Designer/Technician Guidelines

Design Process


For purposes of expediency in this document, “the director” refers equally to a singular director as well as to a “directing team” on a musical/opera – i.e. director/choreographer/music director.

Each show will have its own Sakai site, and all associated design/production members will be granted access. All of the designers most be proactive in posting their research, sketches, draftings, model photos, etc. to the Sakai site, so that everyone involved in the production (from the creative team, to the mentors, to the shops) can easily access the information necessary for them to do their jobs. This can mean posting several times per week, not just posting five minutes before one of the formal design meetings. Only the most recent revisions of all files should be kept on Sakai and all previous versions should be removed to prevent confusion. If other file sharing methods are used, the same information should also be posted on Sakai.

Each production is assigned a design process mentor by the TPA faculty/staff. These assignments can be found on the production assignment grid. This mentor is a design faculty member who facilitates the design process described below. The design process mentor initiates the process, attends and runs each formal design meeting, and acts as liaison to the TPA area. Each student designer also has a faculty design advisor in his/her design field (scenic, costume, lighting, or sound). This advisor will be involved in the design process in a variety of ways, and at a variety of times, depending upon the nature of the project, and the needs of the student designer.

These formalized meetings are intended to provide snapshots that allow everyone to keep up-to-date as the design process evolves. As such, they are not the only meetings that should take place between the director and designers. Outside meetings (labeled INTERIM herein) with various sub-groups of the production team will be necessary and it is up to the director and designers to schedule those INTERIM meetings. It is imperative to keep the design process mentor in the loop about these meeting times and outcomes in order to keep the TPA area informed. All of the designers should have ongoing discussions with each other throughout the entire design process so that everyone is aware of the evolution of the designs, the designs are interrelated and integrated, and all of the designs are working together to tell a united story.


The expectation for this meeting is that all designers have thoroughly read/listened to the materials (script, libretto, score, recordings as applicable), are familiar with the dramaturgical baseline of the piece, and come ready to talk and ask questions about the show. At this meeting, the director will share his/her detailed analysis of the piece, identify major themes, and highlight their personal resonances with the text/music. For the designers, a list of questions for the director is expected, as well as concrete thoughts about the piece's structure, themes, and meaning.

INTERIM – All designers meet with the director (as individuals or in sub-groups) to further explore the ideas presented in Meeting 1 and have deeper conversations about the story, basic staging needs, and overall aesthetic, as well as sharing their initial research.

Meeting 2 – RESEARCH & INITIAL APPROACHES (1 week after Meeting 1) – week 1

The expectation for this meeting is that all of the designers and the director will share their progress from their INTERIM meeting(s) and that the group will respond. This meeting is predominately geared toward scenery and costumes; however, lighting and sound designers should be proactive, sharing their ideas and research as well. The costume designer is expected to have a rough costume plot with copies to distribute as appropriate. The scenic designer should have a list of major elements/necessities derived from the text and from their interim conversation(s) with the director. All of these materials should also be posted on the Sakai site as a single file for each designer that combines all of their research and ideas, rather than a large collection of individual files.

INTERIM – Individually or together, the scenic and costume designers meet with the director (a minimum of once; more is recommended) in order to share preliminary sketch ideas of set and costumes that move toward a more cohesive design. The costume designer meets with the director to talk about micro (specific character) and macro (thematic as well as things like the use of the ensemble) choices that begin to define a vocabulary for the show, as well as talking through a rough costume plot. The sound designer meets with the director to share sound examples and begin to develop an aural palette.

Meeting 3 – ROUGH DESIGNS (2 weeks AFTER Meeting 2) – week 3

The expectation for this meeting is that the scenic and costume designer will share rough designs which are supported by additional research. For scenery this should include a rough model and ground plan (or others documentary items as detailed by the student’s design advisor or the design process mentor). For the costume designer this should include rough sketches and visual research that begins to focus the design, as well as specific character and color palette choices. Sound designers will present examples of sound/music ideas as appropriate. The entire collaborative team will respond to and further shape these ideas.

