Scenic Design at Yale

By Zeke Blackwell ‘13, with Adela Jaffe ‘13


First things first: read the script. Identify for yourself any large set elements that are important for the action in the show (for example, important doors, furniture pieces). Then, talk to the director about what you notice to the script. Find out what’s important to the director in her telling of the story. Determine where your ideas don’t meet, and talk through those differences

Be sure to talk to the producer about the theater space you’ll be designing for and the resources and man-power you have. It’s also important to communicate with the show’s lighting designer, as the collaboration between your two designs will make the show successful as a cohesive artistic whole

Assess your own ability, and be aware that as set designer, you are often responsible for technical aspects of the set as well. It’s important to clarify early on whether you’re filling other roles, including props, set dressing, and painting

General Pointers on Design

Talk to the Undergraduate Production staffers as often as you can. They each have considerable technical and design expertise, and can help you figure out how to most effectively achieve your design goals

Watch a lot of theater! Notice what you like and what you don’t like about sets, and look for ideas that you can borrow

Conduct visual research: Google Images, Deviant Art, going to the Yale Art Gallery, travel and interior design blogs, The New York Times photo archive, and the Google Art Project are all great resources

Set design is sometimes more about functional elements than creating design elements entirely from scratch — but that’s fine! Functional sets can still be aesthetically pleasing, exciting for you to design, and add to the production. Don’t worry about not doing something totally off the wall, especially if you’re new to set designing

Familiarize yourself with Google Sketch Up ( It can be really helpful for showing your ideas to the director and lighting designer. Undergraduate Production has SketchUp models of every theater space, so it’s very easy to design your set on SketchUp within that theater. UP can give you futher advice and tutorials on using the software

Making your Design a Reality

For CPA shows, we recommend you try to communicate your scenic design without much construction. Plan a trip to the Yale School of Drama props warehouse as soon as you have an idea of what you want in terms of set pieces. Watch other shows; there might be set pieces, set components, or furniture that you can use, or re-imagine slightly to use in a different way

If your design requires construction, identify what exactly needs to be built early on and talk to Undergraduate Production as soon as possible, as they can help you strategize and make this happen. Keep in mind that many basic set elements that you might think you need to build already exist: platforms, flats, and pre-hung doors can be borrowed from the Yale School of Drama, the Dramat, the Whitney Theater, or the Off Broadway Theater if you ask nicely and are potentially willing to pay

If you are building something brand new, you should work with Undergraduate Production to find a suitable space — most likely the Dramat Shop. Contact the Dramat Production Officer for more information

You can buy some materials, like wood and steel, from the Yale School of Drama. Ask UP for details. The best alternative is Home Depot. Bonus: when you go to Home Depot, if you know what your cut list is, they will cut the wood for you, making your life so much easier

Be sure to schedule the delivery of your set and props from the YSD Props Warehouse well in advance — you may need to store these things somewhere on campus for a few days before load—in

In terms of completing the set and loading in the set, be sure to communicate with your director and lighting designer to make sure important set elements can be in place by for focus and cue—to-cue. You should have a clear plan of how to install your set and what final touches need to be accomplished once in the space.