Elements of Design for Theater Design

The Designer's Toolbox!

In "Theatrical" design, the visual artist has a very unique opportunity. There is an extreme attention to the fact that the experience is live in the end, and the audience faces the art face to face. 

Picture is taken from the 2012 fall Musical Into the Woods in the Jerry Knight Auditorium
(Photo courtesy of Meaghan Sullivan)

LEARNING GOAL: The designer should be able to use all of the elements of design in their final renderings.

The student designer will understand the benefits of artistic process by working in a consistent/diligent manner and staying in line with the elements and their functions.

The Student designer will know how to use the elements of design in their work to better create the most original and dynamic design for the story.


Each student should know each element's subfactors and the features each element offers. 


The Individual TOOLS we use in stage design:


"Line" which defines form and the actual shape of the set.
(What kind of space is created)


REAL LINE - an unbroken line that used to create form or shape.

SUGGESTED LINE - A repeated pattern or broken line that still defines shape.


"Dimension" which defines the depth of the world being created.
(How far, how close, how wide, how deep and how high)


REAL DIMENSION - Actual depth.

Our set designs utilize the physical space on the stage and usually accomplish quite a bit of actual depth, but how the designer uses that space to create depth can make a design effective or not. 

SUGGESTED DIMENSION - Suggesting there is depth where is does not exists.

Placing windows and doors on a set can create additional depth in the space by suggesting that the space goes beyond the room we see. 

The backdrop design for Sound of Music illustrates how 2D design 
can suggest dimension and create additonal depth to a scene.


"Texture" which defines the visual feel of what is created.
(How far, how close, how wide, how deep and how high)


REAL TEXTURE - It is what it is (it is actually made out of what it intends to be on stage)

If we had the money and didn't mind breaking our backs, we could use "real" materials. 

We could put things like "real" marble tiles on a set, or have a "real" marble counter-top on a set...
but sometimes the "real" texture isn't in the budget or it is just too heavy!!!  

SIMULATED TEXTURE - Faking out the audience, and making something look like something else.

                       The texture created is to simulate or suggest "rocks" or "a mountain range"
                        Or we can use to paint to suggest or simulate other textures (like wood)

INVENTED TEXTURE - A texture that comes out of the designer's head, and is not intended to represent anything in particular, but can be used to evoke a feeling or adjective.

The texture created is original in it's visual feel and is not intending to be anything but what it is...
"pointy" or "spikey" 

Or here...(what would be an adjective to describe this invented texture?)


"Movement" which defines the kinesthetic value of the design.
(Where do things adjust, change, flow, shift in the space, or draw our attention)


REAL MOVEMENT - Something (in the design, not the actors) that actual changes location on the stage.

OPTICAL MOVEMENT - Where the design makes you look, the area or thing that draws your attention.


Definition: The hue or chroma  of an object or light

A designer uses emotional connections or symbolic connections we all have to specific colors to help portray the story in a specific moment, in a scene, or even the whole play.

Color can be a very powerful tool if used correctly.


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