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The Production Design: You Definitely Can't Build That

Zach Kaufer discusses production meetings and the collaboration needed to put on a show. logo

"Sometimes tech gets stressful and you have to climb out windows..." (Courtesy Zach Kaufer)

Once the rehearsal ends and the actors clear out, those of us behind the table shift our attention to filling out the world of the play with those beautiful costumes, set pieces, lights, and props that give the play meaning, substance, and logic. Even though it may seem amorphous to those on the outside, the design process is just as fluid and logical as rehearsals are.

Here's the thing: the production process is as logical as the rehearsal process is creative. Let's take, for example, the brain as a metaphor for the production process. The right side (processing intuition and creativity holistically and randomly) may be synonymous with the rehearsal process. Ideas flow back and forth between actor and director, and scene partners. Conversely, the left side of the brain that is responsible for logic represents the production team. Even though there is creativity in the design, symbolism, and metaphor of the process, the designers are responsible for making things fit together in a way that supports the general beauty of the production as set forth by the director.

How do we know this? Production meetings. It's kind of a bizarre thing that happens usually once a week before rehearsal when all the designers, director, stage manager, production manager, and anyone else involved with the technical elements of the production come together to hash out plans. Usually the scenic designer will bring in a set model which the director rearranges and then is chastised by the technical director because it's in violation of some fire codes. Negotiations ensue and after discussing hundreds of possible arrangements, a compromise will be made that may add another staircase that the director wanted with three fewer steps. It's give-and-take in the production meeting.

In the same way that actors and directors collaborate in the rehearsal room, the designers must work together to make sure that their concepts mesh with each other. The scenic designer and the lighting designer must work together to make sure that they understand the story they're telling and that the designs will work well together. If the set is painted the same color as a gel that the lighting designer wants to put in one of his Lekos, that's just going to be a little awkward. If the costume designer wants to make the lead character's dress the same fabric as the couch, it's going to get uncomfortable. These collaborations are vital to the success of any production.

Because of this collaboration and the endless hours of effort put into each and every area of design, it is vital that the actor comes into the rehearsal (and especially tech) with an open mind and the capacity to be adaptable. Tech rehearsals are nightmarish. There's no way around it. The one thing that makes me crazier than anything else during this process is an actor wondering about whether the light is the right color or alerting the stage manager that his or her chair is not the right type for their character. It's an ongoing process and, more often than not, the designer will notice if it's wrong and fix it. That's not your job-- leave it to the production team.


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