Chapter 9 the designer’s vision



1)     4 major designs 135

a)     scenery

b)     costume

c)      lighting

d)     sound

2)     scenographer 135

a)     European pro theater

3)     Pamela Howard – what is sceneography 135

4)     Each design unique

a)     Budget

b)     Physical space

c)      Production designer’s vision

5)     How do designers communicate 135-137

a)     Verbal descriptions

b)     2D drawings

c)      3D models

d)     material samples

e)     snatches of melody

6)     Linda – Goldoni’s servant of 2 masters – communication failure 136

7)     Linda Essig – email color design – colors wrong – 136

8)     What do designers do? 137 – 150

a)     Ten tasks listed 137

b)     Select a play to design 137

c)      Read and analyze script 138

d)     Research the world of the play 138-139

e)     Develop initial design ideas 139-140

f)        Collaborate in developing the production concept 140-141

g)     Prepare the 1st draft of the visual and aural designs 141

h)      Solidify the production concept 141-145

i)        Finalize the designs 145

j)        Complete technical drawings, charts, and plots 145-148

k)      Supervise the realization of the designs 148-150

9)     Task 1 – select a play to design 137

a)     Not at the top of the theater’s power pyramid

b)     Play is already selected

c)      Designers “select” a play by accepting or declining offer

d)     Decision influenced by:

i)        Fee offered

ii)      Quality of the director

iii)    The other designers

iv)    Work schedule

v)      budget

e)     designer amnesia 137

10) task 2 – read and analyze the script 138

a)     one way – seek same basic info as director about plot, character, genre, style, themes, and meaning

b)     second way – also analyze for info particular to their area of design

c)      scene designers – locations, entrances, anything specified by the playwright

d)     Costume designers – where and when play takes place. They make a character/scene plot listing of which characters are in each scene, note when costume changes happen, how much time for those changes, and find all costume references in the script

e)     lighting designers – where each scene takes place and what season and time of day so they can correctly ID the source of lighting

f)        sound designer – the specific sounds playwright calls for, and imagine the ambient sounds that can be created to enrich the feeling of the action

11)  task 3 – research the world of the play 138-139

a)     designers do extraordinary amount of research after reading and analyzing and before beginning their design

b)     Hungarian scenographer Gyorghy Szego – Glass menagerie – NYC skyline 139

c)      Designers must be well educated in history of art, architecture, interior decoration and furniture, clothing, theatrical costuming, and textiles. In the different illuminations created by oil, gas, candle, and electric lighting. And in the history of music

d)     Joseph Varga --- took pictures of fire escapes 139

e)     Designers are pack rats and acquire large libraries

12) Task 4 – develop initial designs 139-140

a)     Designers absorb their analysis and research to stimulate their imagination so they can express their individual vision and share their early ideas with the creative team at the first major production conference

b)     Eric Sinkkonen – Mutsumi Takaki 140

c)      Never put your designs in checked baggage

13)  Task 5 – collaborate in developing the production concept 140-141

a)     1st meeting director presents his ideas and asks designers to present theirs

b)     Niagara falls – not formal presentations

c)      goal of meeting is for everyone to leave with a shared sense of the productive basic interpretation, historical settings, theatrical style, and dramatic genre

d)     these mutual understandings will shape what the production will look and sound like and the emotional impact it will have – the production concept

14) task 6 – prepare a 1st draft of the visual and aural designs 141

a)     designers start in earnest

b)     Assimilated director’s interpretation, integrated their research and analysis with the other designers and arrived at production concept. Ready to design

c)      scene and costume designers sketch – some manually like Linda

d)     costume designers draw each costume and select fabric swatches for each

e)     sometimes they use computers

f)        build a white model – unpainted 3D scale model of set

g)     Lighting designers may storyboard play – illustrates where the light comes from. Develop ideas for how light will help tell story and shape mood

h)      Sound designers select music and sound effects from existing sources. Or build on multiple tracks a particular effect

i)        exchange ideas and confer regularly with director

15) task 7 – solidify the production concept 141-145

a)     2nd production conference

b)     designers present nearly finished designs

c)      scene designers describes scenery using a rendering – a perspective drawing that gives the illusion of 3D and/or a white model of set

d)     Eric Fielding – Othello rendering and white model 143

e)     Linda – sketch of costume – Truffaldino – servant of 2 masters 142

f)        Costume designer asks about colors and textures of set that will influence costume design

g)     Lighting designer discusses where lighting instruments can be hung

h)      Sound designers learn where speakers can be placed

i)        Everyone asks questions and makes suggestions that might lead to adjustments

j)        Joseph Vargas rendering – Glass Menagerie 144

k)      Costume designer shows renderings or sketches of each costume

l)        Lighting designer describes and demonstrates colors and angles of the lighting design. Discuss look

m)   Sound designer plays samples

n)      Team has clear vision of what production will be like

16) Task 8 – finalize the designs 145

a)     Designers go back to drawing board and make adjustments

b)     Everyone remains in communication – making changes and refinements

c)      Finalized designs submitted to director – ensures designs archive what they decided on

