Narrative Lead Theatre Design Presentation

Article / 28 October 2023


As Theatrical Designers, our role often extends beyond the confines of the stage and into the realm of presentations, be it in front of a captivated audience of actors during the first rehearsal or in a crucial concept or budget meeting with a team of producers. In these moments, our primary objective is to infuse a sense of wonder and anticipation into our work, captivating our audience with the potential of our designs.

One of the most exemplary models for this kind of compelling presentation can be observed in Apple's Quarterly Keynotes. The tech giant has perfected the art of intertwining their products with the human experience, seamlessly blending innovation with emotion. Their signature "and there's more" approach keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next big reveal. Within hours of their presentation, the internet is abuzz with excitement as bloggers and news outlets rush to share the latest and greatest from Apple's lineup.

The parallels between the world of theatrical design and Apple's presentation style are evident, and there is a wealth of knowledge that we, as Theatrical Designers, can glean from their approach. By harnessing the power of storytelling and anticipation, we can elevate our presentations to new heights, captivating our audience and leaving them eagerly awaiting the curtain to rise. 

Planning the Presentation

As designers, we often find ourselves immersed in the intricate process of developing our design concepts, dedicating weeks or even months to bring our visions to life. However, equally challenging and essential is the task of conveying these rich, complex ideas during a presentation to our peers and collaborators, often condensed into a brief 5 to 10-minute window. This can be an overwhelming prospect, especially for those less acquainted with the nuances of presentation. 

Drawing from my years of experience as a professional designer, I've developed a structured approach to craft presentations that simplify the complex narrative of our design process and magnify the impact of our message. I am thrilled to share this methodology with you in this article.

The presentation is a pivotal aspect of our role as designers. It's our platform to illustrate our unique artistic contributions and the value we add to a production. More than just a showcase of ideas, a well-orchestrated presentation is an opportunity to share our passion and define our role within the collaborative fabric of the creative team. In these crucial moments, we can inspire our peers and contribute significantly to the collective creation of the production world. By honing our presentation skills, we ensure that our ideas are communicated with clarity and persuasion, bolstering the collaborative process and contributing to the production's overall success.

Presentation Format

  1. Introduction
  2. Research 
  3. Design Concept
  4. Technical Details 
  5. Concluding Remark and Open Forum

The Introduction

The opening moments of a presentation are crucial. As a design team member, you will present before or after one of your colleagues. This is your golden opportunity to take command of the room and establish a strong presence. Start by introducing yourself clearly and straightforwardly, such as, “Hello, my name is [Your Name], and for this production, I am the [Scenic, Costume, Lighting, Sound, or Projection] Designer." Accompanying this, your first slide should be simple and effective, featuring your name and job title, complemented by a color palette and typography that resonates with the production's mood.

Once the formalities of your introduction are out of the way, the floor is yours to delve into the essence of the production from your perspective. Share what emotions the production evokes in you, pinpoint the central theme as you perceive it, or weave in a personal anecdote that connects your life experiences with the production's narrative. This is your moment to not only share your professional role but also offer a glimpse into your personal connection with the project, thereby fostering a deeper, more meaningful engagement with your audience.

Research and visual presentation

Initial Research:

Following your introduction, guiding your audience through your unique design process is essential. Begin by sharing preliminary research images, detailing your first impressions upon reading the script, and describing pivotal conversations with the director and other design team members. This initial stage of research sets the stage, steering your audience toward understanding your theatrical concept.

Contextual Research:

From there, delve into contextual or historical research. This segment is dedicated to connecting the dots between the script's reality and your conceptual vision. Here, your objective is to build the world of the production, laying out critical elements such as time period, locale, social class, etc. For this portion, your visual aids might include historical photographs sourced from the internet or books or even personal images that tie into the production’s setting.

Emotional Research:

Having laid down the realities of the world you've created, shift the focus to the emotional landscape of the production. Discuss how you wish the audience to perceive and feel about the production and how you plan to weave in the central theme. This is the opportunity to showcase your selected color palettes, cinematic references, or other artistic inspirations that have shaped your design.

Research Notes

In designing your presentation, remember that you, the designer, are the bridge between your concept and the audience. It’s crucial not to overwhelm your audience with an excess of images; instead, carefully curate key visuals that adeptly navigate your audience through your creative thought process. I recommend using no more than six images per slide to maintain clarity and focus. Establish a clear hierarchy within your images to highlight specific details that merit attention. Supplement these visuals with text to provide context and purpose behind each collage. This approach ensures a clear, concise, and engaging presentation that effectively communicates your design vision. 

