Introduction to the Theatre
THE 101 / University of Idaho
Chapter 10 / The Designers
Sceneography, as it was practiced in Europe, was largely the
responsibility of one person and they would design the sets, costumes and
lights. However, as
technology advanced and work became more and more specialized, so did the
processes of doing theatre productions.
Artistic duties were split, and although many theater artists can and do
design in a number of areas, it is now a common practice for designers to take
on only one aspect of a production’s design at a time.
This being said, the overall design process remains basically the same
for all departments each of which share four distinct phases:
While this is a re-presentation of the design model from the chapter on
'what is theatre' it is simplified here for our discussion. During the analytical phase, each designer begins by
combining the directors commanding image and their own analysis of the script.
In order to do this, the designer must do a first reading of the script
and ‘get a feeling for the play.’
Meaning that they read it as an audience member not a practitioner.
Upon the second reading, the designers get a sense of the play’s flow.
In addition, the designer starts their analysis by writing down any
guiding ideas, adjectives, patterns and metaphors.
The third reading conducted by the designers, is done for design
specifics. For instance, a
scenic designer might take note of the number of entrances, so that they can
plan for arches and doors, while a lighting designer might look for the use of
light switches the mention of a coming storm by the characters.
Once the analysis is complete, the exploration or divergent phase can
begin. This is a gathering phase.
The designer uses the director’s commanding image and combines it with
the challenges brought forth in the script and begins to do research.
For example, if the play is a “period piece” - one that takes in a
particular time in history, a costume designer will do research on the clothing
of that period and they may also delve into art history or publications of the
time. A scenic designer will
examine the furniture and architecture of the time, while a makeup designer
might study hairstyles. After the research is conducted, an exploration of
preliminary sketches, color fabric or sound choices are made, depending on the
particular design area. These
choices are then discussed with the production team and the director.
In the discovery or cognitive phase, ideas are discussed individually and
collectively and the preliminary design choices evolve.
Potential parts of the design are added others are subtracted.
These choices and refinement are made through the designer's perception,
reasoning, and intuition using combinations, extraction, and isolation.
The design is finalized during the refinement or convergent phase.
This finalization is physically represented differently for the various
design areas. A scenic designer
usually presents the finished design in the form of a painted rendering
with a ¼” white card model or a finished color model in either
¼” or ½” scale. (¼” scale
means that every ¼” on the model equals 1’ in actual size.)
A costume designer will usually draw a full color rendering for each
character or character groups and will attach swatches of the actual fabrics
being used to execute the design. Lighting
designers, who work in four dimensions, represents their ideas through the use
of historical paintings, photographs, and a collage of images that
reflect actual color choices, an emotional response collage, or
renderings of potential light cues within the show.
In addition to using these varying methods to communicate the finished
design, some designs must be finalized before other designers can begin their
work. For example, a lighting
designer cannot establish the areas to be lit until the scenic designer
finalizes both the wall and furniture placement, while a makeup designer should
wait on designing wigs until the costume designer decides whether to use hats or
not. However, no matter what
the process or timeline, all designers ultimately share the same deadline -
Finally, it is crucial that all members of the creative work together in
collaboration so that the overall look and feel of the play is coordinated and
unified and that no one aspect overwhelms or overpowers the artistic whole.
The Scenic Designer
Scenic Designers Role & History
The Greek word for a theater is Theatron or "seeing place."
The concept of ‘place’ is very important to the scenic designer.
To the scenic designer, a theater space does not mean another open area
to fill with platforms and walls. Theatre
as an art form is sacred, it occurs in a special building built for that special
purpose. Theatre has
tradition and history; it has a formal weight, aesthetics, and values.
Theatre is spiritual - it examines humankind and questions morality and
justice. Theatre is a ritual,
conducted daily between the actor and the audience. Most of all, theatre is an art form which no theatre
artist takes for granted.
Although the duty of the scenic designer to create a theatrical visual
environment has essentially remained the same throughout history, the theatre
space itself has changed. Different
cultures have developed their theaters along different architectural lines and
styles. These changes have
been guided by the needs of the artists, the audience, and the abilities of the
architects. The Greeks
developed the amphitheater and the Romans improved upon it.
