Stage designer job description

Written by anne hirsh
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Stage designer job description
Stage designers determine the physical environment of a performance. (Chinese drama image by chinatiger from

Stage designers are also known as set designers or scenic designers. These individuals design the scenic elements you see in stage plays, music concerts and other performances. Stage designers may be freelance workers or they may be employed by a company that either produces its own shows or contracts out designers to produce other shows.


Scenic designers must read the script for a play and analyse the physical needs of a production such as entrances and exits, architectural features and acting areas. The designer meets with the director and other crew members to come up with an overall vision for the play, then she creates a sketch of the proposed design, called a rendering.

Once the rendering is approved, the designer creates detailed blueprint-style drawings of the set from the top side views, plus a colour rendering showing the colours and textures of each scenic element. A three-dimensional model may also be used to communicate the set design to the technical director, director and carpentry crew. Throughout this process, the designer continues meeting with the production staff and revising the drawings and model until the set is approved.


A Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree in technical theatre or stage production is standard for stage designers, and many go on to earn a master of fine arts (M.F.A.) degree to gain more focused education. Aspiring designers may intern under professional designers as well as technical directors and on carpentry crews to gain an understanding of how set materials are created and the limitations of various types of construction, although this is not always necessary to gaining design jobs. Designers with little to no formal training may begin as volunteers for amateur theatre companies and work their way up.

Skills and Traits

Drafting and perspective drawing skills are essential for stage designers. An understanding of colour theory is also helpful. Designers must be comfortable working both independently and collaboratively, as much of the actual design work is completed alone, but the design process involves interacting with others and being open to shifting ideas. Last-minute changes are common in theatrical productions, so a designer must be able to adapt quickly.

Work Conditions

Working conditions for stage designers require long hours seated at a drafting table or computer. Most modern stage plans are computer-drafted, and renderings may be computer generated or hand-drawn, so prolonged periods of focused attention are necessary and may involve working on a backlit screen. During scenic construction, the designer may be required to visit the production scene shop, which features noisy conditions, dangerous tools and a dusty environment, along with possible exposure to paint fumes.


Stage designers may be paid flat fees per production or may earn an hourly or salaried wage. Average annual earnings for set designers in 2002 were £24,212, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Theatrical set designers earn the least, averaging £16,419 per year, while designers of movie sets earn the highest rate at approximately £38,135 per year. New York City offers the highest employment rate for set designers, with San Francisco as the next highest employer.

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