Design Concept

After thoroughly laying out the intricacies of your design process, you are primed for your masterpiece's grand unveiling. I personally like to kick off this pivotal section of the presentation with what I've affectionately dubbed "The Hero Slide." This is the slide that brings your audience face-to-face with the culmination of your hard work and creativity. Depending on your specific design role, this could be a stunning Scenic Design Rendering, a collection of principal renderings for a Costume Design, an evocative Flash and Trash Lighting Rendering, or for Sound Design, a poignant Emotional Research Image harmoniously overlaid with a soundscape or piece of music you've composed. This moment serves as the crescendo of your presentation, a testament to your artistic vision and dedication to the production.

To maintain a seamless and immersive visual experience, your images must adhere to a 16:9 aspect ratio, filling the entire screen to forge a direct connection between your audience, yourself, and your work. Avoid images that are pages from a Design Package or document, as these can be distracting and detract from the quality of your presentation.

Following your "Hero Image," the subsequent slides should delve deeper into your design, with the content varying depending on your specific design discipline. It's important to remember that while you want to highlight the pinnacle of your design, it's optional to share every minute detail. Overloading your audience with information can lead to losing focus and engagement. Instead, aim to strike the right balance between showcasing your work and maintaining audience interest.

Scenic Design:

For Scenic Designers, providing a clear and comprehensive understanding of the spatial relationships within the set is essential. Present the ground plan and section, highlighting how different scenic elements interact and potential blocking scenarios. Follow this up with additional renderings for each scene, including human figures, to establish scale and incorporate general lighting to convey the intended mood.

Costume Design:

Costume Designers should prioritize showcasing the principal characters of the production. A useful approach is to display the character’s progression throughout the production by including multiple costume looks on a single slide. Follow this with a final slide dedicated to ensemble characters, providing a holistic view of the production’s costume design.

Lighting Design:

If you are proficient with software like Vectorworks, utilize lighting renderings to demonstrate how the set transitions between scenes. If not, lean on your emotional research to guide you through the presentation, utilizing color palettes and images from related media to communicate your ideas effectively.

Sound Design:

While Sound Design is inherently a non-visual form, incorporating images that support the theme and mood derived from your emotional research can significantly enhance audience engagement. Complement these visuals with soundscapes encapsulating key moments in the production, creating a multisensory presentation that vividly brings your sound design to life.

Technical Details

This segment of the presentation embodies the exhilarating "and there's more" ethos familiar from Apple Keynotes. It's the moment where theatrical designers can truly flaunt the innovative and standout aspects of their designs.

For Scenic Designers, this might involve delving into the specifics of incorporating practical light fixtures, cutting-edge LEDs, or the intricacies of automated scenery that bring dynamic motion to the stage.

Costume Designers have a chance to shine by delving into the theatrical magic underpinning moments like Cinderella's on-stage dress transformation, the meticulous craftsmanship behind historically accurate corsets, or the sourcing of rare and authentic materials that give costumes a touch of realism.

Meanwhile, Lighting and Sound Designers can emphasize advancements and unique touches in their domain. This is the time to discuss new technologies being leveraged, rented equipment that enhances the atmospheric elements, or pioneering techniques employed to create a truly immersive auditory or visual experience for the audience.

In essence, this segment is a celebration of the designer's artistry, innovation, and the special touches that elevate a production from ordinary to extraordinary.

Concluding Remarks and Open Forum

As you approach the final moments of your presentation, it’s important to wrap up your narrative with concluding remarks that encapsulate the essence of your design vision and its significance to the production. Reflect on the key points you’ve shared, reiterating the innovative aspects and creative prowess that you, as a designer, bring to the table.

After your concluding remarks, transition into an open forum, inviting questions and fostering a dialogue with your audience. This is an invaluable opportunity to engage in meaningful interactions, clarify any points of curiosity, and further elucidate aspects of your design that may have piqued interest.

Opening the floor to questions demonstrates your openness to collaboration and your commitment to the collective success of the production. It also allows you to glean insights from different perspectives, which can be instrumental in refining and enhancing your design as you move forward.

In essence, the concluding remarks and open forum serve as a bridge, connecting the realm of your creative vision with the collaborative ecosystem of the production, ultimately contributing to a richer, more cohesive artistic endeavor.


