Adventures in Set Designing

Recently I’ve taken on the position of “Set Designer” for a little production of 5 short plays. In all honesty, this is the first time I’ve really done something like this. But, I figured with 5 years of conceptual architecture school and a year of practice under my belt I’d at least be able to help move furniture around. We’re about a month out from opening night and the last pieces of the design are starting to come together and the search for the stage pieces is on.

So far the job has entailed reading the script, sketching out basic ideas, running everything by the director, sketching, listening to the actors read, sketching some more, running everything by the director, and sketching some more. Without any “proper training” or experienced friends to turn to, I’ve been trying to take some cues from my favorite director, Wes Anderson. Yes, I know, you either love him or hate him - and I’m sure a lot of people hate him, but not me. More specifically, I’ve been taking design ideas from Eric Anderson, his brother/illustrator/set design developer. Regardless of how one may feel about the plots of Anderson’s films, the sets are always phenomenal.

For The Royal Tenenbaums, Eric Anderson came up with a set of illustrations of the set, including floor plans, interior elevations, and detail drawings. They’re for a movie set instead of the stage and far more detailed than anything I could get away with for this production, but I’m completely in love with them. My favorites are:

Margot Tenenbaum is one of my fictional heroes. I long to have bookcases filled with books and play set dioramas with tiny working lights. Red walls covered in found art, and a desk with a typewriter resting peacefully on it.

The little details pointed out in Anderson’s drawings are much of what makes them so attractive to me. Every corner and every object is accounted for with intentional design. The result is a set that looks comfortable, well placed, realistic, and exciting.  (The rest of the drawings are detailed on my flickr page for your viewing pleasure.)

Anyway, all of this has gotten me thinking - what does it take to be a set designer anyway. For the stage or the movie set? Is there a certain type of schooling for that sort of thing? Is it dumb luck - or knowing the right people? Do you have to live in New York or LA to really work on something great? It couldn’t hurt to find out.

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