Research and Creative Practise


Hi ,Im Cara McDyer , Studying Interior and environmental design

The topic I have chosen for my lit review is Theatre and Set Design.  This interest has come from a hobby and if you like job that I am currently involved in in my spare time. I have been involved in a lot of choreography in musical theatre performances and the set design has always engaged me. This opportunity to be able research this in depth is something that will help me in the future. For my Interior design project in 3rd year I have chosen to combine this research and creative practice module with my personal project which we are in the process of beginning. I Thought this would be a good idea as I am going to be keeping my research ongoing through this module and be able to design something from this research in my interior design module.


So to start my research I chose 3 books from the library read them and took notes throughout. The first one was;

Scene Design, a guide to the stage by NELMS.  This book explains how settings are related to the play,stage and director. It also shows how you can plan your own scenery.

The Second book was;

Design for theatre and performance by Peter Ruthven Hall and Kate Burnett.  This is information and a collection of 2D/3D exhibition held in sheffield in 2002. So it shows work by designers born and based in the UK and designs for set, costume, lighting and performance spaces.

The third book was;

– Designing and making stage scenery by Michael Warre.  This book shows the development from early forms to current practice. It describes the history of theatre practice from all over the world.

After having a read through those books I decided to do some further research on the internet. I began looking at information on stage design itself which then lead me on to looking at scenic design and what roles a scenic designer has when designing for theatre. So beginning with stage design;

In theatre or performance arts the stage is a designated space for the performance of productions.  The stage serves as a space for actors or performers and a focal point for the members of the audience.  As an architectural feature, the stage may have a platform or a series of platforms.  In some cases, these maybe temporary or adjustable but in theatres the stage is often a permanent feature. The stage is most often separated from the audience but as its purpose is a designated space for the performance, it doesn’t have to be so.

Scenic design is also known as scenography, stage design, set design or production design.  Scenic design is the creation of theatrical as well as film or TV scenery. The stage picture reflects the way that the stage is composed artistically in regard to props, actors, shapes and colours.  The stage picture should express good principles of design and use of space.  It should be visually appealing for the audience or should express the shows concept.

Scenic designers traditionally come from a variety of artistic backgrounds but nowadays they are trained professionals often with a degree in theatre arts.  The designers are responsible for;

-collaborating with the theatre director and other members of the production team to create an environment for the production.

-communicating the details of this environment to the technical director and production manager.

-Creating scales models of the scenery, renders and scale construction.


Some quotes I found interesting were from the the stage design book Kenneth Rowell .

““When the curtain goes up on a production the audience should be able to grasp instantly the style – atmosphere of what is being presented. When this is made to happen the spectator will be sympathetically orientated to the world that is being created before him”.

Creating this result should be the aim but a team responsibility and not just the work of one individual for example producer/ director,choreographer and musical director in collaboration with the technical teams.


Another quote I found interesting was;

“a designer should be able to provide the director with all the practical requirements necessary for him to maneuver his actors in a way convincing to them and to the audience.”

Logic would suggest that to achieve this it is important that the designer has fully consulted with the production team to understand the key messages that they wish the performers to be able to deliver to the audience.

So looking at this whole topic more in depth one thing that intrigued me was how different stage design was in the early 20th century compared to now. In the early 20th century Stage design had been created more by scene painters than by professional stage designers or artists. The negative points to this way of designing for stage was ;

-There was a lack of co-ordination between setting and costume.

-There was virtually no collaboration between those involved in the production.

-Actors and actresses wore their own costumes.

On the other hand compared to todays stage design it clearly saved a lot of money however didn’t look as good. But again the audiences of that time were perhaps critically less sophisticated and concentrated attention probably more on the performers rather than the production as a whole.

Here is an example of a painted back drop by Natalia Goncharova that was used in the stage performance of the golden cockerel in 1914.


Here is an example of set design at present. As you can see it is very different from the previous image and is a lot more engaging for the audience. Referring back to the quote ““When the curtain goes up on a production the audience should be able to grasp instantly the style – atmosphere of what is being presented. When this is made to happen the spectator will be sympathetically orientated to the world that is being created before him”.

I think this image explains this quote extremely well and minimal set design is a lot more exciting to see visually that a painted backdrop.

This image is a set designed by Sakina Karimjee for the stage production of Hansel and Gretel 2008. It shows the scene in the forest in act two when Gretel is singing and Hansel is searching for strawberries. Although the set is very simplistic with the good use of lighting the audience are still instantly able to understand that they are in a forest.

Another simple set design is by Maria Chaniotaki who designed this set for a Dance group – Indigo Fera who put on a performance titled 6 degrees below the horizon.

In this piece the inspiration comes from twilight, at the beginning and the end of the day.  At this moment there are  shadows.  Forms are not very well seen, a new figure, a new shape is appearing. In this piece we are dealing with the desperate need for contact with others and ourselves.

Dance, light,video integrated in a minimal stage design referring to Japanese aesthetic; all these elements create the space in which the performance takes place.

In one hour the dancer transforms herself from child to adult.  She goes through many experiences with many feelings, sliding gradually from innocence to pain and finally to reconciliation. The dancer dances with shadows, which appear and disappear throughout.

So where do I go from here?

I am going to look at more examples of modern stage design that convey the message of the production through use of minimal stage design and also look at how the message is conveyed easily with regards to lighting and set together. . I intend to interview current stage directors and other professional technicians to gain a better understanding of their approach and to explore a practical opportunity for me to develop skills. This aspect will also support my interior design personal project.




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