This type of staging is called a thrust and is characterized by
having audience members sit on three sides of the stage space. During the middle ages, theatre, for the most part, was
done on traveling pageant wagons. During
the Italian Renaissance, theaters became very presentational to accommodate the
new science of perspective in design.
This presentational type of picture frame stage became the proscenium
An audience member viewing a play done on a proscenium has a straight on
viewing orientation. During the English Renaissance, Shakespearean stages
resembled pageant wagons surrounded by three story audiences. The Shakespearean stage is a deeper form of thrust
staging than the Greek or Roman thrust.
It has more levels and creates a more intimate relationship with the
audience. In the French
Renaissance, some stages were made out of converted tennis courts!
Modern day theatrical needs have developed the arena stage
configuration and the adaptable black box configuration.
The arena is distinguished by the fact that the audience sits on all
sides of the stage.
Arena configurations are also referred to as “theater in the round.”
Black boxes are the most versatile of the stage spaces, due to the fact
that the seating is moveable and can be set up in any of the other types of
With the theatrical space in mind, the scenic designer's role is to
design an environment for the action of the play.
Furthermore, that environment must also support the characters that live
within that world. Scenic
designers take their clues from the script like all the other practitioners.
However, instead of working with spoken language or human actors, they
deal with theatrical space. A
scenic design is shaped by the elements of scriptural need, expectations,
limitations, and architecture. The
script tells us plot, character, history, and the needs of the action.
The expectations of the producer and director set the stage for quality,
size, and stylistic approach the production can take, while the limitations of
the budget, crew, and facilities control the design factors in realizing the
architecture, in the form of the actual theater building, determines and affects
the scenic design of the production.
Scenic Designers Objectives:
Sets the Tone & Style for the
Establishes the Locale & Period
Develops Design Consistency with
the Directors Commanding Image
Provides a Central Image or
Coordinates with the Other
Solves Practical Design Problems
The scenic designer is responsible for setting the tone and style of the
period with the directors commanding image in mind.
In addition, the scenic designer prominently establishes the locale and
period such as a castle in 1660. To
further the directors commanding image the scenic designers may choose to use
multiple or enlarged images or symbols to create additional meaning to the play.
Of course this is all done in close coordination with the other artists
involved on the production team. Finally,
the scenic designer remains in hand to resolve any problems with the design due
to change in need or usage and construction necessity.
In The Scenic Design Process
As stated before the scenic designer goes through a design process
similar to his artistic counterparts, however there are some differences.
Once the designer has presented his final design, the design is then
prepared for construction by drafting the necessary construction plates.
These plates include the floor plan, front elevations, detail plates, and
prop drawings. A floor plan
is a bird's eye view of the set on the stage floor.
There are two types of floor plans, a director's floor plan, and a shop
plan. The director’s floor
plan is in ¼” scale and a shop plan is in ½” scale.
A front elevation is a drafting plate that shows the front view of
individual walls grouped sequentially.
Detail plates show moldings, cabinetwork, and special mechanisms built
into the set. A prop drawing
is a construction plate for the furniture and hand props that need to be built.
Along with the construction plates the scenic designer also presents the
scene shop with fabric swatches, material samples, and painters' elevations.
The fabric swatches and material samples give the scene shop crew a
tactile and visual example of the designer’s intent.
The painter's elevation gives the paint crew a visual reference with
which to paint the completed set and drops.
After the set has begun construction the designer begins to locate and
pick out stock scenery and set dressing (books, tablecloths, desk sets, framed
pictures, etc.). The designer
is also called upon to address the questions of the technical director as
construction progresses. The
technical director is the person who is directly responsible for the
construction and execution of the scenic design, except for the painting of the
set, which is often the responsibility of the designer.
In many professional theaters the charge artist works with the paint crew
to accomplish the painting.
Scenic Designers Tools and Techniques
The scenic designer uses the basic elements and principles of design.
The basic elements of design are:
Color includes the knowledge of the primary, secondary, and tertiary
colors as well as hue, value and chroma.
