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The Search for Designers

Finding designers in community theatre can be an issue: quality folks are either busy with other commitments, or your budget doesn't allow you to hire them. That leaves many theatres with the decision: affordability vs talent (and what about availability for either?). Hear from some theatres in the State who face this challenge and have found creative solutions to address the problem. If you find yourself with the concern of finding talented, affordable designers in your area, you're not alone.

The key takeaway from contributors to this article is that it may take time from theatre leadership to help guide and mentor current or future designers. While it may be difficult to do this with so much already on your plate, building the foundation for talent at your theatre can be invaluable.


Responses below are from an online survey to California Community Theatre members:

In general, do you seek new designers or tend to employ ones you know and are familiar with?

We seek out all volunteers but mostly work with those we are familiar with and trust.

"Both. Experienced ones are easier to work with and require less time but new designers can bring an exciting new element to the production."

I am always looking for new talent to add to the roster.

What are creative ways you have found 'non-traditional' designers, particularly if you are in an area where the talent pool may be limited?

"Interior decorators are a great resource."

I have recently been taping graduates of (a nearby university), because my daughter is a student there and helps me to make the connections with good, young designers who might be willing to work for a song and a place to stay just to build their resumes. It takes some extra mentoring, but seems to be worth the effort.

Do you have any (formal or informal) practices in place to train or help develop new designers?

I always ask young designers a LOT of questions, early. We talk about dramatic structure of the play, what part the set serves in the storytelling, what the practical issues of my space are, where we need spectacle and where we need simplicity. I find that young designers are not always the best readers of the play. They may get inspired by things that are not actually central to the storytelling because they are not doing a deep read of the material.

If you pay designers, how are your payments or stipends structured? ie: How do you determine what rates to pay designers? Does it vary by individuals or job?

We are 100% volunteer.

Varies by the job and the amount of time required.

Our rates vary, and are all just pennies on the hours needed to do a good design. We also provide housing and are really gracious.

If you pay designers, what tends to be your priority: talent or affordability?


Talent every time.

Any other thoughts or comments on finding talented, affordable designers?

Most will do the work even if the pay is not strictly worth the time invested. I believe that they like to see their creative side blossom in a new venture.

"You have got to get creative to find and attract designers. And my experience is that people with an interest in design and people with training in design are a far cry from one another. Education in theatre design is invaluable. While untrained designers may have a lot to offer, my experience is that it takes a lot of my energy to get them to take into consideration all the elements which are at play in a theatrical design."


A special thanks to the theatres who contributed to this article.

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