Production Designer Mike Lees
Mike trained in Production Design at Rose Bruford, having previously worked as an actor, stage-manager, scenic and make-up artist. He has created costumes, sets, installations and styled for various publications, events, productions and performers throughout the UK, Europe and America.
Recent set and costume designs for theatre include: Holding Hands
at Paschendale (Lyric Belfast); Bones
(Bush Theatre); Still Life
at the Penguin Café (Ballroom at the Savoy); Fred Astaire: His Daughter's Tribute
(London Palladium); Gone
(New Ambassadors); What I Heard About Iraq
(Arts Theatre and UK tour); Scouts in Bondage
(Kings Head Theatre); More Light
(Rose theatre Bankside) Myths and Hymns
, A Tale of Two Cities, The Musical
and the workshop productions of Mathilde
(directed by Simon Callow at the Vaudeville Theatre London and Edinburgh). Mike has just finished designing his first film ThinPale4Some
for Mtv.What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a child actor for a long time and spent a lot of time in and around theatres, so it was inevitable I would end up doing something in the performing arts field.What did you become?
A production designerWhat's your official title?
It gets called different things from scenographer to theatre designer depending on where you’re working and who you’re working with, but I generally describe my self as a production designer.What's your background - how did you end up here?
I did a lot of acting as a child, with brief forays into the West End, National Youth Theatre and other stuff. As most teenagers do, I felt restricted by it and used to get bored of doing the same thing every night so I dropped out of the arts completely for a few years. A friend asked me to help out painting scenery for a show she was working on, and I ended up stage managing the show, then designing their next one and getting more involved, and I carried on from there.How would you describe your work to a complete stranger?
I design everything you see on a stage in a performance from the scenery to the wigs. I’m responsible for setting up the world of the play before the first actor has even set foot on the stage; the period, the time of year, the mood. There is so much a designer can tell an audience about a play before a word has been spoken.What's the first thing career related you usually do each day?
Normally answering emails and reading the notes I’ve been sent from the previous day’s rehearsals.Can you describe an "average" working day for you?
Chaos. There’s no such thing as "average"! Each day is different. Depending on what type of show I’m working on - and I can be working on up to 3 shows at any one time - there are any number of things to be done. These range from script reading, in-depth research into period details, making costumes, finding props and furniture, visiting theatres to take measurements of stages, or making scale models. Then there are meetings with directors to discuss ideas, costume drawings, visits to fabric suppliers, to costume stores, wig fittings, costume fittings and alterations, and to workshops to see the progression of a set build. The inevitable ‘get-in’ and technical rehearsals and opening nights. Or I could be holed up at home on the sewing machine making costumes for days on end…. there’s always a new challenge.Who or what in the arts world most inspires you?
There have been far too many people, from directors and fellow designers to artists and actors to choose one. I have been very lucky.What's the toughest challenge you've dealt with on the job?
Money! Designs are all too frequently comprised due to lack of budget or cuts in arts funding.What's the best piece of advice you were ever given for your career?
I was really lucky to work with Ralph Koltai when I first graduated. He said that Designers had to expect to work in fringe, pub theatres, the peripatetic events and the freebies for at least 8 years. If you’re still there at the end and you can still call yourself a Designer, then you can be taken seriously as one and deserve the break. I’ve met and worked with many student designers, and actors for that matter, who walk straight out of drama college and expect to land a West End show.What are the top three skills you need in your particular role?
Patience, communication and a high caffeine tolerance.What's the best thing about your job?
There are so many things I love about it. For example; this week I’ve been making Elizabethan court gowns, sourcing early regency dresses, presenting the set design for Anansi, which is an African inspired piece as well as researching 1940s film noir and The battle of Passchendaele in 1917 for productions next year. It’s constantly changing and introducing me to new things.And the worst?
Theatre by nature is very unpredictable, and drama schools are producing more and more of us every year. Sometimes there just isn’t enough work to go around.And if you had to sum your working life in a word or phrase, what would it be?