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Set Design and Construction in California Community Theatre (Part 2 of a Two-Part Series)

This month we're completing our two-part series by talking about about set design and construction in California community theatre. Check out answers to a variety of questions:

Who is responsible for set design at your community theatre? (position/title)

  • Director and set designer

  • Various designers

  • Somes the Artistic Director and often a contracted set designer.

  • Each director either does it or works with various people

  • We have several set designers

  • Artistic Director, Tech Director, & Production Director

  • Set Designer and Artistic Director with input from the show Director

Who is responsible for set construction at your community theatre? (position/title/group/committee)

  • Set designer

  • Our part time technical director and volunteers

  • Same as above with help from volunteers.

  • As above but with cast help

  • several people

  • Tech Director

  • Set Designer and Scenic Construction assistant with volunteers

How do you find new set materials?

  • Home improvement/hardware stores; thrift stores; internet

  • We purchase them locally.

  • Knowledge base.

  • We accept some donations but mostly we purchase

  • Beg, borrow and steal

  • Predominantly local hardware stores

  • Purchase and also accept donations. We reuse and re-purpose our materials.

What resources do you utilize to find specific set material or pieces?

  • Internet

  • The local lumber/paint store

  • Retail outlets as well as thrift stores.

  • Word of mouth, reaching out

  • Every available resource

  • Many various online sources; while we always build our own sets, sometimes we use local movie/event rental companies in the Coachella Valley and L.A. areas for very specific pieces that are to be used on a set.

  • Donations. Our set designer is also always looking out for sales on materials.

Do you get materials donated to you? If so, do you accept everything that is donated?

  • Not everything

"Very little is donated to our scene shop. Occasionally some useful furniture is donated. Mostly the things that people want to donate are not useful to us. We do occasionally get a discount at our local lumber store."

  • Sometimes and no.

  • Yes. No we sometimes reject things

  • Yes, but mostly cannot keep -- no room

  • Yes, we get materials donated. No, we do not accept all materials donated.

  • We accept most materials that are donated.

Do you purchase set materials because of price or accessibilty even if they are not currently needed for something specific?

Do you have a 'stock' of set materials you use first when building a set, and before other pieces are purchased?

Do you rent sets for your productions from an outside group/company/source?

"We only rent when it is a strange specialty piece that is needed. It is rare that we do that."

What is the most ambitious set your community theatre has constructed?

  • Transformed entire theater into a Victorian drawing room for "The Haunting"

  • We regularly churn out sets which are quite ambitious given our small house and budget. I will send some pictures along.

  • Because of our small stage area our sets are usually simple, but impressive.

  • Sweeney Todd

  • Gypsy -- 1998 -- unit set with major special mini-sets that rolled in and rolled off

  • Most recently, the interior of a castle for DRACULA. Lots of special effects, cinematic rear projection screen, authentic carved stone work, dungeon fog & haze, self opening doors, lots of motorized and ambient lighting, etc.

  • Very difficult question to answer. We have had many creative and ambitious sets on our stage. We have used turntables, created balconies and even had the streets of New York on our stage. Our Set guys have also become very good at using tech such as projections to supplement the set design.

Spotlight On: The Desert Rose Playhouse

Below is an image of the set from The Desert Rose Playhouse's recent production of “Clark Gable Slept Here”.

Photo credit: David Atkinson, Morningstar Producitons, Inc.

See part 1 of this series HERE.

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