward in a smart shirt or uniform. Ever since school I knew I’d work in the arts, and ever since I left university I knew I had to freelance. Working in theatre is fantastic, my job involves working closely with every single role within a production -the director, actors, technicians, stage managers and other creatives. Each day at work brings fresh new challenges, and although I get stressed during the late nights and annoyed at the last minute changes sometimes required, I remind myself at the end of the long day: I’m working in an industry that I love and that I feel is vital.

As I’m reading the great reviews for ‘Home Sweet Home’ I realise that those long hours really are worth it when the end result is something people compliment as being ‘beautiful’. The play is political – set in a care home it explores the issues of growing older in this country – an important subject, and the design is key to telling that story. Theatre isn’t all show songs and Shakespeare; it can act as a vehicle for social change. So at the end of the day it’s not just making stuff pretty that I’m responsible for, it’s helping to create something remarkable that can encourage individuals to stop and think.

Why the 6 weeks off work? Well, luckily it fell this way, with big jobs either side to tide me over. I think every artist needs some time to reflect, and I’ve not seen any theatre in weeks, which is extremely unusual for me! I’m going to spend this time absorbing: reading, writing, drawing, tidying my desk  – and brain – for my next set of large projects. And I can’t wait


Hannah’s next show, ‘Weekend Rockstars’ by Luke Barnes, produced by Middle Child premieres in July followed by a tour of ‘Home Sweet Home’ in the autumn, produced by Freedom Studios.

Follow Hannah @hannahsibai







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