17) Task 9 – complete the technical drawings, charts, and plots 145-148

a)     Creative part of brain put on hold

b)     Prepare designs manually or put on computer – AutoCAD or vector works

c)      Technical drawings to convey design ideas precisely and clearly to people in workshops

d)     Scene designer drafts a large number of technical drawings

i)        Scale line drawings of ground plan showing scenery as it appears from above.

ii)      Front elevation – scale line drawing of flattened 2D front view of scenery

iii)    Cross section – scale line drawing of scenery as seen from side of stage showing where each piece of scenery will be installed

iv)    Work drawings – show how each piece of scenery constructed

e)     Joseph Varga – scale ground plan Glass Menagerie 146

f)        Joseph Varga – front elevation Glass Menagerie 147

g)     Costume designer

i)        Line drawings showing backs of costumes, trimming details, and accessories

ii)      Costume list – showing order in which costumes are worn

h)      Lighting designer

i)        Uses scene designers ground plan, front elevation, and cross section to draft a light plot shower where each instrument is hung

ii)      Instrument schedule – list each piece and color media (or gel) that will be placed in front of it, how it will be connected to the computer light board

iii)    Cue sheet – listing each time lights change and where in the script that happens

i)        Gel – short for gelatin. Color media before plastic

j)        Old joke would be to tell apprentice to wash the gel and it would dissolve 147

k)      Sound designer

i)        Uses computer to make sound plot – shows where speakers are placed and which channel each is connected to on the computer sound board

ii)      Cue sheet indicating what each cue is and where in script it occurs

l)        Light plot – GeVa theater – Glass menagerie – F. Mitchell Dana 148

18) Task 10 – supervise the realization of the designs 148-150

a)     Now must make artistic decisions on the spot

b)     Scene designers consult regularly with technical director and scene painter about construction and painting of scenery

c)      Costume designer meets daily with costume shop staff about costume construction – also attends fittings

d)     Lighting designer consult with technical director and master electrician about hanging and cabling. Supervise focus session where all lights are precisely aimed. Lighting used to create mood and sculpt figures on stage

e)     Michael Douglas – US Santa Barbara – Pirandello’s Henry IV 149

f)        Sound designers supervise sound board operator who assists in installation of sound equipment and operates computer board during performance

g)     Computers are great help but can cause chaos if they screw up 149

h)      Final phase of designers work begins with load in – when scenery is brought in and set up

i)        Actors begin rehearsing final rehearsals run by stage manager – coordinates the work with everyone else and is in direct communication with director

j)        In final phase of rehearsals scene designers supervise decoration of set and make changes suggested by director

k)      Lighting and sound designers design, set, and adjust each cue with director’s consultation to ensure visual and aural effects are correct, that volume is appropriate, and timing supports emotion of scenes

l)        Costume designers attend all rehearsals making adjustments as needed

m)   Creation is made real on opening night – playwright’s words brought to life by actor’s performances, director’s interpretation, and designer’s vision.

19) Stole my thunder – 18th century English – John Dennis 145

20) National union for designers  141

a)     USA – united scenic artists

b)     Branch of international alliance of theatrical stage employees

c)      Stamp

d)     Stage employees, motion picture techs, workers in allied crafts including prop artisans and scene painters




character/scene plot  A chart, usually in the form of a grid, that shows which characters are in each scene of a play; used by directors, costume designers, and stage managers. (9-138)

color media/gel  A thin sheet of colored plastic placed in front of a theatrical lamp; called a "gel" in earlier times because it was made from gelatin. (9-147)

costume list  A list of what each actor will wear from the skin out. (9-147)

costume plot  A list showing the order in which costumes are worn. (9-147)

cross section  A scale line drawing of the scenery seen from the side of the stage showing how each piece of scenery will be installed in the theatre. (9-146)

cue sheet  A list of things to be done by a crew member during a performance, referenced to lines in the script or actions on the stage. (9-147)

fitting  A session during which an actor tries on a costume and the designer makes any necessary adjustments. (9-149)

focus session  A working period during which the lighting designer supervises the electricians who hang, circuit, and focus all the theatrical lights. (9-149)

front elevation  A working drawing of the set that shows what the scenery looks like from the front. (9-146)

ground plan  A scale drawing of the floor of the stage showing the placement of the scenery; used by the actors in rehearsals and by the stage crew for the installation of the scenery. (9-146)

instrument schedule  A list made by the lighting designer listing each piece of equipment and the color media that will be placed in front of it along with how it will be connected to the computer light board. (9-147)

light plot  A scaled diagram drafted by the lighting designer that displays all the lighting instruments to be used in the design and where they are placed. (9-147)

load-in  The work period during which the scenery is brought into the theatre. (9-150)
master electrician  The supervisor of the electrical crew. (9-149)

production (design) conference  A meeting of the director and designers to develop the production concept. (9-140)

production concept  The result of the intellectual and creative process through which the director and the key collaborators determine how the script is to be interpreted and how that interpretation is to be realized on the stage. (9-141)