INTERIM – Shortly following meeting 3, the creative team meets with the director to talk through the show event by event. This will allow the scenic designer to begin to develop scene-by-scene ground plans, and the lighting and sound designers to better understand the structure of the piece. The costume designer and director should meet and begin making choices which are character-specific, and talk through the costume plot, making decisions which make the plot more specific.

Meeting 4 – REFINED DESIGNS (2 weeks after Meeting 3) – week 5

The expectation for this meeting is that all designers will share their current progress. In particular, the scenic designer has refined the roughs into a preliminary draft and more refined model that is presented to the director and design team for their response. Depending on the response, ongoing revisions, or perhaps a major change in approach, may be necessary. The costume designer should present specific sketches and corresponding research for all the costumes in the show and a well-developed costume plot.

INTERIM – The designers and director meet to make changes to the designs and to ensure that well-developed, thorough, and unified designs will be presented in meeting 5. Since changes in one design will likely affect other areas, the director and all designers should be aware of, and have the opportunity to adapt their designs to, all the changes before they are presented to the wider group during meeting 5.

Meeting 5 – FIRST LOOK (1 week after Meeting 4) – week 6

The expectation for this meeting is that the designers will present refined ideas so that the production staff and the directors of artistic programming and production can comment on the general feasibility/appropriateness of the designs.

The scenic designer will present a basic drafting package (i.e. ground plan(s), initial draft of all major scenic elements, and a section-view), a white model with basic scenic art info or a rough color model, as well as basic properties/furniture info. The costume designer will present specific visual research or a sketch for each character with a complete costume plot. The lighting and sound designers will present any ideas that may require unusual technologies or that have the potential to exceed standard resources.

INTERIM – The designers will meet with the respective shops to discuss the scope and feasibility of the designs presented in Meeting 5. The scenic designer will meet with the TD, prop shop supervisor, faculty scenic artist, scene design advisor, and appropriate associated students. The costume designer will meet with the costume shop supervisor and costume design advisor. The lighting and sound designers will meet with the lighting and sound supervisor and their respective advisors.

The TD, costume shop supervisor, and lighting and sound supervisor will budget the proposed designs and inform the designers whether or not the current designs can be produced within available resources. If they cannot be produced within available resources, the designers will work with the director, design advisors, and production staff to revise the designs. These revisions should be shared with the director and the entire design team no later than one week before Meeting 6, in case revisions in one design necessitate changes in other designs.

Meeting 6 – FINAL PRESENTATIONS AND HANDOFFS (2 weeks after Meeting 5) – week 8

The expectation for this meeting is that completed scenic draftings (including scene by scene groundplans with furniture placement) and a color model (from the scene designer); finished costume renderings and plot (from the costume designer); and preliminary sound cue sheets and a sources list (from the sound designer) will be presented to the director and the full design team. All of these documents should also be posted on Sakai. All previous versions of these documents should be removed from Sakai to avoid confusion.          


Additional Scenic Deadline:

Following Meeting 6, the scenic designer will, under the advisement of the production staff and the scene design adviser, make a firm schedule for completion of the final prop packet and scenic art elevations.


Subsequent Events:

PRE-PRODUCTION MEETING   (typically one week after meeting 6)
At this meeting the director will talk to the full production team about the show, and the approach. The designers will present their completed [and approved] designs to the entire production staff. Scenic designers will present their design via model, research, and drawings. Costume designers will present their design via color renderings and research. Costume designers frequently use a .ppt for their presentation. Lighting and sound designers will present their approach to the production, which may take a variety of forms. (See Sound Design and Lighting Design Process section in the handbook for a complete set of expectations for those disciplines).

Design presentations typically occur during the first rehearsal for the actors. All designers will present their finalized designs to the cast, full stage management team, and representatives from the TAM area. Costume designers frequently use a .ppt for their presentation. It is mandatory that all designers be present at this meeting.


revised 11/23/15


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