Creating Art

Last week we looked at the words on paper and opened conversation about Playwrights. Taking a step further onto the stage from behind the scenes, the art of set design is our focus this week.

Creating the world in which a show takes place, set design is an important part of any theatre production. Giving a designer a chance to explore and interpret the performance in their own medium.

A set designer is more than just a decorator of backdrops, they are an integral part of creating the link between actor and audience. Theatre is meant to immerse you in a story, to take you on a journey beyond your seats. They are responsible for working with the theatre director and the production team to create an overall vision, setting an ambience and atmosphere that draws you in, creating scale models of the sets and translating the details to lighting and sound to produce a full piece of art.

If you’re looking to find your way into this magnificent role, you must understand the complexity of what it takes to make your vision come to life. Many sets have been ruined by poor lighting or dull palettes. Just as equally, great lighting and sound can’t save a poor design. You must have good communication to get your ideas across in a way that everyone can understand. I mentioned in our previous post, how getting involved in a variety of roles as a volunteer in your early career can aid your understanding further down the line.

You can read more on this here: http://entertainers.co.uk/the-playwrights-guide/

As the house lights dim and the curtains rise, you are suspended in a reality created by your own imagination, aided by the music and the art that surrounds you, from the highest note down to the smallest tea cup.

Below are some examples of works by great set designers, an introduction into the people that create and their ideas behind their designs.

Lizzie Clachan

Treasure Island, National Theatre. Scenic design by Lizzie Clachan.

Giant closed ribs surround the set in this photo, with a ship and its cabins in the centre. Lizzie Clachan received glowing reviews on transition from ships to caves and even swamplands.

Lizzie Clachan is an award-winning set designer from the UK and co-founder of London-based, performance collective, Shunt. She has designed all their productions including Amato Saltoni, Tropicana, Dance Bear Dance, The Tennis Show and The Ballad of Bobby Francois.

“…I really didn’t like theatre. But I enjoyed the liveness, the sense of a moment between an audience, the sense of an event. That was my ‘in’ to theatre: I didn’t come in with an interest in plays, I started with the idea of an experience, a moment, a vision…”

Lizzie Clachan

Listen HERE to Matt Truman, of Theatre Voice, talking to Lizzie about her take on the theatre world and her experiences as she moved into her own experimental off-site work and taking a step back from conventional methods.


Börkur Jonsson

The Heart of Robin Hood | Year: 2011 Designer: Börkur Jonsson Venue: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Börkur Jonsson, born in Iceland, works as a freelance designer for theatre and film. Above is an image from ‘The Heart of Robin Hood’ where he designed a forest that is far drawn from realism with a 9-meter slide attached for part of the performance. The forest has a sinister feel, with suspended trees overhanging the performance area representing the Sherwood Oak.

“It’s a nature drawn from the stories we read as children, stories of elves who live beneath the ground, stories of the earth opening up and allowing us to enter this nether world. The forest comes across as faintly sinister, as it appears in Hansel and Gretel or in Grimms’ Fairy Tales.”

Borkur Jonsson


Michael Schweikardt

Whisper House Set Design by Michael Schweikardt

Michael Schweikardt has had a successful career as a set designer including numerous productions at Goodspeed Musicals including Fiddler on the Roof, Carousel, Showboat, Annie Get Your Gun, 1776, Big River, and Camelot. Winning the Broadway World Award for Best Scenic Design for Showboat, 2012.

“For me, the design process is exactly the same. I start by ask myself, ‘What is the story and how do I tell it clearly?’ I consider myself a storyteller so I come to every project, be it a play or a musical or an opera, from that point of view. I don’t differentiate. I serve the text.”

Michael Schweikardt