rendering  A colored drawing by a designer to communicate what a costume or set will look like. (9-143)

scene painter  A specialist scenic artist who paints scenery. (9-149)

scenographer  A theatrical designer of scenery and costumes (and sometimes lighting) who works collaboratively with the director to create the visual world of the play. (9-135)

sketch  A drawing by a designer to communicate the basics of a design. (9-144)

sound board operator  The technician on the sound crew who operates the computer sound board during performances. (9-149)

sound plot  A diagram showing the placement of all microphones and speakers. (9-148)

stage manager  The person in charge of all rehearsals and performances. (9-150)

storyboard  A term borrowed from cinema to describe a sequence of rough drawings that show how scenes will look in performance; used by some lighting designers to communicate the effects they plan for in their design. (9-141)

technical director  The supervisor of the scene shop, who supervises budgets, schedules, personnel, and the construction and installation of scenery. (9-148)

technical drawings  A scale drawing illustrating how scenery is to be built and installed. (9-145)

white model  An unpainted, three-dimensional scale model of the set built by the designer; usually made from foam core, cardboard, or some other material. (9-141)

working drawing  See "technical drawing." (9-146)



1 : Who creates the visual and aural elements of a production?
     c. The designer
 2 : All of the following elements of a production require a designer except
      d. Programs
3 : All of the following are tasks a designer completes except
     a. Coaching actors
 4 : An unpainted, three-dimensional scale model of the set is called
     b. A white model
5 : A perspective drawing that gives the illusion of three-dimensional depth is called
     a. A rendering

 6 : Designers use AutoCAD and Vector Works to
     c. Create technical drawings

7 : A scale line drawing showing scenery as it appears from above is called
     d. A ground plan
The correct answer is d
8 : A(n) _____ indicates how and when the lights will change during a production.
     b. Cue sheet

9 : The _____ is when scenery is brought in and set up on stage.
     a. Load-in

 10 : Who coined the phrase "stealing my thunder?"
     c. John Dennis


Chapter 10: Putting It Together




Carrie on Broadway page 151

Sondheim lyric page 151

Beware of Greeks page 153

“pander” info page 153

Achilles heel info page 153

Ajax comment page 153

Pic of Tom page 154

Varga sketch page 158

Linda’s sketch of Helen page 159

Linda’s experience with Romeo and Juliet set in Star Wars universe

t-shirt pic page 162

reenactor pic page 162

Joe’s doodle of stage design page 163

Sharpshooter info page 163

Mathew Brady pic/sketch page 164

Linda’s new sketch of Helen page 165

Set model page 165

Joe’s painted rendering of the scenery page 166

Ground plan page 167

Technical drawing page 167

Cross section drawing page 168

Painter’s elevations page 168

First page of sound cue sheets page 169

“build period” page 170

Banjo player Pete Wernick info page 170

Hector page 171

Thersites page 171

Joe called “Design-o-matic” page 171

Sconces pics page 172

LED sign on page 173

Kinter’s song and dance number color plate 19

Ajax and Hector’s boxing match color plate 20








painter's elevation  A scale drawing painted by the scene designer to provide scene painters with clear guidance in painting the scenery. (10-167)


production concept  The result of the intellectual and creative process through which the director and the key collaborators determine how the script is to be interpreted and how that interpretation is to be realized on the stage. (10-161)


turkey  A slang term for a theatrical production that fails commercially or artistically. (10-152)



Sample test


1 : What play did Tom and Linda work on for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival?
     d. Troilus and Cressida

2 : For this production, Tom was the
     a. Director

3 : For this production, Linda was the

     b. Costume designer

4 : In Shakespeare's play, who is the king of
     c. Priam

5 : What theatrical style did Tom decide to use for this production of Troilus and Cressida?
       d. Theatricalism

6 : Tom decided to set the action of Troilus and Cressida during
     a. The American Civil War
7 : How many weeks of rehearsals did the actors have?

     b. 6

8 : The character of Thersites was based on _____ for this production.
     c. Matthew Brady
9 : Helen of Troy has been described as having a face
     d. That launched a thousand ships

10 : On opening night, lead actor Richard Kinter was diagnosed with
     a. A hernia






The Elements of Visual Design


All visual aspects of a production are composed from the same basic elements line, shape, space, co/or, texture, and ornament


Line defines boundaries and permits us to perceive shape and form. There are two kinds of line—straight and curved—but these may be combined to form zigzags, scal­lops, and many other variations. The dominant lines of the performance space (with the scenery in place but without performers) are horizontal (the floor and any overhead masking) and vertical (the upright scenic units). This basic pattern is varied by the ad­dition of furniture, ramps, steps, and platforms. In performance, other lines are created by movement and by the placement of the actors in relation to each other and to the scenic elements. The costumes worn by the actors have their own lines created by the silhouette of garments and by darts, seams, ornamentation, and other features that result in visible lines.

