Theatre Series: Design

The designer in a theatre is often the most overlooked individual, at least from the audience’s perspective. There is a certain respect all audience members hold for the builder, the director, and always the actor–but the designer, the mind behind the set, costumes, lights and whatnot–is often forgotten. I myself have been a designer and experienced this firsthand.

When I was in community college, our director always built design teams from his student body. For my very first production with him, I was put on the costume team because I could sew. He has always been one of those men who wanted everyone to use the skills they already have–and yet he was also very willing to teach his students things they might not otherwise know (i.e., how to use a DeWalt drill).

When the production opened (I was also acting in the show), I was excitedly looking around at all the costumes my team had designed. There was so much symbolism! Each character had specific color schemes that directly related to their personality, and every bird that was mentioned in the show (because birds were a very important theme) had a character whose costume related to it. I was soon to realize, though, that none of the audience was nearly as excited as I had expected.

We acted! We tore up that stage. The production was wonderful, and afterwards as I spoke with audience members, I could hear them congratulating everyone on how well the actors did, how fantastic the set was, the effective way that the actors were directed—but no one seemed to have picked up on the symbolism we had so carefully crafted into the costumes. The asymmetrical lines for the mentally twisted characters, the red fabric to represent the life force of each person on the stage, the yellows and browns used for the main character and her family—it seemed like no one understood all of the thought that went into those things.

It wasn’t just the costume design that had been overlooked. Set had symbolism, too, but that is almost never seen. What people see is the work that went into building the set, not designing it.

Then there are the lighting designers. If you have not designed lights, you do not understand the amount of work that goes into it. Hanging lights and covering the stage properly is work in and of itself, but there is a lot of work going into the color choices and the transitions as well. It is lighting that almost no one in the audience will think about. To the average audience member, the lights are simply flipped on at the beginning of the show and then flipped off at the end. Little do they know, it is not that easy.

I write this to bring about awareness of the work that goes into the design of a production. Perhaps next time you go to a theatrical event, you will notice more of the subtleties that are involved. Remember that every color and every pattern is chosen for a reason—it isn’t like we spin a color wheel to decide which one the main character’s dress will be.

Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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