Set Designers are crucial the a show’s success. They are also crucial to the creative process of the director – at least they are to my creative process. No matter what the play or musical is about, if I don’t have a set design, then I can’t see the show coming to life in my head and in turn I will have difficulty in bringing that vision to the cast for them to give it life.
I’m a pretty visual person, but I work kinetically on a play. This means that I need to be able to feel in my gut what is the crux of a scene and give it some truth in the physical relationships of the characters involved. That holds true if it is a musical number or a dramatic, tension filled scene and the spatial relationships of the players can really affect the kinetic feeling of the scene.
A great Set Designer will read the play. Then they’ll read it again and then they’ll talk with the director and eventually be able to give them some plans, either 2D or 3D – preferably both – to help them show the entire team the world that they will be living and working in for the life of the show. The sooner a Set Designer can provide this, the better. If you don’t know the layout of your apartment, for example, how can you go shopping for furniture?
A superb Set Designer will solve script problems. Sometimes problems that you didn’t even realize were there. They’ll be able to give you solutions to scripts that read more like movies – many authors seem to forget that it is hard to transition from the dining room of a tavern to a seaside in a matter of seconds. Your Set Designer can have creative tools up their sleeve to help to tell the story in a seamless manner. They will also help to tie in the colour palate of your show and give the whole world a real sense of belonging.
Aside from knowledge of building and a good aesthetic sense, a flexible personality is necessary for a great Set Designer. They need to be able to take their artistic sensibilities and skills and apply them to the whole vision of the show. They will consider the movement of the actors, the potential difficulties of costumes and the location and operations of lighting and sound equipment. They can give a director levels to play on and moveable pieces to bring an imaginary world to an audience. And they will probably finish their design long before the other members of the crew will finish theirs. A good set design will inform the whole production – and the whole production’s process.
It’s a big job. And we always need someone to do it. Could that someone be you?