Line is often said to evoke identifiable responses: straight lines, stability; curved lines, grace; zigzags, confusion. Therefore, line may be manipulated to achieve desired effects. In scenery, two lines that move farther apart as they rise vertically may generate a feeling of openness, whereas lines that lean in as they rise may generate a feeling of oppression. Line is important in creating mood and atmosphere as well as in defining shape.


Shape and space are closely related and are frequently treated together as a single element: mass. Whereas line has only direction or length, mass involves three dimen­sions. It identifies shape (square, round, oblong, and so on) and space (height, width, and thickness). The stage may be thought of as a hollow cube that can be organized or altered in a variety of ways. Scenery may outline or limit the space. So may light, the actors’ movement, or the seating around a thrust or arena stage. Like line, shape and space may be used to affect audience response. An effect of compression may be achieved through the use of thick, horizontal forms overhead (such as a low ceiling with thick beams), whereas a sense of openness and grace may be achieved through the use of narrow~ vertical, and pointed forms (such as thin, tall columns and high Gothic arches). Mass is also reflected in the overall shape of costumes and furniture, the space they occupy, and the way a director groups or isolates actors. Perhaps the most effective means of revealing, concealing, or altering apparent mass is Lighting, which through its direction and intensity can create or eliminate those contrasts of light and shadow that let us perceive shape and dimension.

Color may be described in terms of three basic properties: hue, saturation or in­tensity, and value. Hue is the attribute that allows us to identify a color (red, green, blue, and so on). Saturation or intensity refers to the relative purity of a color (its freedom from its complementary or opposite hue). Value is the lightness or darkness of a color— its relation to white or black. A color that is light in value is usually called a tint; one dark in value is called a shade. Hues are classified as primary secondary, or intermedi­ate. The primary hues are those that cannot be created by mixing other hues but from which all other hues are derived. The primary hues in pigment are yellow, red, and blue. The secondary hues—orange, violet, and green—are created from equal mixtures of two primary hues. The intermediate hues are mixtures of a primary with a secondary hue. Hues may be arranged around a wheel to indicate their relationships. (See the color wheel, plate 14.) Those opposite each other on the wheel are called complementary those next to each other, analogous. The primary hues are equidistant from each other on the wheel. Hues may further be described as warm or cool. Red, orange, and yellow are warm; green, blue, and violet are cool. Almost any combination of hues may be used together if saturation, proportion, and value are properly controlled.

Mood and atmosphere depend much on color. Many people believe that light, warm colors are more suitable to comedy than are dark, cool colors. Some color combi­nations are considered garish, others sophisticated. Designers may manipulate color to create the appropriate mood and atmosphere and to establish the tastes of the charac­ters that inhabit the settings or wear the costumes. Color can suggest the relationship among characters (either sympathetic or antipathetic) through the colors of their gar­ments. Color can be used to make some characters stand out and others fade into the background (for example, Hamlet wears mourning black in the midst of others dressed in colors of rejoicing). As with mass, lighting is one of the most important means of controlling color, because it can enhance, distort, or reduce apparent color in scenery, costumes, makeup, and all the other elements.


Texture may help to elicit the desired response trough such qualities as smooth­ness, roughness, shininess, softness, or graininess. Some plays seem to demand rough textures, others smooth. Such qualities as sleaziness, fragility or richness depend much on the texture (actual or simulated) of settings, costumes, and (by analogy) acting. 


Ornament includes the paintings, decorative motifs, wallpaper patterns, moldings, and similar details of settings. His one of the chief means of achieving distinctiveness. In costume, ornament includes ruffles, buttons, fringe, and lace. Ornament can be used to indicate taste or the lack of it. Too much ornamentation or too many kinds of or­namentation may indicate lack of restraint or impart a sense of clutter. Accessories, such as canes, swords, purses, and jewelry may also be considered ornaments.  In acting gesture and stage business (the amount and complexity and its relative simplicity or fussiness) serve much the same function as ornament in visual design.



The Principles of Design


In applying the elements of design, certain principles must be used if the results are to be effective. The principles of design are harmony, variety, balance, proportion, empha­sis, and rhythm.


Harmony creates the impression of unity. Typically directors and designers seek to harmonize the parts of each setting or costume and to relate the various settings and costumes in such a way that all are clearly parts of a whole. If monotony is to be avoided, however, variety is needed. Similarly, directors seek both harmony and variety through their choice of actors and through each actor’s use of movement and gesture.


Balance is the sense of stability that results from the distribution of the parts that make up the total picture. There are three types of balance. The most common is axial, achieved by the apparent equal distribution of weight on either side of a central axis. This type is especially pertinent to the proscenium stage, which may be thought of as a fulcrum (or seesaw) with the point of balance at the center. Axial balance is achieved if the elements placed on each side of the central line appear equal in weight. Apparent visual weight is not the same as actual weight, because a large light-colored object may appear to weigh no more than a small dark-colored object, and a small object near the outer edge may balance a large object near the center. A second type of balance, radial, is organization that radiates in every direction from a central point. It is especially im­portant on arena and thrust stages because these stages are viewed from several ang4s. A third kind of balance is usually called occult. It is especially pertinent to flexible and variable staging, in which there may be no readily discernible axis or center. Occult bal­ance results from the relationship of mass to space and among unlike objects.

