Conceptualizing & Creating a Set Design

by Mary Beth Bosen

Conceptualizing & Creating a Set Design


Author Name:

Mary Beth Bosen


Unit Objective:

Students will demonstrate their understanding of the elements of design and the design process by creating/presenting a finished set design model.


This curriculum unit uses Michael Gillette’s “Theatrical Design and Production” textbook as a resource throughout the lessons and instruction.


Learning Level:



This was designed specifically for a Stage Crew class at a high school.  The tech class’ main responsibilities are to run events, set ups, and support Westlake events. They build and paint the sets take care of any other tech needs for the drama productions.  The bulk of their grade comes from supporting these events. Often times, these set ups, builds, and trainings happen during class hours, so it’s not uncommon for there to be a day of tech work that happens in-between normal lessons in units. This unit was designed to work in that style of classroom where students will likely have several in class work days in-between instruction.


Prior Experience:

Up to this point, students have studied jobs/roles in the Tech theatre world, the tech chain of command. Students have taken a tour of the auditorium, Students have learned about the different theatre spaces (arena, proscenium, black box, thrust, found space, etc…) and have had lessons on basic script analysis as it applies to theatrical design work.


2014 National Arts Core Theatre Standards:


  1. Develop detailed supporting evidence and criteria to reinforce artistic choices, when participating in or observing a drama/theatre work.



  1. Discover how unique choices shape believable and sustainable drama/theatre work.



  1. Present a drama/theatre work using creative processes that shape the production for a specific audience



  1. Formulate a deeper understanding and appreciation of a drama/theatre work by considering its specific purpose or intended audience.



  1. Analyze and compare artistic choices developed from personal experiences in multiple drama/theatre works.


  1. Justify personal aesthetics, preferences and beliefs through participation in and observation of drama/theatre work.



Big Idea:

Set designers combine elements of color, shape, line, and texture to manipulate

the audience’s experience with a show.


Essential Questions:

  • How can observation improve design skills?
  • What is the purpose of going through each step of the design process?
  • How do the elements of set design apply to other productions areas?

Enduring Understandings:

  • Designers use their work to communicate a story to the audience and to manipulate their thoughts/feelings according to the show’s concept
  • Effective set designs:
    • “Reflect the production team’s agreed-upon interpretation of the production concept
    • Exhibit a unity of style among all aspects of that production
    • Provide visual information about the world of the play including locale, period, season, time of day, culture, as well as the play’s socioeconomic, religious, and political environment” (Gillette pg. 452)


Key Knowledge & Skills:

  • Collaboration, Commitment, Critical Thinking, Analysis, Elements of Design, Creating & Construction, Self Reflection.


Authentic Performance Tasks:

Note: A few weeks prior to Lesson 1, students were assigned to choose and start reading a play that they would use in the upcoming set design unit (must be a straight play—not a musical) and were asked to bring their script to class the next day to be checked off for points. Students have been instructed to bring their scripts to class each day during the set design unit.


Lesson 1: Elements of Design Part 1!

Students will demonstrate their understanding of how shape, line, and texture and principles of composition communicate in design by analyzing their effect in several designs.


Lesson 2: Elements of Design Part 2!

Students will demonstrate their understanding of how color communicates in design by doing a color response activity and brainstorming colors for their set project.


Lesson 3: The Viz!

Students will be able to communicate a designer’s concept by choosing and presenting a viz for a popular fairy tale.


Lesson 4: Given Circumstances, Research, & Inspiration!

Students will prepare to create and present a design/research presentation for the play they have chosen by learning how to identify and use given circumstances in a script to shape and inform their design.  


Lesson 5: Presenting Like A Pro!

Students will be able to verbalize and justify their design concept & choices by presenting their production viz & research PowerPoint in a mock designer presentation.


Lesson 6: From Research/Concept to Design

Students will synthesize their analysis and research to create a set design model.


Lesson 7: Final Set Design

Students will present their final set design for the class by showing/explaining their set design models.


Conceptualizing & Creating a Set Design Unit of Lessons.Mary Beth Bosen