Texture addresses the surface of objects, rough, and smooth, gritty,
rocky, etc. Line addresses
direction and action like diagonal, wavy, and jagged lines.
Shape dictates mass or size and geometric forms (both planar and
dimensional) like circles, cubes, and rhomboids.
Finally, ornament includes details like column capitals and set dressing
like window curtains and books.
The basic principles of design are:
Harmony addresses how the elements relate to each other and how the
design relates to the action of the place.
Proportion examines the relationship of size in the various objects on
stage, while balance deals the designs' symmetry or asymmetry and its visual
weight. Focus and emphasis
address the point at which the intersecting lines of the design draw our focus
or which elements in the set continue to bring our eye back to it.
Finally, rhythm addresses the flow of the eye over the complete design
and from design element to element.
In addition, the scenic designer must also understand the nature and uses
of the building materials in the scene shop.
These materials are wood, steel, plastic, fabric, leather, paint, dyes
and plaster. Each of these
materials with their application and accompanying techniques are unique.
A designer will use any and usually all of these materials and processes
in any given production. The
designer's knowledge of these materials gives them the ability to have a
multitude of options and choices in designing the production.
Finally, the scenic designer must understand the nature of both
theatrical and period stock. “Stock”
refers to the furniture, properties and other items that the theater already has
on hand. These items are usually
pieces that have been built or bought for previous productions and that have
been saved and stored away for future use.
All theaters have stock scenery and furniture and a designer must
understand which period of architecture goes with which type of furniture.
In addition, the designer knows how to mix and match period pieces, if
necessary. In academic and
regional theatre the ability to be able to use stock as often as possible saves
the producing organization money and helps keep ticket prices down.
Designers throughout History
In the Italian Renaissance, Nicola Sabbatinni recorded the first texts on
both theatre architecture and scene design.
The Five Books of Architecture was a hallmark in theatre design because
it also recorded scenery construction technique.
During this period was also a family of designers called the Bibeinnas’
who designed massive wing and drop scenery.
Both Nicola Sabbatinni and the Bibiennas contributed to the development
of the proscenium stage and the Italian High Opera.
In Elizabethan England Inigo Jones was designing scenery and costumes for
the court theatre. Today he
remains one of the first internationally respected scenic and costume designers
to leave renderings of his work. During
the realistic period David Belasco began to experiment with photographically
realistic designs, derived from real locations and historical research.
In reaction to this Adolph Appia and Gordon Craig began to experiment
with non-realistic scenery and a heavy use of directional source lighting
developing the schools of minimalism and non-realism.
In America, noted designer
Edmund Jones pens the first book on the design process and the ‘new American
stagecraft. Also in America,
one of the great director / designer teams of post war realism Eli Kazan and Jo
Melziner forever changed the face of American design with their production of
Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman.
This production marked the fusion between realism and anti-realism
ushering in the age of fractured realism in scenic design.
The Costume Designer
Costume Designers Role & History
Since humans first started celebrating the fruits of the hunt and
re-enacting the mysteries of their world, costumes have played a key role in
character identification and meaning.
In addition to ritual and storytelling, costumes or ‘clothing’ play a
large role in society and culture. They
furnish protection from the weather and the elements and they provide adornment
and decoration necessary for societal gender definition and courting.
Additionally, clothing presents a personal image and serves as a
reflection of current society, while also concealing body parts unacceptable to
that society. Finally,
clothing provides a sense of status and societal order by defining wealth,
hierarchy, and in turn fashion and style.
In fact, many people do not realize it they are designing a costume every
day when they get dressed. They
are creating impression management through their selection of daily wear.
They are creating a self-image that conveys a message to others, which
projects not only a present attitude but a future one as well.
Studies have shown that in the first four minutes of contact with
a stranger an impression is created based on 3 areas of assessment: appearance
(55%), tone of voice (38%), and what the person is actually saying (7%).
In short, clothes send a message that is understood by all levels of
society. A costume designer
knows this and designs this first impression.
To this end, costumes provide character support by providing
clarification about the characters personality and their association to
families, groups and armies on stage.