Balance, especially axial, may also be thought of as symmetrical or asymmetrical.


Symmetrical balance means that if an object or space is divided down the middle, each side mirrors the other most costumes (especially before ornaments or accessories are added) are symmetrical. Complete symmetry in a stage setting creates a sense of for­mality and order; asymmetry, which depends on irregularity; may create a sense of in-formality or casualness. In performance, when the stage picture is constantly shifting because of the movement of the actors, directors must be especially aware of balance and how it is affected by what the actors do. During rehearsals, a director may adjust the position of actors in order to achieve balance.


Proportion involves the relationship between the parts of individual elements as well as the relationship among all the parts that make up the total picture: the scale of each part in relation to all the others; the relationship among shapes; and the division of the space (for example, the length of a dress bodice in relation to the skirt). Propor­tion can create the impression of stability or instability of grace or awkwardness. Furniture disproportionate to the size of a room may create either a cramped or meager feeling. Our perception of beauty or ugliness depends largely on the proportion of parts. In costume, the manipulation of proportion can do much to change an actor’s appear­ance and enhance or disguise attributes.


All designs need a focal point, or center of emphasis. Directors are constantly seek­ing to focus attention on what they consider most important and to subordinate the things of lesser importance. A well-composed scene or design directs attention to the most important point immediately and then to the subordinate parts. Emphasis may be achieved in several ways, among them line, mass, color, texture, ornamentation, con­trast, and movement The setting may make one area of the stage more emphatic than others; a costume may use emphasis to draw attention to an actor’s good points and away from defects; movement within an otherwise still picture will always attract the eye.


Rhythm is the principle that leads the eye easily and smoothly from one part of a design to another. All of the elements of design may be used for rhythmic purposes. Lines and shapes may be repeated; the size of objects or the amount of movement may be changed gradually to give a sense of progression; gradations in hue, saturation, and value may lead the eye from one point to another; changes or repetitions in texture and ornament may give a sense of flow and change; and the movement of the actors may increase or decrease in tempo.



The scene designer is concerned with the organization and appearance of the perfor­mance space. The designer defines and characterizes the space, arranges it to facilitate the movement of the actors, and uses it to reinforce the production concept.



The Functions of Scenic Design


Scenic design serves many functions. It defines the performance space by establishing dis­tinctions between onstage and offstage. Through the use of flats, drapes, platforms, floor treatments, or other means, designers delineate the areas that will be used for the dramatic action. Designers may employ a great deal of masking so that persons or objects outside a clearly marked area cannot be seen by the audience; or they may use virtually no masking and thereby acknowledge that the place of the action is a stage that continues into the wings as far as the audience can see. In arena and thrust theatres, the layout of audience seating itself may outline the acting space. In a variable space, acting space and audience space may be intermingled.


Scenic design creates a floor plan that provides multiple opportunities for move­ment, composition, character interaction, and stage business. The location of exits and entrances, the placement (or absence) of furniture, the presence or absence of steps, levels, and platforms—all the elements of the setting and their arrangement—are among the greatest influences on blocking, visualization, and movement. A setting can be organized in many different ways; arranging it to maximum advantage for a specific production requires careful and cooperative planning by designer and director.



Scenic design visually characterizes the acting space. Just how it does so depends on the production concept. If the concept demands that locales be represented realistically, the designer will probably select architectural details, furniture, and decorations that clearly indicate a specific period and locale. For example, the designer might create a setting fix A Doll’s House that suggests a room in a Norwegian house around 1880.  Another production concept might demand fragmentary settings with only enough pieces to establish the general character of the locale. Another might rely largely on visual motifs and theatrical conventions from the era when the play was written. A set­ting for Tartuffe, for example, might use decorative motifs and a wing-and-drop setting reflecting the age of Louis XIV. Or, as has become increasingly common, the concept may demand that the time and place of the action be altered (such as Hamlet being translated to an American Mafia context).


Another way of characterizing the space is to treat it as flexible and nonspecific, a common practice for plays with actions divided into many scenes and set in many places, as is typical in most of Shakespeare’s plays. To represent each place realistically would require a large number of sets as wet1 as a great deal of time to change them, thereby interrupting the continuity, rhythm, and flow of the action. On the other hand, to play all of the scenes on the flat floor of an undecorated stage might become monot­onous. A common solution is an arrangement of platforms, steps, and ramps that breaks up the stage space, that provides several acting areas that can be localized as needed through the addition of a few well-chosen properties, pieces of furniture, banners, images projected on screens, or through other means.


How the scenic design characterizes the performance space may make a strong interpretational statement.  The setting for Beckett’s Happy Days visually sums up the human condition as depicted in the play: an individual isolated, trapped, forced to make the best of her lot. For a play about war, the game of chess has been used as a metaphor~ with the stage floor laid out in black and white squares and the characters costumed to suggest chess pieces. The settings for The Hairy Ape” incorporate images of human beings caged and dehumanized.