In conclusion, the art of presentation in theatrical design is a nuanced dance between storytelling, anticipation, and technical prowess. Just as Apple's Keynotes have captivated the world with their seamless blending of innovation and human experience, we, as theatrical designers, can wield our presentations as a tool of enchantment, bringing our audience into the unique world we've crafted. A successful presentation is not just about showcasing our designs but about sharing our passion, process, and vision in a way that resonates with our collaborators, ultimately contributing to the cohesive creation of the production world. Through careful planning, clear communication, and a dash of flair, we can elevate our presentations to be not just a mere sharing of ideas but an experience that leaves our audience not only understanding our vision but also eagerly awaiting the moment the curtain rises on the final production. Let us take a cue from Apple's playbook and harness the power of storytelling, anticipation, and technical excellence to truly captivate our audience and leave them with a lasting impression of the magic we bring to the stage.

Navigating the Scenic Design Process: A Comprehensive Guide

Article / 21 October 2023


Embarking on a scenic design journey is exhilarating, unfolding across various pivotal stages. Every production manifests a unique workflow, shaped by a myriad of factors such as the nature of the production (be it a play or a musical), the Director's vision, the design team's expertise, budget allocations, and the timeline. This article aims to provide a structured breakdown of the scenic design process, offering a roadmap for aspiring designers.

Outlined herein is a potential Scenic Design process, emphasizing that each production carves out its unique process, influenced by various determinants: the type of production (whether a play or musical), the Director's approach, the expertise of the design team, budgetary constraints, and the timeline.

The scenic design process is delineated into three distinct phases within this article. The Preproduction phase is a collaborative venture among the design team, laying the essential groundwork for the project. Transitioning into the Production phase, a bustling period ensues, encompassing rehearsals and the actual construction of the set, progressively bringing the envisioned design to fruition. The journey reaches its zenith in the Post-production phase, marking the conclusion of the scenic designer's role as performances commence. It's customary for the Scenic Designer to receive the final payment upon the opening, thus marking the conclusion of their services.


Hiring Dynamics

Unlike conventional job markets, designers usually freelance for a theatre company per production. The initial interaction with a production company could come via the producer, Artistic Director, Production Manager, or Director.

Read and Analyze Script

Upon being assigned to a production, the producing organization should provide you with a script and the necessary documentation regarding the theatre venue. Your journey begins with reading the script, which demands multiple read-throughs. Initially, approach the script as an audience member would, reading it for entertainment value. Reflect on the emotions it evokes and the larger narrative's cultural implications. Following this, you need to consider evaluating the acting space. As a scenic designer, mastering the spatial dynamics between scenes, scenery, and characters is fundamental. Familiarize yourself extensively with the space; should any ambiguities arise, seek clarification from the Production Manager or Technical Director, or better yet, visit the space personally.

The subsequent script read-throughs should be more analytical, focusing on understanding the core mechanics of the production, even if this phase might seem less creatively stimulating. It's essential to grasp the story's mechanics before embarking on the creative journey of ornamentation. During this phase, begin drafting reference documents. The Unit Tracker should outline the elements in the script that characters interact with, while the Scenic Breakdown is crucial for musicals and episodic plays, detailing the elements utilized in each scene. This documentation helps understand the reusable elements across scenes, facilitating a more efficient and coherent design process.

Basic Research 

At this stage in the process, you have yet to reach the point of final decision-making. Theatre is a realm of collaboration where discussions with the Director and design team members are integral. While coming into preliminary meetings with some ideas is beneficial, maintaining a flexible mindset is crucial.

Scenic Design heavily relies on images for research as a visual art form. As the Scenic Designer, it's essential to understand the connection between your research and the narrative and articulate your ideas effectively.

Research Categories:

  1. Historical: Utilize images that accurately represent the production's time, place, and locale.
  2. Emotional: Seek images that evoke emotions or sentiments about the production. This can include works of art, historical photos with indirect ties to the production, personal photographs, or color palettes.
  3. Referential: Examine images from other productions to understand different solutions to the production's mechanical challenges. However, these images should serve as informational references rather than direct inspirations for the artistic aesthetic.

Preliminary Discussions 

The preliminary discussion could be between you and the Director or sometimes you and the entire design team. Remember that even if not all collaborative team members are in the room, they are still part of the team. 

At this point in the discussion, you should have a few ideas of what the shape of the production can look like. Be prepared with initial research and some rough sketches. 

The key to being a great collaborator is to be a good listener and to react effectively based on feedback. Listen to the Director's thoughts on the production at this point. Then, engage with your thoughts and share the relevant research I have prepared. 

The Preliminary Discussion can comprise multiple meetings, but by the end, there should be a clear direction for the production. 