Costumes also help in understanding the play and help to refine the
director’s image of the world. On
stage, the costume tells the audience the time of day, the season, the social
level or occasion and costumes tell the audience about the character’s mental
state. Finally, costumes provide the production with another
level of style and help the actor maintain a period sense of poise.
Although it can take many forms and can convey an enormous amount of
information, a costume is, quite simply, anything worn on stage. The technical definition is “a dress or suit with
underpinnings (underwear), all the accessories, the hair treatment, and the
applied makeup.” In
theatre, this includes rehearsal clothing.
This definition also stipulates the costume should be as appropriate and
meaningful as possible.
Usually a costume is larger than life, exaggerated or stylized because of
the visual distance between the audience and the actor.
However, the scope of that exaggeration depends on the theater space.
As stated in the discussion on the scenic designer, theatrical spaces
have changed, and as spaces have become more intimate costumes too have had to
The role of a costume designer is to:
To provide information that is not
explicit in the text.
To help create appropriate
To enhance characterization of a
To heighten the visual impact of a
To provide a unity of style and to
reinforce overall theme and mood
To reinforce time and place and to
help create spectacle when needed.
A costume designer provides information that is not explicit in the text
to help the audience understand the finer points of the director’s commanding
image, as well as, overcoming any potentially vague portions of the text.
Using the director’s vision, the designer helps create the appropriate
character statements for the actors and enhances the characterization by adding
their own interpretive statement to the character. A costume designer heightens the visual impact of a
play by working with the director to establish this strong character statement.
A costume designer also provides a unity of style by working with the
other design team members and so, helps to reinforce overall theme and mood of
the production. Finally, a
costume designer reinforces the chosen time and place of the production and
creates visuals spectacle when required.
In The Costume Design Process
In addition to the process stated previously, a costume designers
analysis and research will result in the construction of a costume plot.
The costume plot is a visual representation of who wears what when and
how they change. This plot is
based on many discussions with the director on what they think the play is
about, and what they think about each of their characters and their significance
within the play. To reach
this level of understanding the costume designer must do the same amount of
analysis on the characters as both the actors and the director.
The costume designer also does research beyond the psychology of the
character and can include historical or period research, research in art
history, or if a contemporary piece, research in the ‘environment’ of the
play. In addition, the
costume designer coordinates their design with the costume shop manager to meet
both financial and workforce limitations.
Like the technical director, the costume shop manager is responsible for
the construction of the costumes and the managing of the costume shop personnel.
The costume shop manager and the costume designer discuss their options
to complete the costumes and the kinds of fabric, trim, and notions that are
Design Tools & Techniques
A costume designer’s and costume technician’s craft includes: hand
and machine sewing, millinery (hat making), cobbling (shoe making), haberdashery
(tailoring), jewelry, armoring (chain mail & suits of armor), and fabric
modification - including the creation of and distressing or aging of a fabric.
The basic tools of the costume designer and technician are the sewing
machine and their ability to do fine hand sewing.
In addition fine fabrics sometimes require that a serger or overlock
machine be used, a process, which cuts the fabric as it ‘seals’ the edge to
keep it from unraveling. Steam
irons are used to create hems for sewing and to press the garments before and
after construction. Since
costume designers are dealing with fabric that is formed for the human body,
dress forms in varying sizes for both male and female are used to accomplish
both pattern fitting and fabric draping.
Pattern tables are used to layout and cut the fabric.
Finally, a washing machine, dryer, and dye vat are used to maintain the
costumes and to modify the fabrics' appearance.
The process of building a costume begins with the initial measurement of
each actor. Every part of the
human form is measured and recorded for reference and from these measurements
patterns are developed or adapted. If
the costume is flowing and is not composed of tailored parts then draping will
be done. Initially, mock-ups
of muslin are made so that problems can be resolved on a relatively inexpensive
material. These mock-ups are
then fitted on the actor and, if accurate and meet the approval of the designer,
are then taken apart to be used as templates for the final fabric.
