A Designer Prepares….to attend meetings

One of the joys of theater is that it is a richly collaborative art.  While professional collaborations take a variety of forms, one common element for success is a strong sense of time management. To foster a dynamic creative process and to help train students in project management skills, the Drama faculty has created The Guidelines for Produced Projects at UC Irvine. (see current Guidelines page in sidebar to right. )

This information is intended to provide an overall structure to produced work for directors, designers, and stage managers.  The meetings described here are based on generally accepted professional practice and on the deadlines used in many regional theaters, with additional steps and time added to encourage student growth.  I encourage you to pay attention to steps that are particularly beneficial to you, and things you might want to add when you enter the profession.  Once you graduate, no one will give you a timetable- you must find your own methods and work discipline.

Learn your personal creative needs.

Every designer is different- part of your education will be learning a creative process that works for you. To efficiently produce multiple projects on short or long notice, you must develop a system that works for your needs, so you don’t spend precious time inventing the structure.   The design faculty has arranged all the necessary steps in a traditional order.  You may discover, however, you work best in a different order.  You may find, for instance, your creativity is tactile- you have to collect fabrics first, or put costumes on forms to mix & match periods before you can design or draw a show.   This kind of discovery is important –pay attention to what sparks your imagination!  Go fabric shopping first!  Bring swatches to the concept meetings!  We ask only that you are prepared for the UCI deadlines, just as you would do for another theater.  Professional theaters don’t care what order you do things in, as long as you meet the deadlines.

Initial Preparation for Your Show

Preparing for mentor meetings and concept meetings is a delicate balancing act.  You must know the script thoroughly, assess the physical needs or parameter of the production, document a visceral, emotional reaction to the story, think about your artistic responses and interpretations, yet still remain flexible enough to listen to ideas others may have.

The first impression you make on your director is vital.  Did you take initiative to prepare?  Are you enthused and engaged in the project?  Do you have something to contribute to the discussion?  Or are you passive, unprepared or inattentive?

  • Read the script It is important to be an audience member in this first reading, concentrating only on the story.  What caught your attention, what were your emotional and intellectual responses?  Pay attention to the mood and imagery in the script.
  • Re-read the script Make notes, underline, high light sections that pertains to physical requirements such as season, location, period, social status, special effects such as fire, water, aging, etc.
  • Listen to the music For a musical, opera or any heavily scored or sound tracked production, listen to the music.  If you can read music even a little, it is often informative to listen while reading a score.  READ lyrics while you listen as they can be hard to hear.  What do you do when music and words are at odds?  Consult your director–many will ask you to reflect the mood of the music, as it is stronger than the impact of the words.  Sometimes you must play against a mood for comedic effect.
  • Break down the script Put a flag on each page where a new scene starts.  Write pertinent information about each scene at the very beginning of the scene. Who’s in it?  What story point is made in this scene?  How much time has passed since the last scene?  Is there a jump in time or place that requires changes of costume?  Don’t forget about actions describes in lyrics!
  • Create a Costume Scene Chart Put all information in chart form. This chart will become your Show-At-A-Glance.  Bring this chart to all meetings, and post one in the fitting room and general costume shop to help answer questions.   For musicals arrange your chart not only by Act and Sc, but by song title as well.   With your director, identify each song “Ballad, Star Turn, Duet Dance Number, etc”  Leave a blank for transitions into and out of songs, you may have to design for these moments.  You will find several sample Costume Scene charts in the Forms & Samples section. Note: for UCI productions, arranging your scene chart by actor is most revealing for showing fast changes.
  • Analyze your characters Use a separate list, or chart or track this on your Scene Chart.  Write down everything you know about each character, and what others say about him or her.  Ask your director to help fill in unknowns.  You want to strive for a variety of ages and body types in any production to add interest.
  • Research past productions Unless you are working on a new script, this show has been done before- many, many times in the case of classics.   Much is known about the original production on Broadway, past productions, “famous” versions that set the theater world on its ear, etc.  Find out what you can about the author, the composer.  What are they “known” for?  Is this a typical or atypical example of their genre?  In the case of classics, many essays have been written analyzing what the literary themes are- read some of these.  Is there a typical way this show or this number is always done?  Will it be right for your show?   Do not appear ignorant of your own art form. If a work is obscure, this is an excellent question to ask the director right away.
  • Coordinate the schedule Write all deadlines and meetings into your calendar up front.  You may have to push your director for decisions so you may meet your deadlines.
  • Search for inspiration Does a particular image spring to mind as you read and analyze the script?  Does a painter, photograph, piece of music, dried flower capture the essence of this script?  FEED your image bank at all times. As you walk around campus, shop, stroll through a book store let your subconscious go to work.  Don’t analyze what appeals to you just yet, just surround yourself with inspirational images and textures.

Now you are ready for concept meetings with your group.

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