Scenic design creates mood and atmosphere. Robert Edmond Jones’s setting for Macbeth creates a powerful mood of foreboding as the masks of the witches brood over the stage and the Gothic arch’s lean ever more precariously. (See the illustration on page 193.) On the other hand, Ezio Frigerio’s settings for The Servant of Two Masters (see the following page) create a sense of carefree improvisation through details painted on cloths (with slits flit entrances) suspended like shower curtains on visible rods.


Scenic design is only one part of a total design, which includes costumes, lighting, acting, and all the other elements of a production. It should evolve in consultation with those responsible for the other pans of the whole. It is not, as a painting is, complete in itself it cannot be judged entirely by appearance, because it should not only look appropriate, but also function appropriately.


The Scene Designer’s Skills


Scene designers need a variety of skills, many of them pertinent to other arts, especially architecture, painting, interior design, and acting. Like architects, scene designers con­cern and build structures for human beings to use. Although scene designers do not design entire buildings, as architects do, they sculpt space and, like architects, must be concerned with its function, size, organization, construction, and visual appearance.  Also like architects, they must be able to communicate their ideas to others through sketches, scale models, and construction drawings that indicate how each element is built and how it will look when completed.


Scene designers, in some aspects of their work, use skills similar to painters’. For example, one of the designer’s primary ways of communicating with the director and other designers is through sketches and drawings.


Once the plans are completed, the construction phase can begin. Although de­signers may not be directly involved in building the scenery they must approve all work to ensure that it conforms to the original specifications.


Basic Scenic Elements


Since 1960 a combination of rising costs, changing tastes, improved materials, and new equipment has steadily diminished concern for full-stage, realistic settings. Although complete box sets are still seen occasionally, they are far less common than they used to be. New materials (such as Styrofoam and thermoplastics) and The majority of settings today are composed of a few set pieces and stage properties or of steps and levels; they tend to be fragmentary and evocative rather than completely representational, many being wholly abstract. unconventional construction methods (such as molding Plexiglas into weight-bearing forms) have encouraged innovative techniques. Traditional stagecraft practices still play a major role in most settings, however, because the built pieces (though fewer in number) are usually constructed according to time-tested procedures or variations on them.


Designers use a few basic kinds of scenic units: soft, framed, and three-dimensional. ~ Designers need to understand each kind of scenic unit at their disposal so they can com­bine them creatively into expressions that are both evocative and practical. Let us look briefly at each type.


Soft-Scenery Units


Soft-scenery units are typically made of unframed cloth. Usually suspended from over­head, they provide a large area of scenery that can easily be moved and stored. Most soft units can be folded up when not in use. The most common soft-scenery units are bor­ders, drops, draperies, and cycloramas. The bait a short curtain or strip of painted canvas is the most frequently used overhead masking for both interior and exterior —scenes. Borders are hung parallel to the front of the stage and in a series from front to back. They may be of black cloth or of canvas painted and shaped to represent the beams of a ceiling, foliage, or some other visual element of the setting. Overhead mask­ing was once a significant element, but today it is generally thought unnecessary to mask fully (or even partially) the space above the acting area.


Drops are used to enclose settings at the back and to provide surfaces on which scenes can be painted. A drop is made by sewing together enough lengths of canvas to create an area of the desired size. Typically, the cloth is attached to a wooden or metal batten at the top for support and to another at the bottom to keep it stretched and free from wrinkles. A drop may also have portions cut out so that another drop or object is visible behind it, thereby creating apparent depth and distance. Drops can be raised into, or lowered from, the fly space above the stage they can be rolled up and stored when not in use.


Draperies may be hung parallel to the proscenium on either side of the stage in S -series from front to back in order to mask the sides of the stage in the manner of They may be any color. Black draperies are sometimes used to surround the acting net or to create an enclosing void for a fragmentary setting.  Draperies may also be made canvas or muslin; they may be dyed, or they may have scenes (such as a forest or a dis­tant city) painted on them and be hung in folds to create stylized backgrounds.


Scrim, a specialized curtain made of gauze, appears opaque when lighted only from the front but is transparent when lighted from behind. It can be hung in folds or stretched tightly. It may be used initially as a background for a scene and then become transparent to show another scene behind the first one; it may be used for the appear­ance and disappearance of ghosts and apparitions; and it can create the effect of seeing a scene through fog, mist, or the haze of memory.


A cyclorama is any arrangement of curtains that surrounds the stage area on three sides. It maybe composed of draperies, but typically (to avoid the appearance of seams) it is a continuous, tightly stretched curtain suspended on a U-shaped pipe curving around the back and sides of the stage. It is usually neutral or light gray, so that its per­ceived color may be changed through lighting. It is used to represent the sky to give the effect of infinite space, and to allow the maximum use of stage space without the need for numerous masking pieces. It is also used as a surface for projections (such as mov­ing storm clouds or abstract, symbolic patterns).