As the final garment takes shape, additional fittings are used to guide
the construction. Refinements
to the garment are made and as a final step trim (decoration) and notions
(buttons and zippers) are added. The
costumes make their first appearance at dress rehearsals, which follow technical
rehearsals but precede the Final Dress.
After the opening of the show, daily maintenance is required to keep the
costumes clean and pressed.
Although technically a part of the costume designer’s responsibilities,
an actor’s makeup can be the charge of a separate designer or can simply be
the task of the actor. The need for
a makeup designer will largely depend on the requirements of the production.
For instance, if the play calls for dismembered body parts, numerous wigs
or facial prosthetics - such as large noses or Frankenstein-like foreheads, then
a separate makeup designer with specific skill is probably necessary.
However, if the play is a contemporary drama and the actors only need
“street makeup,” then a designer is not required. In fact, most experienced actors are accustomed to
applying their own makeup and have been trained to do so. Makeup falls into two basic categories painted and
plastic. Painted makeup is
applied with the finger, a brush, or a sponge.
As the name implies it is literally painted on.
makeup is a slight misnomer in that it covers all applications outside of
painted makeup that includes facial hair, scars, wounds, false noses, and warts.
The act of putting hair into a gauze material for application as a
mustache or beard is called ventilation.
Scars and warts can be either sculpted of a wax like putty or can be made
from latex rubber. Latex
applications are called prosthetics.
The Lighting Designer
Lighting Designers Role & History
Theatre lighting is older than you may imagine - meaning that it is older
than the light bulb. The art
of theatre lighting was first mentioned in the architectural documentation work
of Nicola Sabbatini. It was
further recorded as a process by Futtenbach’s text called the Noble Mirror
of Art a textbook on how to design with candles.
This was no small feat if you can imagine a 1000 seat theater lit only
with candelabras. This book,
further, told of how color was added by placing large cloth shades in front of
the candles, while denser shaded materials accomplished dimming.
The next lighting innovation that followed this was the gaslight era.
This is where the expression ‘being in the limelight’ comes from.
Limelight was created when minerals were added to the gas flames in the
footlights (to make them more brighter) and the resulting color was a lime green
color. Eventually, Thomas
Edison invented the light bulb and modern stage lighting became a reality.
In addition, electric lights were safer and more economical than candle
and gas systems, which were responsible for destroying many theaters and
audience members during the 1800’s.
With the advent of the computer stage lighting, control became more
sophisticated allowing the designer many more possible effects and transitions.
With the abilities of digital interface and “intelligent” lighting,
designers may now program lights to move, change direction, focus, and color at
the push of a button.
A lighting designer contends with both lighting aesthetic and technology.
Like the sound designer, they cannot separate the technology from the
art; both are necessary to accomplish the other.
To address this, the lighting designer balances the functions of lighting
design (the aesthetic aspects) with the qualities (the technical aspects) of
lighting design. The
functions of lighting design are to:
Create Mood, Feelings, &
Emphasize Rhythm & Structure
Visibility becomes the primary function of the lighting designer due to
the fact, for the most part, that a theater is an unlit room.
Lighting is essential to see the actor’s expressions and movements.
Although a dramatic effect, an unlit or disembodied voice becomes
distracting, and the audience will quickly lose interest in what the actor is
saying. That is not to say,
however, that darkness is bad. Theater
lighting is selective; audience members are not intended to see everything at
once. Theatre lighting gains
its drama by leaving “places for tigers to hide”.
Plausibility refers to the believability or the realism of the light.
It creates time and place. If
the play takes place in a dank dark castle should the lighting be bright and
cheery or suitably depressing? Creating
a sense of mood helps to express the feelings and emotions from moment to moment
throughout the play. Visibility,
plausibility, and mood all help establish a strong sense of how light exists in
the world of the play and within which the scenic elements and costumes reside. When a lighting designer emphasizes rhythm and
structure they are attempting to help uphold the inherent structure of the play
and reinforce the tempo that the director has established with the actors during
rehearsals. A lighting
designer also helps to fortify the production style and movement of the actors.
For instance, a musical has a different rhythm and structure than a
Shakespearean tragedy. A
musical has both dance numbers, duets, and solos.