Continued Research and Conceptualization 

In the research stage, the emphasis is on a more focused exploration, which aids in carving out the artistic aesthetic of the project. This stage lays the groundwork for refining ideas, yet the research process is iterative and extends throughout the entire preproduction phase. It's an ongoing endeavor that seamlessly transitions into the conceptualization phase.

Conceptualization is about delving into the 'What' and the 'Why' of the Design. The research phase lays the foundation by addressing the 'What': identifying the show's needs, the timeline, the setting, and the message to be conveyed. As you transition into the conceptual phase, it's time to delve deeper to unearth the 'Why': the story's significance, the rationale behind the characters' presence, and so on. This phase encapsulates the essence of the narrative and the design vision.

It's in the conceptualization phase where you, as a designer, begin to translate abstract ideas into tangible forms. While the phrase 'putting pen to paper' metaphorically depicts this transition, the process may vary from designer to designer. However, the core essence remains — creating a visual representation of your concept alongside a functional ground plan. This phase is crucial as it encapsulates your interpretation and the envisioned narrative, acting as a blueprint for the upcoming steps in the preproduction process. Through a blend of research and conceptualization, you embark on a journey from abstract ideation to concrete visualization, ensuring a well-rounded approach to informed and innovative Design.


Nowadays, designers are equipped with various tools to express their ideas. Some may use Vectorworks or SketchUp to craft 3D models and ground plans. In contrast, others might opt for a more traditional route, employing sketches, watercolor renderings, or physical models. Some Designers may even blend contemporary and traditional communication methods.

Communication of your ideas to team members is crucial regardless of the medium chosen.

  • Ground Plan: This document is essential for the Director to visualize the blocking or movement within the production.
  • Section: The Lighting and Sound Designers need to review the section to plan the placement of instruments.
  • Rendering/Models: All design team members will be interested in your aesthetic and color palette ideas through your renderings or models.
  • Adaptability: During this process, be prepared for numerous revisions and adjustments. Your goal is to develop a Scenic Design that aligns with the Director and design team's vision and remains within budget and time constraints.

Design Development

Once the scenic Design concept is refined and agreeable to all production team members, you will further develop the Design to what is referred to as the "Final Design Package." 

The Design Development stage is where the attention of the Scenic Designer is focused on the needs of the Production Staff, such as the Technical Director, Paint Charge, and Properties Manager. 

The members of the Production Staff can help guide your decision-making in making the most of the budget and time allotted to realize the Design. It is also important to note that the Production Staff are skilled artisans and may have ideas to make the realized Design the best. Different Departments may only want some aspects of the Design Package. This is a comprehensive list of what a Scenic Designer needs to produce and keep current. 

  • Elements of the "Final Design Package"  
    • Ground Plan
    • Section
    • Elevations
    • Paint Elevations 
    • Color Rendering or Scenic Model
    • Props List
    • Props Research 
    • Scenic Unit List
    • Scenic Breakdown 


Rehearsal Process

Before rehearsal, you will distribute the Design Package to the Stage Manager so they can evaluate your ideas. Be sure to check in and ask if they have any questions, as everyone must be on the same page. 

The Stage Manager will Tape the Ground Plan to the rehearsal room floor. It is advised that you check the taping to make sure it matches your vision. 

First Day of Rehearsal

It is common practice to have the Design Team present their Designs to the Cast before the read-through. This is an exciting presentation as it will be the first time you share your ideas with a fresh set of eyes. 

The Presentation should be professional, Clean, and concise details. 

After the first rehearsal, you will start to receive rehearsal reports. You'll need to keep updated with the notes as the rehearsal process may call for changes or modifications to the scenery. If there are changes, you are the link between the Rehearsal and Construction Process. 

Construction Process

The primary responsibility of the Scenic Designer is to check in on the build process, Answer questions, and make decisions as needed. Some organizations may have Production duties tied to the role of the Scenic Designer. 

Tech Rehearsal 

The Tech Rehearsal process is when the production is blocked, and the actors move into the performance. This part of the process is for the Technical Staff to practice how the technical elements impact the performance. 

As the Scenic Designer, you will be in Tech Day one until Opening. Your primary objective is to take notes and communicate design needs from the rehearsal to the Production Staff. 

The Tech rehearsal Process ends with the Final Dress, where the performance has shaped into a finished product. Some producing organizations may follow the final Dress with Preview, which has an invited audience with the expectation that some production elements may change before Opening Night. 

Post Production

Opening Night

Opening night, the production is open to live audiences and an opportunity to celebrate your hard work. This is also when the production is locked in, and the designers are not to make any additional creative changes to the production. 