Soft-scenery units are used more extensively on proscenium stages than on thrust or arena stages, where less masking is needed and where scenic units more easily inter­fere with sightlines.


Framed Units


Some units are framed to make them self-supporting. They axe usually relatively small in comparison with soft-scenery units but can be combined to create larger surfaces.



The scene designer


The designers of the theatre production are as responsible as the director for making a dramatic presentation appropriate and pleasing. Even when the director has definite ideas about how a setting or lights or audio should be handled. or how costumes or makeup or props should appear. the designers‑in carrying out the director's wishes‑add their own personalities, their way of viewing the world, to their work. Scene designer Michael Olich says he believes "absolutely" in collaboration. "It's the drug, the hook that has made me an addict of the theatre .... As frustrating as communication can be at times, it's also ecstatically energizing when ideas that come from outside of you draw you outside of yourself as well.'


The Scene Designer


One of the collaborators is the scene designer, whose work must be as aesthetic as that of a painter and as practical as that of an architect. .W the same time, the scene designer's work is different from either of these fine arts because it is not complete in itself. After the setting is constructed, it requires the actors, the costumes, the lights, the makeup, and the properties to complete the picture. Throughout the production, the picture changes continuously as the actors move and the lights come up or fade.



The Scene Designer's Background


To design a practical and aesthetically pleasing set to match a variety of styles and historical periods, a designer needs training, experience, and talent in r many different areas. For instance, there is a big difference between constructing an apartment on stage and constructing an apartment building. Scene designers know how to adapt architectural design to a theatre production. They know enough about stage carpentry to design a set that can be built without major difficulty. They plan so that scenery can shift quickly and quietly. This means that they build both illusion and practicality into their designs so that the settings elicit certain emotional responses from the audience at the same time that they are easily functional. Scene designers need to be acquainted with the principles of lighting and know how light will affect their sets. They should know the emotional impact of various colors, textures, and masses. They must he familiar with the materials used in set construction and recognize which of these are best for particular effects.


Theatre is a collaborative art, as the director and set designer work with lighting, sound, and costume designers to create an aesthetically pleasing production. From a performance of The Bakkhai at the North Carolina School of the Arts.



Of course, they also should be acquainted with interior decorating in order to adapt various decors to the requirements of the stage. Then they mast be able to visualize suitable furniture, and how this furniture will modify the stage picture. Designers must be familiar with current styles and know‑ where to research period furniture and architecture.


Designers should be familiar with various theatrical styles from expressionism to realism and know how each of these can reinforce the director's concept or vision. According to Francis Reed, "The search for an appropriate style is the key decision facing any production team. As noted, the extent of the departure from reality can vary in acting, costume, setting and lighting‑although each must be internally consistent and complementary to the others."


Designer Donald Oenslager says: "Wherever he works, the designer is an artist and craftsman who translates the world around him into the theatrical terms of the stage."


Nancy Franklin

from The New Yorker


(John Arnone's set for the Broadway revisal of the musical Grease) . . .is a replica of a school‑auditorium stage, complete with steps at the sides, and gives the show, slick as it is; the spirit, of a high‑school production .... On the first day of school, the students of

Class of '59, come onstage carrying big pieces of cardboard painted yellow to look like a school bus, and there are other moments when you have the illusion that the students‑are just using what's at hand to put on a show when the greasers, out at night, use their flashlights as microphones, or when one of the girls; in a scene in a bathroom, sings to a bar of soap .... One part of the set and it's a big part‑seems all wrong, though: a huge collage of images meant to evoke the' fifties frames the' stage, and it's done up in Day‑Glo pinks and greens and oranges, which are the colors of another decade and, in any case, tire your eyes out before the show is half over. The excess of color works

better in Howell Binkley's lighting and in Willa Kim's witty sendups of fifties fashion cliches‑skirts with telephones, champagne glasses, flamingos, Scottie dogs, and Hawaiian palm-scapes, and, for the boys,

an endless variety of black‑and‑white plaid pants and shirts . . . . .

Reprinted by permission of The New Yorker © May 30, 1994.



Functions of Scene Design


Beyond providing a channel for the playwright's message, the setting helps convey the theme and provides information essential to the understanding of the play. It fulfills the director's interpretation; provides an environment, mood, and playable area for the actor; remains faithful to the playwright's style; and complements the work of all the other designers.


The setting presents an aesthetically pleasing image; which, however, should not be so elaborate that it calls undue attention to itself. It should provide exposition for the audience. The set also can locate time and place. The style of architecture and the furnishings can indicate the historical period and whether the play takes place in an upper class home or in an office. For instance, Tony Cucuzzella's design for Victor Herbert's The Red Mill, produced in the mid-1990s by the San Diego Comic Opera Company, immediately showed the audience that both the hotel and the mill were in advanced disrepair. The arms of the windmill were tattered; pieces of the hotel kept falling off throughout the performance. The architecture told the audience that they were in another country probably Holland, and that the time was the past--as seen in the styles of the buildings. At the same time, in the background, a white cloud was projected onto a blue cyclorama, suggesting that although the buildings were falling apart, the mood was still lighthearted.