A lighting designer understands these rhythms and uses them to enhance
their aesthetic. Finally, just like the scenic and costume designer, a
lighting designer uses the elements and principles of composition to draw focus
and establish an aesthetic through the use of general design principles.
The qualities of lighting design are:
Intensity is a measure of brightness and/or dimness of a given instrument
or group of instruments. Controlled
by the light board the dimmers electronically gate the amount of electrons that
flow to the lamp in the instrument. This
gating makes the lamp burn brighter or dimmer depending on the dimmer’s set
Color refers to the color of the actual lamp, and the color media (called
gel) that is put in the front of the instrument.
Each lamp has a specific color temperature in degrees Kelvin and each gel
has a specific color wavelength, which can be measured by the amount of
saturation or tint. Since a
lighting designer is responsible for creating the light of the world which
illuminates the scenery and costumes, it is important to understand color theory
and how colored light effects pigments and dyes.
For instance, a green colored beam of light can turn the dye in a
beautiful red dress an ugly brown. Failure
to color and the color theories of pigment and light can result in upset design
colleagues as well as a production that lacks unity.
Distribution refers to the angle of the instrument to the actor, what
kind of focus is used, the pattern in the instrument, its location in the
theatre, and its intended application or how the instrument is used from moment
to moment. In most instances
the instruments in a theatre can be hung in any infinite position around a
stationary actor. If that
actor moves the possibilities are vastly multiplied.
Different angles bring out different features of the face and body.
Recall when you have used a flashlight under your chin to enhance you
fireside ghost story. Additionally, many instruments can have a soft or hard
focus. In film terms a hard
focused instrument helps define the source like the sun, and a soft focused
light helps fill in the rest of the face, like the northwest sky. Furthermore, a designer may choose to put a gobo or
template in an instrument that projects the desired effect like sun through tree
leaves or bare gnarled branches. Moreover,
instruments are usually designed to work in tandem or in groups.
The flexibility or plasticity of those groupings helps to define both the
effectiveness and quality of the design.
Finally, a lighting designer is concerned about movement.
Movement is the cued operation of the design from moment to moment and is
highly dependent on the control capabilities of the board and the planning of
the light plot. It is through
the combined use of the aesthetic functions and the technical qualities of
lighting that the lighting designer arrives at a complete and coherent design.
To The Lighting Designer’s Process
A lighting designer reads the script in the same fashion as the scenic
and costume designer do. They look
for the same time, place, mood and emotional content.
But as stated before, planning to light a show is a four dimensional
experience. Not only are
there multiple instruments located all over the theater (I average 250 units -
or lights, per show) but each one is cross-referenced in at least four ways on
paper. The primary method of
representing a lighting design is by the use of a light plot.
A plot is a bird’s-eye view of the stage with every instrument used for
the design located in the theatre. These
instruments are identified by the use of a standardized symbol system and
nomenclature. The light plot contains every piece of information the
master electrician will need to ‘hang and circuit the plot’.
Further paper work helps the electricians order equipment, organize gel,
and trouble shoot units that ‘don’t fire’ (work).
While the light plot is being hung the lighting designer is attending
rehearsals. This is an
important phase because blocking changes in the actor movements, scenery
adjustments, or costume additions may affect the design or the upcoming focus.
After the instruments are hung and circuited focus begins. Lighting designers focus their own designs making sure
that the instruments are pointed exactly where they want and that they are
focused and shuttered for the maximum desired effect.
This may take several sessions and may continue for particular lighting
instruments until opening night. Technical
rehearsals are the most interesting days for the lighting designer and crew.
Lighting instruments being the most fluid and changeable element in
theatre are used literally to paint the scene and to add visual action to the
play. In conference with the
director the lighting designer composes the look and feel of each moment of the
play. While hectic at best,
this is the pinnacle moment of spontaneous creativity for the lighting designer
and is what really feeds their soul.
Instrumentation is a key tool in every lighting designers light plot.
At present their are over one thousand different makes and models of
lighting instruments and many of those have unique characteristics.
