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A stage set has two purposes: one is to provide a physical environment that supports the characters and the action, and the other is to help clarify the moods and themes of the story for the audience. For this reason, creating a stage set is a collaborative process between the director and the designer, very similar to that used by an architect and client in creating a custom house. The director, as the client, helps define the needs of the story, as well as his or her vision for the production, and the set designer helps define the visual style and characteristics of the resulting environment.

The process generally follows five phases:


This is where I get thoroughly familiar with the script and do preliminary research on the story itself, the historical period, and other elements. I then have a meeting with the director (and often the production team) to discuss the story, the interpretation and presentation of it, thematic elements, specific staging requirements, and so forth, and also to review the budget, production schedule, and resources. The actual details of the set are generally not discussed at this time, although a few quick sketches often help define a general direction.

Conceptual design (aka schematic design, aka 25% design)

Here I meet with the director (often during a production meeting) to present my initial design, in the form of sketches or as a 3D computer model. This allows us to discuss the overall look and feel of the set in relation to the story, as well as staging requirements and similar issues, and provides the opportunity to make revisions as necessary. The feasibility of constructing the design is also discussed with the technical director or builder, who often prepares a preliminary cost projection at this point.

Design development (aka 50% design)

Once the director and technical director have provided input on the previous phase, and we are all in agreement, I prepare a more-developed design, this time including major colors and finishes. The design is again reviewed with the director and technical director and any required revisions are noted. The technical director often wants to prepare a more detailed cost projection at this point.

Final design (aka 100% design)

Once we are all in agreement as to the design and the realities of building it, I prepare the final design, usually as a 3D computer model, which now includes final colors, textures, and details. This is once more reviewed and we all sign off on it.

Construction documents

These are the “blueprints,” prepared on a CAD program, generally as 24” x 36” drawings. This phase also includes color elevations of the various pieces for use by the painters, as well as any other details that may be required during construction.


During construction, painting, and installation, I am available by phone or e-mail to answer questions. I can also visit the shop a few times, by appointment, to review progress or answer additional questions. Finally, I am also available for the post-mortem.