What does it take to build and design a set?
Our experienced Technical Directors give you an inside look at how they take an Artistic Director’s idea and bring it to life! Read what David Rozema and Alex Schwarz have to say about the nuts and bolts of technical theater:
- Where do you find inspiration for set design?
Alex Schwarz (AS): The inspiration for a set, for me, always starts with the script and the Artistic Director. The basic needs of the set start there and then you can use your imagination to expand on that. It also helps having a director who has very clear ideas and can communicate what they want.
David Rozema (DR): The inspiration for any set starts with the Artistic Director’s vision and understanding of the play. The storyline of every play has an arc to it, and the set should somehow mirror that arc and give the audience the kind of “feel” that goes along with that storyline. There has to be a coherence between the story that’s being enacted and the setting(s) in which it takes place. Whenever I design a set, I try to think of ways for the set to be a visual representation of what the theme of the play is.
- What has been your favorite set to design for KCT?
AS: Noises Off is my favorite set we have done.
DR: Honestly, I don’t think I could pick just one, so I will give you my top five:
Enchanted April—first Act was dark and dreary; second act was a Mediterranean villa, complete with a spiral staircase, a working fountain, and hundreds of flowers.
12 Angry Men—minimalist, but very effective, and the best table I ever built.
CATS—definitely the most unique (a junkyard, with oversized items) and the most fun to design and build.
Proof—built an entire two-story house (with a deck) on stage.
Noises Off—by far the most challenging.
- What is a favorite set design that you’ve seen in a live show?
AS: My favorite set I’ve seen is either Book of Mormon, which used flats and levels very effectively; Newsies, which I saw at the Orpheum in Omaha with its large steel set that was really cool, or Into the Woods (Lied Center) that was minimalist for the actual set, but the outer edges of the set was so that it felt like the whole show happened inside a giant piano.
DR: Broadway shows are, of course, astounding. I was especially blown away by the set for Les Miserables and the one for Phantom of the Opera. The Newsies set was also pretty impressive. Closer to home, I was very impressed by the set for UNK’s production of Night of the Iguana several years ago (they made it rain on stage!). The set for Red (CRT) was also very fine.
- How long do you spend on a set design?
AS: It really depends on the show. Some take a good reading of the show to have the basic ideas that you can expand on easily, while others, like Noises Off, take significant time and debate and trial and error to make some challenging ideas come to realization.
DR: I probably spend about two weeks thinking through the design for a set, going over the possibilities and working out the dimensions. If the show has a multitude of settings, it takes awhile to figure out what moving pieces you’ll need, what kinds of backdrop(s) you’ll need, and what special effects you’ll need. Much of the details in the design have to be worked out as you go along.
- Do you prefer designing the set, or actually getting to build it?
AS: To me the design and the building are different sides of the same coin. The best part is finally getting to see the cast using the set or a tricky stage gag working properly, like a wall collapsing or a smooth scene change.
DR: I really enjoy the challenge of thinking through creative ways to design sets that will work on our stage. Since most plays are written for and performed on proscenium stages, it can be a real challenge to adapt the set to a thrust stage like ours (and to do it without the convenience of a fly system)! But I also find satisfaction in the completed project, once it is all built—especially if everything works!
- What has been the hardest set to turn from conception into reality?
AS: Noises Off is the hardest set, to me, we’ve ever done. Dave and I have talked about it for 10 years and the set is always why we didn’t do it. It has two levels and has to rotate fully and to do it on a thrust stage and to do everything quickly and work for two weeks of performances. They are all difficult challenges but Dave always comes up with the best ideas. A good imagination like his is a life saver for set building.
DR: Sets are hard to desgn and build for different reasons. Musicals, (like Little Women or My Fair Lady, for example) generally require multiple settings, so the challenge is to find ways to change the settings quickly and make them believable. Other shows have only a single setting, but it can get very complex (like CATS, for example). A play like Noises Off requires that the set completely turn around between acts—not an easy thing to do without a revolving stage!
We couldn’t do it without our amazing Technical Directors and crews! If you are interested in being a part of this group for our next production, please give the Box Office a call (308.234.1529).