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The Design Arts of Theatre

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Introduction   ::   Scenic   ::   Costume   ::   Lighting   ::   Activities

Introduction to Design

The Designers


Stage Manager: Next on our agenda is set design.

Set Designer: Thanks. As you can see, I've designed this so that this green sofa is right next to the window.

Costume Designer: Wait a minute. I thought you were going to have a brown couch.

Set Designer: Well, it was brown, but I noticed that in the play, the Mother says, "Don't you sit on that green couch!"

Costume Designer: Is that a significant image?

Director: I think it is. They mention green things a lot in the play. That's why I've had her design so many plants around the stage. The playwright wants lots of green. You know: Green. Life. There is lots of life in this house. It's an important symbol.

Dramaturg: I agree. The characters are surrounded by Life. There has to be lots of green.

Costume Designer: Okay, but you've known for some time that I've been designing a green dress for the Mother. If she sits on that green couch with her green dress, she will disappear. She will be a floating head!

Dramaturg: Well, the script actually specifies a green sofa .

Director: Any way to change the dress color? Perhaps some green trim is enough.

Costume Designer: I'll figure it out.

Director: Are you sure—

Costume Designer: I'll figure it out! Okay?

Director: Okay. Thanks.

Stage Manager: Thanks you guys. Next on our agenda is lights.

Lighting Designer: Wha—huh? Sorry, I dozed off.

Stage Manager: Thanks for joining us.

Lighting Designer: Yeah, I thought I'd have a lot of green in the lights.

ALL: Green!?

Lighting Designer: Yeah. It says in the script—

Stage Manager: We just discussed this.

Director: The set design is going to have most of the green in the show. Can you work around that?

Lighting Designer: Well, I suppose so. We certainly don't want green lights on a green set. That would be too weird.

Director: What lights would look good on green?

Lighting Designer: Well, it depends on the scene. I can make your green set turn about any color I want. Like that night scene. If I put a pale blue on, it'll make the whole place look like moonlight. The green set will just look like it's dark.

Director: We'll work all that out when we get some specifics. In the meantime, I'd like to see some drawings for our next meeting.

Stage Manager: Have you chosen the green for the sofa yet?

Set Designer: Sure. We have a green sofa downstairs. It's perfect.

Costume Designer: That puke green 50's thing?

Set Designer: You want me to change the tint?

Lighting Designer: It won't look puke green when I'm done with it.

Stage Manager: It looks like we have the first of the colors in our palette. Can you guys meet this week to find some other good colors?

Designers: No problem. Sure! Etc.

Stage Manager: Okay. 'Til next week then. I'll have the props person here next week too.

Set Designer: Good. I want to talk to her about that chicken we need. I think I found just the thing to use for that.

Director: See you next week.

Introduction to Design

It's all spectacle, no matter what Aristotle says. Going to a Broadway show means you want to see cool lights, fantastic special effects and elaborate costumes. It's here and we love it.

As you can probably surmise from the last "lesson," effective designing begins with communication. Without communication, things can look really strange. Designers are also artists. Costume and Set designers must be able to draw and paint. Lighting designers need more elusive talents, because their art form is in the air itself.

Which sucks, because I love design, and I have two problems. It doesn't help that I'm colorblind! And I've never developed my art skills to the point where I could draw extremely well. I do passable cartoons, though. Photography doesn't help me much here.

As a person in theatre, I've designed a dozen or so sets, most of which were not extremely colorful. And most of these did require any complicated design. For one play, Jack Tales, I simply needed a swampy looking place. Since I was the director, too, I just cut down some of my mother-in-law's favorite bushes, set up some branches on the stage (attached by invisible wire to the ceiling), and peeled off long strips of bark from another of my mother-in-law's bushes, draping them over the twigs for a droopy, spooky effect. A black curtain served as backdrop.

That's my kind of set design. Simple. At least when I do it myself. Costume design is similar. While a real costume designer spends hours researching specific clothing items to get just the right buckle, I'll find a boot that looks okay and hope no one notices.

I can do lighting design okay, but my knowledge of electronics isn't up to par, so I have to keep that simple, too.

Which just goes to show: different productions require different things. The shows I designed worked well with my simple approach. But when I've directed for a mainstage production, a bit more complexity was desired to get just the right effect. And it made a difference that many of the shows I've designed were for children, or were for community productions with no budget.

As you explore the next few theatre artists: the Set Designer, the Costume Designer and the Lighting Designer, remember that almost any play can be performed with just an actor dressed in black on a black stage with a simple spotlight. But when dealing with image-making, sometimes that's just not the right choice—if you have the money.

Copyright 2008, David Sidwell. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, October 07). The Design Arts of Theatre. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License