Planning a Season of Design
Updated: Apr 10
February 26, 2019
Have you started planning your next season of theater productions? I read an article by David Dower, founder and contributor at HowlRound. As the Artistic Director of ArtsEmerson Theater in Boston, David gives a five step process for planning a well rounded and values-based season. Read more about it here.
This year, I’ve been approached by three or four theater companies, to design sets for their summer shows. Some of them are theaters I’ve been hoping to work with for years, others are relatively new, but no less important, clients. While it’s good to be busy, how do I juggle all the demands of separate projects when they stretch out over many months? To answer this question, I sat down to do some old fashioned planning.
To me, ‘old fashioned’ planning is when I print out my calendar for the next six months and block out time for each of the projects with visual cues. If the production opens here, then I back up dates for building and painting by three to four weeks. I put deadlines for tech drawing here and elevations there. Luckily, two of the biggest shows don’t have the same opening weeks so tech rehearsals won’t overlap. Lucky for me, as one plays in San Francisco and the other in Mountain View.
After I’ve figured out when the shop will need technical drawings, I back up the dates by four weeks or so to schedule in preliminary concepts, second round of design, and final renderings. I stagger the due dates and discuss with the directors and production managers whether our schedules will work well together. We negotiate from there.
I can’t really plan efficiently six months into the future solely on my computer, it's too confusing going back and forth from one month to the next on the screen. I need the visual landscape in front of me to see what’s happening and when. No big surprise as I am a visual person. Of course, as soon as I’m hired for a job, I immediately record the production’s opening date and tech week into my phone calendar, but that’s the easy part. It’s the other, more expansive part of planning that I find helpful to do with an actual spreadsheet, as in, literally spread out my months on a table and set out to mark it up with pencil, highlighters and Post-It notes until I see the flow of each project.
This year I’m adding in blocks of time for classes and camps I'm offering: Set Design Workshops and Designing A Parade Float. Even some weekends are full to accommodate students who can only meet Saturdays or Sundays. I need to keep the design classes out of the way of the busiest times of the set design process that I'll need for bigger shows. And since I’m new to teaching, I’ll have to spend more time preparing for each session. After it's all laid out, I see I’ll be plenty busy for a while. Busy doing what I love to do.
Keep me in mind to design sets for any upcoming productions. But please, no more summer work.