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Introduction to Theatre Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

Last updated: November 16, 2007
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Unit II-Page 1
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The Design Team:

Resource:  Wilson and Goldfarb, Chapters 5 and 6

 Objectives for this lesson:

Students will examine:
Background: {Top of Page}

Brief History of Design:

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Chapter 5 -- Set and Costume Design

Functions of Design:

Scene Design

    1.  Help set the tone and style of the production
    2.  Establish the locale and period in which the play takes place
    3.  Develop a design concept consistent with the director's concept
    4.  Provide a central image or metaphor, where appropriate
    5.  Ensure that scenery is coordinated with other production elements
    6.  Solve design problems

( **the following is from Cameron and Gillespie...
    1.  help tell the story
    2.  provide mood, color, emphasis
    3.  enhance concept
    4.  create environment in which actors can create convincing life
    5.  be aesthetically pleasing on their own  )

Establishing tone, style, and mood:

    1.  Tragedy vs. Comedy (Julius Caesar's Rome must look and feel very different from the Rome of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)

Plus subtleties of environmental mood

    2. Level of Abstraction -- "natural" or "stylized"  -- "realistic" or "nonrealistic?"

    3. historical period

If updating, retain mood of original

What does the audience think it looks like? (Cowboy hats of the 1940's movies were not realistic, but audiences probably thought they were. "Realistic" concepts change: new images of the past are grittier - Lion in Winter and The Three Musketeers in 1976 were very dirty-looking).

    4. Geographical location

Quality of light, is the sound coming from inside or out?

What is the essence?

    5. Socio-economic circumstances

How do clothes and light and dealing with sets differ in characters' socio-economic circumstances?

How important is it to differentiate? (In O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, class is essential; in Maeterlinck's impressionistic dramas, it is not.)

    6. Aesthetic effect

Even intentional ugliness can be beautiful - ugliness beautifully arrived at.


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Factors of Design:
Physical Aspects of Scene Design:

    1.  Line
    2.  Mass
    3.  Composition
    4.  Texture
    5.  Color

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Designers at Work:

  1. Scene Designer - must consider:
    1. number of settings (one "unit set" which is designed to remain the same throughout the production [with minor changes in background, set props, etc.], but which can represent various locales; or different sets to be changed during the production)
    2. shape and size of the house - sight-lines
    3. how scenery will be shifted
Rigged to "fly" from the fly loft, elevators,turntables, tracks and wheels

Materials of set designers:

Traditional "flats" (107)- 1 x 3 " wood frame covered with muslin (a rough cotton fabric) and then painted - can look like walls or other solid structures, yet very lightweight.

Platforms and parallels (collapsible platforms) are also common (note: see images when you click on "flats" above...)

Wood, plastic, and metal, etc. are becoming more widespread.

Cyclorama - U-shaped back of stage, for sky or background.

  1. special effects

  2. scrims -- our production of The Night of the Iguana used a number of scrims )
    "flying" set pieces from the "fly-loft"
    "wagons," "treadmills"
  3. historical accuracy, if necessary
  4. budget and schedule
{Top of Page}The Process of Set Design:

Renderings - loose free-hand drawings of early impressions.

Ground-plan - a bird's eye view.

Three-dimensional models

Thumb-nail sketches

Elevations (scale drawings).

Instructions for building.

Technical director oversees construction.

The scene designer also often does the Properties (Props) that are not part of the regular scenery, handled by actors (canes, furniture [handled], letters, etc.)

Props are usually:

    designed and built or
    bought or rented
    stolen -- ! :) :)

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The Costume Designer

Costume Designer's Objectives:
    1.  Help establish tone and style of the production
    2,  Indicate the historical period of a play and the local in which it is set
    3.  Indicate the nature of individual characters or groups in a play:  their stations in life, their occupations, their personalities
    4.  Show relationships among characters:  separate major characters from minor ones, contrast one group with another
    5.  Meet the needs of individual performers:  make it possible for an actor or actress to move freely in a costume; allow a performer to dance or engage in a sword fight, for instance; when necessary, allow performers to change quickly from one costume to another [I was playing Joey in the musical Pal Joey, and in the first part of the first act, my costume changes were so quick that I had to wear THREE costumes at the same time; each one got taken off to reveal the other ones as the act went on...]
    6.  Be consistent with the production as a whole, especially with the other visual elements

costumes are often rented or bought ("pulling costumes"), built from scratch , or rebuilt, or borrowed.