Of course, providing exposition does not mean that the setting has to appear as if it is an actual environment. Depending on the type and style of the play, it can be more a suggestion of environment than a representation.


Balance and Harmony


The set should be balanced either symmetrically or asymmetrically. Symmetrical balance means that the left half contains exactly the same elements as the right half. Scene designers often use symmetry for staging creek plays.

 Asymmetrical balance is achieved through mass, color, and shape that differ from one side of the stage to the other. If, for instance, a huge gray brick wall were facing front at Stage Left, another object or combination of objects should go at Stage Right to counter-balance the feeling of heaviness. The designer might use dark colors, a grouping of heavy furniture, or platforms to achieve the counterbalance.


A well-designed setting should have harmony and balance. Each element should appear to belong, to be consistent. In Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It with You, each member of the household has a separate interest, such as writing, dancing, or making firecrackers, and these interests show up in a diversity of elements in the set. Although diverse the mixture contributes to the theme of nonconformity which provides harmony to the production as a whole. On the other hand, if a person were to design a setting for Wilder's Our Town using the bare stage with only a ladder to represent the second story of the Gibbses house and sawhorses and a plank to represent a soda fountain, but then constructed a box set and placed actual furniture in the Webb house-hold, the set would not have harmony.


The design provides a framework for the action and a focal point, where the audience's attention is directed. Even though the focal point may change from scene to scene, every member of the audience must have an undistorted view of each. For example, one scene may take place in a bedroom and another in the kitchen. The focus may be provided in part by lighting, but the designer makes each location, bedroom or kitchen, interesting and easily seen from any part of the audience.

A setting must be designed for- easy use by the actors. For instance, treads on steps in a set usually are wider than those in a house so the actor- can concentrate on action and character rather than on where to step.


Designer David Jenkins likes to read a script "as early as possible‑and then let the ideas wash over [him]":


You can read the script and then, say, a week later you really start to work on it. That week that you waited, somewhere you're walking down the street, or you're lying in bed, trying to go to bed at night, your thoughts start, and you are actively beginning to work then.'


Next, the designer often researches building architecture, both historically and geographically, since a type of structure seen in one country or even one part of a country may never have been erected in another.


Once they have ideas in mind, designers prepare sketches for the director. Sometimes directors have definite ideas about the setting; at other times they give the designer a free hand. In either case the director sees to it that the proposed design meshes with the work of the other theatre artists.


This floor plan shows a scale drawing of the exterior setting for a production of Jack Kirkland's Tobacco Road. ('/. inch equals 1 foot




After the director approves the preliminary sketches, the designer prepares more exact plans for the construction of the set. A floor plan (also called a ground plan) of the setting as viewed from above shows how the set fits the stage. Sometimes the designer draws several floor plans, showing a shifting of furniture, so that the director can visualize where to place the actors. Some designers use storyboards that show the set lighted from different angles, for instance, or with furniture arranged differently for different scenes.


 Often, the designer constructs a model of the set so the director can see what it will be like. The plans and model are on a scale of one-fourth inch (or occasionally one-half inch) to the foot. Then the designer may draft elevations, showing the height of platforms, steps, other three-dimensional shapes, and flats. Often the designer prepares a sectional view of objects to show the method of construction, or isometric views that show all object from the earlier and slightly above to give the builders a clear under-standing of the platform or figure. Copies of the drawings and plans go to the director, the technical director, the stage manager, and the head of the construction crew.


Lately, more and more designers are using computers with a variety of software programs developed to make their work less tedious and the drawings and computer-generated models more easily understood by the technician. Perspective drawings are much easier to do, and the computer design has the advantage of being able to show the entire setting or any portion of it from various angles, drawn in three dimensions.


Computer programs, singly or in combination, are able to insert or take away portions of a design and show multi-layered examples.

Another advantage is the use of templates for various types of stages or for furniture and costuming.

 After the planning, the scene designer's duties differ in various types of theatres. Particularly in educational and community theatres, the designer chooses the furniture and set dressings and supervises the set construction and scene painting.





A stagehand works on the scenery ("clutching," applying a strip of muslin with glue to cover the cracks), for a production of Noises Off at Midwestern State University Theatre (Texas). Pastels were used for the design of this particular set.



Colors and shapes help convey the style and genre. Curved lines and shapes, for instance, can convey lightness or gracefulness, whereas straight, angular shapes can convey austerity or somberness.


A designer often may exaggerate an element of the setting to point up an aspect of the play. For instance, set pieces for a farce may be two‑dimensional like the characters. In showing the characters' tastes, interests, hobbies, and financial status, the set becomes almost a character in itself.


Planning a Setting


The scene designer's work begins with a study and analysis of the script, first to determine the mood and theme. Then come practical questions: How many doorways are needed? Where do they lead? Are windows, fireplaces, or levels needed? How can the set add to the effectiveness of the action?