I normally design in rather small theatre venues. At one theatre the stage was less than eight feet tall and about twenty feet wide! You can easily fill those small stages with scenery and make it look lush, it also looks complete when full. This year I will be designing in large theatres across Dallas. The challange will be to fill those large prosenium spaces with scnery and stay within a modest budget.
Sometimes when designing a production I will stylize the set, make it look engaging (storybook sets are a load of fun to design). This past year I worked on a production of Hamlet with limited access to builders and money, I decided to lean toward a stylized set. Stylized sets might be a sign of being creative on a budget or set changes are ample and need quick turnaround times. In this case both. I designed a sleek, modern set that would showcase famous works of art that depicted famous scenes from the show, sounds ambitious. With domain free images and a projector, already in house, we didn't have to spend money for cool effects that the audience enjoyed seeing. Creating fuss free scenery means your carpnter does not have that much tricky stuff to try build and no cost for expensive trim. Caution. Your carpenter will need to make sure seems are tightly sealed for perfection.
The set above had two rakes (angle platforms on casters, it moved during the show!) With simple lighting effects, projections and streamlined scenery we managed to fill the stage! It also didn't look like we were on tight budget, it simply was accepted by the audience and to great reviews, such as "...is one of the most effective, fully integrated set concepts I’ve witnessed in the region. Alexandra Bonifield Critical Rant. All because I was being budget conscious...it worked, mission completed. You really do not need to have large bank accounts to have great scenery.
4 Easy Stage Design Tips That Won't Break the Bank!
1. Be creative.
2. Make detailed decisions. (It's better to have one period chair on stage and nothing else than to have an army of bad furniture that's all mixy matchy)
3. Know your budget. (Pulled a painting out of a dumpster once to save on budget!)
4. Have fun designing your show! (No money required)
Another show that had a tight budget was The Mikado, pictured below. I only had $700 for supplies, including paint! I did however use a few stock flats, free and already pre built. A youth production was most ambitious for this company, this was a full operetta sung by kids (think middle and high school kiddos), I decided to go story book to engage a younger audience. Most everything was two dimensional (luan is cheap) expect the bridge (already in stock and again free, just a paint job that took nine coats total). I simply used the 4 Easy Stage Design Tips from above and went to town with my design. Again the audience just accepted this design and budget constraints were never thought about.
Click here to see more pictures from the Mikado.
Enjoy reading my encounters in and around theatre set design.