-clothes must be "right" for the character.

-comfortable to actor (within reason) and usable.

-aesthetically pleasing - can make a big difference to actor's character.

Designer must analyze:

Given circumstances - sex, age, health, social class, focal importance

Shape - silhouette (outline) pleasing.

Movement of costume.

Texture and draping.

Enhancement or suppression of body lines (different periods have different styles: pushed up bosoms of the French Empire, flattened bosoms of the 1920's, codpieces in medieval and Elizabethan, togas in Rome).

Individual actors - long necks, skinny arms, etc.

Costume shop foreperson executes the designs.

Costume designer's resources:
    1.  Line, shape, and silhouette
    2.  Color
    3.  fabric
    4.  Accessories

Makeup, hairstyles, and masks-- all related to costumes.

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Chapter 6 -- Lighting and Sound Design

The Lighting Designer

Lighting not an important factor in design till 1830's with limelight, but even then needed sharper control

Electricity was the key

to imitate natural effects

to enhance: change shape, mood and tone

Now high-tech, computerized

Objectives of Stage Lighting

    1.  Provide visibility -- let the performers and other elements be seen
    2.  Help establish time and place
    3.  Help create mood and tone
    4.  Reinforce the style of the production
    5.  Provide focus onstage and create visual compositions
    6.  Establish rhythm of visual movement

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Lighting instruments - the term used to refer to the units that deliver the light (including the housing and the light bulb, or lamp).

The lighting designer can influence only five things in lighting:  Color, direction/distribution, intensity, form, movement

    1.  color - changed by using gels -- colored pieces of plastic (heat resistant - the only color light that will get through is the color of the gel)
            mixing of colors -- warm lights (amber, straw, gold) with cool colors (blue, blue-green,
            lavender) can produce depth and naturalness

    2.  direction / distribution - can be up to 150 lights in a production

    3.  intensity - brightness -- controlling the amount of current to instrument - "dimmers" control that amount

    4.  form -- the shape of the light

    5.  movement --  alterations in the other factors will give impression of movement - this would also include the movement of a "follow-spot" (powerful spotlight as that swivel and shine on different places).
           fades, cross-fades,blackouts can suggest movement and form

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Instruments: (see the photos in text)

a. spotlights: ellipsoidal reflectors - long distances, sharp and clear
b. fresnels (pronounced "fruh-nel'" - named after Frenchman Fresnel who designed a "step lens" - the lens had less and more even mass, so it would heat evenly, avoiding the problem of regular convex lenses heating unevenly and thus cracking - "fill" light - diffused, to "wash" or "blend."

c. striplights, footlights: footlights used very little these days, but strip lights used to add "fill" light.

d. flood lights: no lens, no color - for a "flood" of light

Click to see other Lighting Instrument pictures

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Sound Design

Sound design has always been used in some way (rolling cannonballs for sound of thunder), but with modern technology, more precise sounds are possible.

Reproduction -- the use of motivated (called for by the script) and environmental (help create more illusion of reality) sounds (135)
    includes sound effects...
Reinforcement -- the use of amplification

Modern practice of "mic'ing", sound effects, background music - further technology (some discussed on 138) and expertise may increase sound capabilities, as it appears to be one of the hardest to control.

Different kinds of mikes.

See these related links:
Technical Theatre Terms
Glossary of Theatrical Terms
The Development of Theatrical Spectacle


You can take short study quizzes based on textbook materials by going to the Student Online Learning Center page for our textbook...

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Next Section: History of Stage Lighting
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Unit II -Page 1


This page and all linked pages in this directory are copyrighted Eric W. Trumbull, 1998-2007.  

Last update: November 16, 2007