As a child, Ana Inés Jabares-Pita sang in a choir which was given the opportunity to sing as part of an opera. “I remember being backstage,” she says, “with the costumes and the makeup. Being on stage was great fun but being backstage was even better.” For her five-year university course in Spain, she read fine art, and was required after three years to specialise in a certain area. “I always liked everything. I didn’t know if I wanted to choose digital media, drawing, sculptures, installation or painting.” She opted for the latter in the end. Back then she was also training as an opera singer, and would end up having to choose between that and fine art.
In her fifth year she went on an Erasmus to Italy, where she studied technical drawing for the theatre, learning about set design and scenography. Here, final-year students were granted a chance to design for a show taking place at a particular theatre. She was only in her first year of design, so this did not include her. The show in question was Le Carnaval des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) which she set about doing some drawings for anyway. On the day of the student presentations she turned up to share her set and costume ideas. Even if they weren’t suitable, she says, she had nothing to lose. But they were, she got the job, and “ended up having to design 27 costumes in a couple of months – and I had to learn how to sew.” On seeing the first performance, she realised this was the career she wanted.
Overall winner of the 2013 Linbury Prize for stage design, she’s recently worked on What Girls Are Made Of (playing Soho Theatre until the end of this month) and The Lovely Bones which is currently touring. She’s also doing set and costume for Pride & Prejudice (Sort Of). Coming to Oxford Playhouse next year, it’s Blood of the Young’s pop history adaptation of the Austen classic. “It’s not completely ‘period’,” she laughs, “but the period is a really good place to start sometimes – you’ll be informed and know where things are coming from.” Thus, she’s conducted a lot of research of the Georgian period, twinned with exploration of pop culture.
She tends not to consider budget when designing. “It’s important to keep it very open and not to worry about budget until later in the process.” If you burden yourself about money, “big ideas and ambitious things would never happen.” Once things are designed, she says, you can think about what can be done to bring drawings to life without breaking the bank. To think about it beforehand would be to continually just present “very simple” ideas, and not “take as many risks”.
About one third of her time on a job she spends on her own, and the rest in the company of others working on the same project. The alone time is needed, she says, “but I think I get a lot more from meeting with directors, assistants, actors and having chats with them – it’s really important to have a conversation, to get to conclusions.”
Ana’s favourite theatre designers
John Macfarlane, Paul Brown, Es Devlin and Bunny Christie
A top design moment
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A… remarkable.