Breaking Down a Script

Materials Needed:

Script and scratch paper


Learning Objective:

Students will demonstrate their ability to complete the necessary preparatory work to designing a production by completing a script breakdown that accounts for all of the necessary design/visual requirements of the show.


Hook (3-5 minutes):

Hand back participation quizzes over Fiddler on the Roof. Think of those quizzes as an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the script. Do you understand its plot and themes? It’s important to be very familiar with a script, including having read it several times before you begin your design work. All of you have read the script once (there may be one or two students who have read it more times than that). Can you tell me the necessary design elements for the show? Likely the students will call out a few vague requirements that the show needs. This will not cut it in the actual design world!


Activity 1 (60-65 minutes):

The way to remedy this problem is to read through the script several times with each different design element in mind. We’re going to participate in an adapted version of this here in class for the first five scenes. If you can find a video clip that’s less than 10 minutes long that gives a nice overview of theatre design in general and what focus and attention to detail that takes here would be a great place to play it. I’ve struggled to find a clip like this that isn’t quite long.

          C S L P Sd M Fx ? Note  
# pg Location Quote                      


This exercise asks you to make a breakdown for the script of all the visual and technical elements. Start with the first word of the script and stop every time to get to any visual/technical element. In The Fiddler on the Roof your first stop has to be when it mentions a fiddler on the roof. I would number my entry (1), say what page it’s on (1), give the location (Act 1, Prologue), and a quote (“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?) that would help you quickly know which entry is associated with which part of the script. The letters across the top stand for costumes, set, lighting, props, sound, makeup, sound effects, questions, and notes. I would then put an X or some type of notation under C, S, L, P, and Sd. Under questions I might write: does the Fiddler need a special costume? Are they actually playing a live fiddle? Do we need a prop? Will we use a spotlight or some other type of special on the fiddler?


Wrap-up (3-5 minutes): If students haven’t finished this in class they can come in before or after school, or some other time that they schedule. You can allow them to check out scripts to take them home, as well, if that’s something you’re comfortable with. Ask students what they’ve learned so far about design from this process. Is it a lot more expansive and detailed than you originally thought? What skills do you think are required in design/technical work? Do you think there are similar skills necessary across all aspects of design?