However, there are three basic formats or styles of instruments and each
of those have three basic parts. The
three basic styles are:
An ellipsoidal is an instrument that has a hard and sharp quality of
light. It is like this
because it uses an elliptical reflector and two Plano-convex lenses.
A Plano convex lens, as the name implies, is a lens with one flat side
and one convex side. This instrument uses designed optics so a sharp pattern
or “gobo” can be projected from it, if needed.
In addition, the optics allows the use of shutters to mask or cut parts
of the beam of light of undesired objects.
A Fresnel is an instrument that uses a single Plano-convex lens.
This gives a Fresnel a softer quality of light.
A PAR (parabolic anodized reflector) is basically a headlight in a can.
It has different beam spread, depending on the lamp you use, and it can
have a very narrow spot, spot, medium flood, and wide flood.
It is much like the difference between the low and high beams on your
car, except that you have four choices.
You can easily recognize these instruments as the main source of color
washes at rock-n-roll concerts.
These three instruments have three basic parts:
It is these three parts working in specific relationships that dictate
the characteristics of the lighting instrument.
Ultimately, each instrument is a paintbrush and as a designer the more
paintbrushes and options you have the better.
We have already discussed the double and single Plano-convex lens.
However, the lamp is what provides the fire and illumination in the
instrument. The brightness of
those lamps is measured in wattage. Current
instruments use either Tungsten-Halogen lamps or special high output lamps
(brighter with less wattage). The
reflectors in an instrument are geometrical or mathematical shapes and include
spherical, elliptical, and parabolic reflectors.
Color and pattern are also key elements in lighting design and very
necessary tools. In lighting
design, there are many color theories and schemes for accomplishing a desired
look or feeling. In addition,
using gobo’s, cookies, donuts, and variegated gel creates pattern, plasticity,
modeling, and mood. No, these
are no snacks in sack lunch, they are the terms used to describe the various
‘mothers of invention’ that form the backbone of all lighting design
classes. A gobo is a metal
pattern that is used in an instrument t create pattern in the light beam.
Usually combined with that gobo is a donut to make the projected image
sharper. A cookie is a metal
pattern used to reduce the size of the beam of light and rests in the same place
in the instrument as the gobo. Finally,
variegated gel is different colors of gel media that have been taped together to
create an effect.
The final yet most important tools are the dimmers and the control board
without which instrumentation, color, pattern, and the design would be useless.
Many systems are run by computer boards and digital dimmers allowing the
designer the maximum flexibility in fading, cueing, and timing options.
The Sound Designer
Sound Designer’s Role & History
The sound designer is the newest and most technologically dependent field
in theatre. Although
actor motivated sounds like door knocks and crashes, and backstage crew sounds
like thunder and wind, have always been around.
The advent of recorded sound ushered in a whole new era of sound and its
subsequent integration into the complete directorial image of the production.
The sound designer bases his designs on the needs of the production and
in these basic categories of use.
Provide reinforcement of
Create practical and canned
Create ambient and environmental
Provide the necessary practical
support to the production.
Maintaining communications systems.
The first use of sound is for the reinforcement of believability.
Essentially, this means that realistic sounds are used for realistic
effect. For instance, a play
that takes place in the 1920’s will require that a car pulling up into the
driveway be a ‘Ford Model T’ not a ‘souped’ up Camaro.
Each period of history and culture has distinct sounds that identifies it
as such, different horse drawn carriages, different phone rings, clock chimes,
and train sounds. A sound
designer knows this and uses the right historical effect to aid in the realism
of the drama. Another use of
sound design is to create practical and canned effects. These effects are the door knocks, tea whistles and
door slams that used to be done off stage by running crew. To conserve precious operating funds, theaters have
moved to recorded (canned) sounds that are run by a single board operator from
the back of the theater. Very
often the sound designer will need to create these sounds by themselves or with
actors in a studio. This
technique is called ‘Foley’ and is still used by sound designers in the film
industry to add additional sound effects to film sequences (especially fist
fights). A sound designer
must also be able to create ambient and environmental sounds for the needs of
the production. Essentially
this is mood support and includes wind, rain, foghorns, thunder, storms, eerie
noises, ocean sounds, gunfire explosions and general offstage environmental and
street sounds - like an office or a street market.