During the performance stage of the production, you will receive regular communication with the Stage Manager in a Performance Report about what is happening in each production. As a scenic designer, you must stay on top of these notes to maintain your vision throughout the performance until closing.  


The voyage through the scenic design process is an intricate tapestry of creativity, technical mastery, and collaborative endeavor. As delineated in the preceding sections, each phase of the process—be it Preproduction, Production, or Post-production—entails a distinct set of responsibilities and challenges that demand a fine balance of artistic vision and practical exigency. As aspiring designers embark on this enthralling journey, it's paramount to appreciate the fluidity and dynamism inherent in the theater production landscape. The process encapsulated herein serves as a tentative roadmap, aiding in navigating the multifaceted realms of scenic design while leaving ample room for individual creativity and collaborative innovation.

As designers traverse through the stages of concept ideation, design development, and, eventually, the realization of the scenic vision on stage, they continually learn, adapt, and evolve. The final bow on opening night is not merely a culmination but a commemoration of the collective artistic endeavor that propels a script from paper to performance. Each production is a learning vessel, enhancing the scenic designer's repertoire of skills, experiences, and insights, enriching their artistic journey in the grand theater of life. The essence of scenic design lies in creating ephemeral worlds on stage and contributing to the enduring legacy of theater, a realm where stories breathe, characters live, and audiences are enraptured.

Navigating the Digital Landscape: Empowering Theatre Production Students with Computer Literacy

Article / 14 October 2023

Brandon PT Davis     October 2023


If you’ve ever been hailed as the tech guru among your students, you’re likely familiar with the flood of emails seeking one burning answer: “Which computer should I go for?” It’s a rite of passage. The array of options, each neatly tailored to a specific budget, can make anyone a tad jittery. But fear not because it’s time to equip our students with the skills they need to confidently and effectively navigate this digital landscape. Incorporating computer literacy into our curriculums is paramount, and here’s why.

Bridging Generational Gaps in Tech Proficiency:

Society often assumes that students are inherently tech-savvy. Memes joking about Millennials teaching their Boomer bosses how to create a PDF are commonplace. However, the reality is that our Gen Z students are the iPad generation. They’re accustomed to mobile software designed for intuitive navigation with a few finger gestures. Traditional PC software can be overwhelming with its myriad hotkeys and hidden menus. Even software like AutoCAD, which has been around since 1982, relies on a command bar.

A Curriculum Tailored to the Future:

I've integrated computer literacy into my Digital Rendering Course, a required class for all production students. Here’s a glimpse of how I structure the course:

Day 1: Unraveling Computer Hardware

  • Types of Computers: Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Operating Systems Demystified
  • Hardware Components: From Motherboards to GPUs
  • The Brain of the Computer: CPU and CPU Cores
  • Navigating Graphics with GPU
  • Balancing Act: Understanding RAM
  • Storage Wars: SDD vs HDD
  • Accessories and Their Importance

I’ve found that injecting quirky anecdotes, like likening the CPU to the brain and RAM to the juggling act of coursework, helps demystify these concepts. This session culminates in guiding students on assessing Software Hardware requirements for wise investments.

Day 2: Mastering File Management and Storage

  • Organizing Chaos: File Naming Schemes
  • Folder Hierarchy: The Art of Organizing
  • Files Over Time: Managing and Removing
  • The Ageless Files: Storage on Physical Drives
  • Embracing the Cloud: Services, Benefits, and Drawbacks

This session imparts vital file management skills and emphasizes their importance in teamwork and collaboration.

Day 3: The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

  • A Journey through AI History
  • AI vs Traditional Computing: How They Differ
  • Meeting Chat GPT: Understanding AI Generators
  • Impact of AI on the Art Industry
  • Ethics in AI: Navigating Uncharted Territory

The final lecture dives into the relevance of AI in today’s society. It’s intriguing to note that while students are aware of AI tools, they often haven’t delved into creating AI-generated art or delved into Chat GPT. The ethics discussion sparks engaging debates and leads to personal growth.

Empowering Students for the Future:

Implementing computer literacy in theatre production education is crucial as technology’s demand surges. It empowers students to make informed decisions, ensuring they aren’t led to believe they need to invest thousands of dollars in a computer. By aligning courses with the technology available, we make education accessible to all.


Incorporating computer literacy into our curriculums isn’t just about equipping students with technical knowledge. It’s about giving them the confidence to navigate an ever-evolving digital world, empowering them for a future where technology plays an increasingly pivotal role. Let’s continue to bridge the gap between generations and pave the way for a more tech-savvy and informed generation of theatre production professionals.