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Theater Production

Prior to rehearsals and auditions to cast a show, the director works with a production team which typically consists of costume designer, set designer, lighting and sound designer, and the stage manager.  Depending on an individual play’s requirements there may be additional design staff such as a hair/makeup designer or pyrotechnics.  The concept of the production is established and all the designs for a play are approved by the director.  Then the director, producers, and stage manager become involved with casting and technicians are hired to work on the build of a show.  The build of a show involves both the rehearsal schedule for the actors and the building of the sets, costumes and lighting/sound installation for the production.  Once the costumes, sets, lighting, sound and staging of a play is complete, the show is ready to open.  This part is known as the run of a show. Typically the play will include a short period of time considered “previews” followed by an official opening.  During a long run of a show, it can be performed as many as seven times in a week. Most theaters are “dark” (a theater term meaning closed to the public) on Mondays and stage two performances on Wednesdays, a matinee followed by the regular evening performance. A play’s run can range in time from a single performance to several years.   Life with Father by Clarence J. Day was the longest running Broadway play. It ran for eight years and had 3,224 performances.

The Stage Manager

The play is the vision of the director, not the playwright.  However, the director does not remain with a production throughout its run.  The director typically departs after the play opens, remaining through previews to ensure everything is as he/she wants it to be and then leaves to direct another play.  After the director departs it is the stage manager’s responsibility to maintain the director’s vision for each performance.  This requires organization and attention to detail on the part of the stage manager.  Throughout the pre-production and build of a show the stage manger works closely with the director in order to ensure that every audience member, even those that see a show eight years into its run, is seeing the same show as the director intended it to be seen.  Of course, what makes theater so unique is that it is live and each performance is different.  Slight differences are not vital, but major issues or mistakes, such as missing a cue, forgetting a line, missing a mark or a prop not being where it should be are all things the stage manager will note during a performance and discuss with the cast and crew before the next performance.  During the rehearsals, notes primarily will come from the director, with additional notes from the stage manager, the designers, and possibly even the playwright.

Seen here are Tennessee Williams’s notes for the production of the, Small Craft Warnings, which premiered at the Truck and Warehouse Theater in New York on April 2, 1972. He comments on the lighting and staging of performance during its first preview audience on March 26, 1972.



Tennessee Williams

Small Craft Warnings. notes, [1972 March 26], 2 pp.

Williams’s autographed notes concerning lighting and staging.





Stage Design

The set designer works with the director on creating a set design that suits the director’s vision. After discussion with the design team and the director, the designer will submit drawings of the set. Once finalized the designer will create a model and work with the master carpenter to create blue prints for the construction of the set.  Throughout the build of a show, the set designer, carpenters, welders, and other technicians will work together to construct the set. Sometimes these technicians will remain with the show once it opens and perform scene changes and maintenance for the set.  The set designer will not remain, but like the director, move on once the show opens to work on another show.

Seen here are the drawings, a model and a blue print (hanging left) for playwright Barrie Stavis’s The Lamp at Midnight. Designed by C. Parker.






The Lamp at Midnight.

Drawing charcoal on paper, by C. Parker.







The Lamp at Midnight

Blueprint for the set design.






The Lamp at Midnight

Model of the set.






Costume Design


The costume designer works with the director and the design team to create costumes for every person on the stage for every scene. Occasionally there is a separate hair/makeup designer, in which case the two would work very closely together.  The designer provides sketches of the costume designs for the approval for the director, and then for the use of the costume technicians who will build the costumes.  The positions in a costume shop are the cutter/draper, who is responsible for interpreting the designer’s drawing and making the pattern of the garment; the first hand, who then takes the patterns and cuts and marks the material, readying the costume for the seamstresses who sew it together. Depending on the extent of the show, there can be one person doing all of the jobs or an entire staff of costume technicians, each with their own role.

Examples of costume design drawings seen here are costume Brown’s designs for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and for Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mule Bone.

Arthur Miller

The CrucibleCostume design by costume Brown.

Thomas Putnam played by Don Chesse. American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco), 1967.


Arthur Miller

The CrucibleCostume design by costume Brown.

The Villagers. American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco), 1967.


Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston

Mule BoneCostume Design by costume Brown.

Watercolor. Daisy played by Akosua Busia. Original Broadway production. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1991.


Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston

Mule BoneCostume Design by costume Brown.

Watercolor. Joe Lindsay played by Allie Woods, Jr. Original Broadway production. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1991.


Lighting/Sound Design


Sometimes there will be separate designers for lighting and sound, but often the same person is responsible for both. The designer works closely with the director and entire design team. The design for a show is not typically illustrated through drawings as it is with the set design and costume design, although the lighting designer may employ a magazine ad, photograph, or famous painting that conveys to the director the concept for a particular scene. The lighting/sound designer works extensively with the script plotting out cues as they relate to the switches in the control booth. This requires considerable planning. The designer has to plot out all the wiring and charts where every light will be placed in the theater to achieve the desired results, as well as choose the colors of the lights, which are created through the use of colored gels that are attached to the fronts of lamps. During the build of a show, the designer works with the electricians and technicians on the wiring, hanging of the lights, obtaining the various music and sound effects, and training the stage manager and crew for the run of the show.


Tennessee Williams

Night of the Iguana, typescript carbon, [1962 February], 24 pp.

A focusing chart for the lighting, used in the 1962 Broadway production. This copy sent to Williams's agent, Rosemary Wood, by "JMG," with Wood's accompanying note.





Tennessee Williams

Sweet Bird of Youth, typescript carbon, [n.d.], 125 pp.

The script belonged to the lighting designer, Jo Mielziner and contains extensive autograph notes concerning lighting, blocking, music cues, and other stage directions.



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02/14/11

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