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design process

Clayesmore School Theatre Department

good design is the result of a creative process

Mistero Buffo by Dario Fo Peter Burke theatre Designer: A H Peters

Stage 1


The following questions might help you to analyse the play


What is the central theme in the play?

Click to look at the next picture. Can you make any guesses about the plays theme just from this picture?

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill - Bolton Octagon March 1997 Designer: Jocelyn Meall

Is a specific time or place suggested? Is it important that the production maintains that time or place?
Click to look at the following pictures which ones suggest a particular time or place?


Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon - Touring August 1996 Designer: Judith Croft

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan - Peter Burke Theatre Dec 97 Designer: A H Peters

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare - Birmingham Rep, November 1997 Designer: Patrick Connellan

What is the mood of the play? Does the mood change during the play?
Click to look at the following images what can you say about the mood of the plays from these pictures?


The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt - Peter Burke Theatre March 1996 Designer: AH Peters

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel - Octagon Bolton Sept 1996 Designer: Richard Foxton

The Trial by Franz Kafka Contact Theatre Company The Dancehouse, Manchester April 1997 Designer: Andrew Wood

Are there any particular requirements? Does the play need more than one door, for example?
You will need to read the play very carefully to answer this question.


You could also ask:

Does the play fit into a particular genre? Can you identify a subtext? What do you want the audience to go away thinking about?


You might find it useful to use a chart like this one






No. characters


Stage 2



Ideas dont descend from space and land in your head They result from careful and intelligent research

Research as widely as you can


You could look at:

Art and photos of the time

Everyday objects
Historical/political events Music of the time/place


Keep all your research material together in a convenient format.

Your black book would be a good place. Some designers like to stick everything onto large boards to keep it all visible see the following slide.

Stage 3

giving form

Now start to think about the play in terms of:

Shape Texture

Giving form


Try to find a colour that you think sums up the play for you. Try to find an actual colour just saying blue isnt very helpful!
Look at the following 3 slides what mood or idea is suggested by the colour on each slide?

Giving form

Try to find a shape that you think sums up the play for you. Try to find an actual shape or draw it yourself
Look at the following slide what moods or ideas are suggested by the shapes?

Giving form

Giving form

Romeo & Juliet Sherman Theatre, Cardiff Feb1995 Designer: Claire Lyth

Look at the way a strong shape can become part of a set

The importance of texture as a way of creating a mood or feeling cannot be overstated

Giving form

Dont forget that the floor is probably your biggest area

Look at the way the following examples have used texture

Richard III

Haymarket Theatre, Leicester - October 1998 Designer: Juliet Shillingford

Tidelines by Mary Cooper and Gary Yershon West Yorkshire Playhouse Theatre in Schools Leeds

April 1996

Designer: Madeleine Millar

Manipulating the scale of objects can be a powerful way of engaging the audiences attention.
Look at the following examples.

Giving form

Turandot by Puccini LOpera Nationale de Paris September 1997

Designer: Alison Chitty

The Lion King New Amsterdam Theatre, New York Nov 1997 Designer: Richard Hudson

Now you can start to think about how you could incorporate these qualities into a form on stage. Some people like to do lots of drawing at this stage, others like to play around with very simple models

Giving form

Stage 4

Design style

To simplify things, we think in terms of three design styles:

Design style

Naturalistic Semi-Naturalistic Abstract

Look at the next few pictures and try to say which style the designer has chosen then try to define each style

Heritage by Nicola McCartney Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Oct 98 Designer: Fiona Watt

A Different Way Home by Jimmy Chin Coliseum Theatre, Oldham Feb 97 Designer: Celia Perkins

Wagner Workshop Peter Burke Theatre December 2000 Designer: Ben Stocken

Shadowlands by William Nicholson Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke April 96 Designer: Elroy Ashmore

The Daughter in Law by DH Lawrence

Octagon Theatre, Bolton

March 1998

Designer: Dominie Hooper

Lucky Sods by John Godber Coliseum Theatre, Oldham Jan 97 Designer: Rachel Blues

Woyzeck by Georg Buchner Peter Burke Theatre 1998 Designer A H Peters

Design style

Now look back to the notes you made in stage 1. It is important to choose a style that is appropriate to the play and production. Dont just choose a style you fancy working in!

Stage 5

Design format

Think about the space you want to design for. Do you want to work in a proscenium arch,a thrust, a promenade, in-the-round
Make sure you know what these terms mean and then look at the following pictures and decide which space is being used.

Design format

Honk by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe Stephen Joseph Theatre Dec 1997 Designer: Peter McKintosh

The Relapse by John Vanbrugh Swan Theatre, Stratford May 1995 Designer: Tim Goodchild

The Criminals by Jose Triana

Backchat Theatre Company, Lyric Studio, Hammersmith

March 1998

Designer: Anthony Lambie

Venus & Adonis by John Blow The Opera House, Gent, Belgium Designer: Benoit Dugardyn

Our Countrys Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker

Peter Burke Theatre March 2000

Designer: A H Peters

Of course, you dont have to use one of these formats. Look at the following sketch for Grotowskis production of The Prince
How would you feel if you were an audience member having to stretch to peer over a wall at the action?!

Design format

Stage 6

Drawings & models

Now you are ready to start giving form to your ideas.

Drawings & models

Begin by making lots of drawings NEVER throw any away!

Or, if you dont trust your drawing skills, go straight to the next stage and make a white card model a very quick and simple version of your design.
Once you are happy with this stage, go on to make scale drawings using plans of the theatre you are designing for

The final stage is to make a model of your set.

Drawings & models

It should be to 1:25 scale, to fit in the model-box of the theatre

Your aim is to make a model that looks exactly like your finished set will/would look on stage.
Look at some of the examples in the Art Department to see what you are aiming at. Or look at the next slide which is a model?

Jenufa by Janacek

Royal Northern College of Music Manchester March 1999

Designer: Peter Ruthven Hall

The Storm By Alexander Ostrovsky

Almeida Theatre, London

November 1998 Designer: Robin Don

Most important
Remember that we go to SEE a play. The Designer is absolutely crucial to the success of a production.

Have Fun!