Whether you're a lighting designer, or a costume, scenic, sound or props designer, there are several common, core definitions and questions you will need to answer as a basic checklist as you begin the planning stages for designing your upcoming production.
Answering and defining this checklist will help you to approach your project with as much knowledge and preparation as possible. Not only will answering these basic questions help you prepare technically for your upcoming show, but you'll also gain invaluable artistic and creative insight as you formulate these answers and solidify your design point of view for the piece itself!
Answering all of these questions and definitions will provide you with the vital groundwork you need as you approach the design needs of your upcoming piece -- and will make for a richer, more meaningful final design, as well.
The most important thing to remember is to communicate with the director and your fellow designers as early as possible on initial vision so that there's a sense of cohesion between costumes and sets, or between sets and lighting, and beyond. But within those few limitations, you can create anything you want. The stage is a delicious blank canvas that awaits your vision.
These questions are especially vital for the lighting and sound designers, who will have to base their designs on the machines and tools provided by the space. For instance, how many lights are available for use? Make sure you organize your list according to lantern type here. What other stage lighting elements will be available to you, from gobos, gels and effects items, to spots to LED striplights, and more? What kind of light board is in the booth? What kind of sound system does the venue have?
For those of you addressing the set design and effects needs of the show, you'll need to note potentially useful existing items such as trap doors or trebuchets, snow machines, and more.
Whatever your role, make a list of tasks and tricks that you know you can use smoothly here -- as well as stuff to stay away from because of the limitations of the space. Even better -- talk to someone who's already handled effects, lighting, sound or tech there in the venue, and who knows what it's capable of.
Even before you address the show's setting, time and place from the script, talk to the director about the big picture. How does the director describe the production and his or her approach to bringing it to life? What artistic or pop culture influences or buzzwords are used? Will the interpretation be by-the-book or something new? What is the message or theme the director is trying to communicate to the audience?
Sometimes a single phrase from the director can send you on an inspired and unexpected direction for your design, enabling you to create something that powerfully communicates the show's theme in startling or beautiful ways. The beauty of your role as a designer is that you will be able to visually evoke this theme without saying a word. You will let light and color, texture and period, prop and furniture piece, say everything that needs to be said.
Go through the script with a highlighter and note any big moments in the action, especially those involving major production challenges in set pieces, props, costumes, lighting and more.
For instance, let's say there's a gallows scene in Act II. If you're the set designer, this is an important set piece to create -- and it's got to be safe, sturdy, and mobile. Meanwhile, if you're the lighting designer, the height of the gallows in the scene could present a challenge when lighting the performers in the scene. And if you're the props person, will you need a safe, yet working noose? Will you have to come up with the little accoutrements that will enrich the character of the executioner in the scene?
The costume designer, meanwhile, may need to make special note of bloody or violent moments in the story. If someone gets shot, or a barber will be cutting throats, this will definitely affect some of the colors, textures, and material choices when creating the costumes.