The Society of British Theatre Designers

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There are a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate theatre design, performance design and production design courses in the United Kingdom. To view a list of them visit the links below:

You may also find our page “About Theatre Design” a useful resource if you are considering a career in our industry.

How to become a theatre designer?

Most designers will train on one of the many course available in the UK ( see training section of website). Often they will have already completed an art foundation course. Some people choose to enter the profession via post-graduate training or an MA having completed a degree in a related subject such as Fine Art or Drama or other spatial disciplines such as architecture.

It is possible to by-pass this route and to learn through working in the theatre via Creative Apprenticeships or if you are technically proficient in model-making and technical drawing by assisting other designers.

Courses can help launch a designer’s career by setting up placements and by interaction with other theatre professionals throughout the course.

Q) Once I have trained, how do I get a foothold in the profession?

Graduates entering the profession should anticipate an entirely freelance career though a few resident positions do still exist.

Some graduates pursue assistant designer jobs with more established designers working on larger scale productions. This is a very good way to ‘get a feel’ for the demands of the working environment and if a designer and an assistant ‘gel’ then they may stay with them for several productions.

In London particularly it is possible to go straight into designing small scale productions on the Fringe/pub theatre circuit. While fees for this work are nominal or sometimes even expenses only, this can be the beginning of long standing collaborations with directors who go on to be commissioned by larger venues. (eg. Rufus Norris and Katrina Lindsay at the National Theatre).

Independent Work

Increasingly, young designers are banding together with actors and directors at similar stages in their careers and forming companies. These companies often form whilst the members are still at college and university. A number have gone on to be successful and established but this can take many years of hard, unpaid work with volunteer production teams (eg. Shunt, Punchdrunk, You Me Bum Bum Train) before the company can afford to pay its members properly and develop a profile.

However, emerging from training with an understanding how funding applications work can mean that this approach brings a level of autonomy rather than ‘waiting for the phone to ring’ or relying on an agent ( who will take commission) to get you work.

‘These days, the design work in theatre buildings and for touring companies is almost all freelance, on a show by show basis, or occasionally for a season. A very few companies have resident salaried designers. Some graduates get assistant designer jobs on large productions and if they “gel” with a designer, may stay with them for several productions.

As there are very few formal routes into theatre employment, the contacts made through placements and holiday work are fantastically important. Almost all those graduates who do work in the business got their first jobs through contacts made while training.’

~ Kate Burnett,
Reader in Theatre Design, Nottingham Trent University