This mood setting support also includes intentional and descriptive
underscoring and would include things like pre and post show music - to
establish the time period or set the mood (happy, melancholy, etc.). In addition, it can be used to cover the noise of the
set change, reinforce themes, or create tension - such as when a killer is
hiding in the room and about to strike.
A sound designer is also responsible for providing the necessary
practical support for the actor. This
includes the appropriate microphones to enhance the actor’s projection and the
proper placement of the speakers so that the effects and support can be heard.
The sound designer is also responsible for providing monitors so that the
actors, musicians, and running crew can hear what is going on at all times on
stage. And while it may seem
obvious, the sound designer is responsible for providing clean playback of all
these sound, effects and monitors. Finally,
the sound designer is responsible for maintaining communications in the theater,
which includes the house phone, personnel intercom systems, headsets, and the
hearing impaired system.
To The Sound Design Process
After the designer has read the script, talked with the director and
shared their ideas with the production team, the sound designer then goes out
and does research to find their source sounds this is called sampling.
The sound designer identifies the many possible variations of the same
possible sound and makes a preliminary tape for the director to listen to. The director and sound designer discuss the pros and
cons of each sound and arrive at specific effects for the production.
The sound designer then goes into the studio and produces a rough version
of the final effects and of the sound tape (pre-show and post-show music).
When this is approved the sound designer begins to record, mix (blend
multiple sounds), and master (balance, equalize, trim) the chosen effects and
sounds. During technical
rehearsals, the designer provides instruction on the designs playback and with
the director helps determines the level of volume for each cue.
A sound designer works with microphones, speakers, recorders, mixers, and
amplifiers. A sound designer
has an understanding of the different types of microphones, their patterns of
coverage, and which ones are better for voice and which ones are better for
music. Speakers also have
distinct characteristics and each one is better for one application over
another. A sound designer
knows not only which speaker is best for the use he needs, but also how to place
them around the theater to accomplish their design needs during playback.
The knowledge and use of recording equipment can be the most complex
undertaking of all. Not only
does the designer need to know the equipment but understand the format under
which they work. The common
formats are cassette tape, reel-to-reel, digital audiotape, mini disc, and
recordable compact disc. Many
of these devices have more than one track, which allows the designer to
‘lay-down’ and ‘layer’ complex sounds from multiple sources.
Mixers allow the sound designer to blend sounds before and while they are
being recorded to provide not only balance but also any wavelength adjustment
through equalization (frequency) and gain (signal).
Finally, the understanding of amplifiers is necessary to decide on how
much power is needed to drive the speakers in the theater without ‘blowing’
out the cones (this would be bad). In
addition, the advent of the computer has drastically changed the way sound
designers edit and manipulate their sample sounds. In essence, they work on their ideas virtually and then
record the results. Even the
most basic computers have versions of Wave Studio and Sound LE already onboard
under the accessories tab. The
digital age promises a new horizon for theatrical sound design.
It is important that a sound designer stays organized throughout the
entire process. Organization allows the sound designer to stay on task
and efficiently overcome the huge task many audiences take for granted.
Part of this process is in the making and marking of both the source and
show tapes. Between every cue
is a blank piece of tape called leader that is spliced on.
Leader tape allows the board operator to quickly ‘cue up’ the next
sound cue on the tape visually. A
tape must also be labeled so that it’s front and back can be identified.
This prevents the board operator from inadvertently playing a tape
backwards. The phrase
‘tales in’ or ‘tales out’ denotes this box labeling.
In addition, each box is labeled with the shows name; it’s purpose
(effects or pre show music), and a list of the effects or songs on that tape in
sequence. With the computer,
a lot of this work is done digitally and is produced by the program’s
database. Some of the work now
accomplished by the computer includes splicing, editing and cataloging. However, the concept of organization and need for
proper labeling is still a must. Many
hours are invested in sound design for the theatre and its creation.
Next time you go to the theater identify the effects, their quality, and
how they serve the needs of the production.
You will see that it is a complex undertaking.