The Society of British Theatre Designers

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About Theatre Design:

What is it?

Theatre design or scenography is the design of the space in which a performance takes place. Theatre designers create stage pictures, that is to say, they design the space, costume and props that you see when you watch a performance.

Some designers deal only with set or costumes, particularly if it is a very large scale production such as an opera, but in this country designers generally create designs for both.
In recent times we have started to more readily adopt the term scenographer. This alternative name for theatre design is used more widely in the rest of the world. It seeks to give a more holistic description of what designers do and can encompass not just set, costume and prop design but sound, lighting and multi-media design for performance as well.

Most theatre design courses will now include modules in these elements in order to equip you with the appropriate skills to work in a broad range of performance-related environments. If you want to specialise in these elements from the outset however, then courses in technical theatre would be a more advisable route.

Scenography/theatre design also encompasses work made for a specific site or location. This can be indoors or out and can be referred to as site-specific or landscape theatre.
Increasingly designers are also using their skills in areas such as creative events, parades, opening ceremonies etc., pop concerts, or as part of the process of the wider regeneration of cities and communities. This kind of work often supplements more traditional theatre work which still pays comparatively low fees. Es Devlin, for example, is an experienced theatre designer who ha s in recent years designed the concerts of the Pet Shop Boys and Take That.

What skills are involved?

The designer will need many and varied skills – drawing, painting, construction , draftsman-ship, sewing, budgeting, self promotion, communication, are all skills which are needed in various degrees. The designer also needs to have an understanding of the text and of the human figure in space.

‘The thing I was most most excited about when I discovered that this profession existed was that it involved stretching my brain in every direction, using all the stuff I enjoyed at school. My work involves maths, English, history, technical drawing, art and design, engineering, research, problem solving and lots of more obscure things in between. I haven’t found a job before or since that takes you on this massive adventure from an idea to a realised design. To see something you thought up in your studio/back bedroom brought to life by skilled performers and technicians before an audience is still an immense thrill.’ ~ Fiona Watt

‘Personal skills such as diplomacy are also essential because of the number of people involved. You are the interface between the imaginary aspect of the production and the aspect of it that is going to take a concrete form.’ ~ Es Devlin (Times April 9, 2008)

To learn about how to make a career in theatre design and training, visit our training page