Set Design Diaries: Designers Discuss Their Creative Process

Set Design Diaries: Designers Discuss Their Creative Process

Unraveling the Mysteries of Set Design

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the curtain when it comes to set design for a musical theater production? Well, strap in, because today we’re about to lift the veil and take you on a journey into the creative minds of some of the most talented set designers in the business.

As the artistic director of the Musical Theater Center, I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredible set designers over the years. Each one brings their own unique style, vision, and process to the table, and I’ve always been fascinated by the intricate dance that takes place between the designer, the director, and the production team.

In this article, we’ll be diving deep into the set design diaries of three amazing designers, and I can assure you, it’s going to be one wild ride. So, let’s get started, shall we?

The Perfectionist: Sue Hall

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Sue Hall, it’s that she’s a true perfectionist. As the graphic designer for Duke University Press, Sue has made a career out of turning academic journal covers and layouts into works of art.

In an interview with the Duke Press team, Sue shared her approach to design, saying, “Graphic designers are not decorators – we’re there to make the content as readable, appealing, and accessible as possible. Our job is to make the issue seamless and to the point where the reader doesn’t even think of the design, but still enjoys reading it.”

This same attention to detail and dedication to the reader’s experience is what Sue brings to the table when it comes to set design. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sue on several musical theater productions, and I can tell you, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

“I always design a journal from the inside out,” Sue explains. “I start with an article and throw in all the parts that can complicate a layout – single and multiple epigraphs, prose and verse extracts, interviews, images in a variety of sizes and shapes, poetry, and extracts in the footnotes. It’s the same approach I take with set design.”

Sue’s process begins with a deep dive into the script, the characters, and the overall vision of the production. She’ll sketch out countless ideas, experimenting with different shapes, textures, and materials until she lands on the perfect solution.

“It’s all about creating an environment that supports the storytelling,” Sue tells me. “The set shouldn’t be a distraction, but rather a seamless extension of the world we’re trying to create on stage. And that takes a lot of time, effort, and attention to detail.”

One of the most impressive aspects of Sue’s work is her ability to problem-solve. As she explains, “For the black and white art, which is most of what we do, it’s pretty straightforward. But for color art, I have to color correct, look at white balance, and give every piece a nice neutral base. That has to be done in RGB color mode so when it goes online, the computer monitor will display it correctly. But then in print, it needs to be in CMYK. So, I have to make a duplicate version of the file for the print version.”

It’s this level of attention to detail and willingness to tackle complex challenges that makes Sue such an invaluable asset to any production team. And it’s not just her technical skills that impress me – it’s her ability to collaborate and bring out the best in everyone around her.

“I love collaborating with different editors and also being part of the Journals Production team that puts these journals out in the world,” Sue shares. “One of our newest journals, TSQ Transgender Studies Quarterly, has never existed before, and it’s such a great time in the world for it to exist. It’s been exciting to be a part of that creative process.”

This same collaborative spirit shines through in Sue’s set design work. She’s constantly bouncing ideas off the director, the lighting designer, and the costume designer, always looking for ways to elevate the overall vision of the production.

“It’s not just about creating a beautiful set,” Sue tells me. “It’s about creating an immersive experience for the audience, one that transports them to a different time and place. And that takes a village.”

The Visionary: Kelly Andrus

If Sue Hall is the perfectionist, then Kelly Andrus is the visionary. As the other half of the dynamic design duo at Duke University Press, Kelly’s approach to set design is all about pushing the boundaries and taking risks.

“A lot of what I do with the images, you only see the printed page after I’ve refined and cleaned up the image,” Kelly explains. “You don’t get to appreciate all the work that went into the artwork before I got started.”

This same attention to detail and willingness to experiment is what makes Kelly’s set designs so captivating. Whether she’s working on a classic musical or a contemporary drama, Kelly always manages to bring a fresh and innovative perspective to the table.

“I love cover design because it’s creative, and it lets me explore and play,” Kelly tells me. “But when it comes to set design, it’s all about problem-solving. I’m always looking for a way around a wall, trying to find an efficient solution to a challenge.”

One of the things that sets Kelly apart is her ability to seamlessly integrate technology into her designs. She’s constantly exploring new materials, techniques, and digital tools to create sets that are not only visually stunning but also highly functional.

“For example, with the Tikkun journal, we might have groups of images that will display on a printed page very clearly, like Part A and Part B,” Kelly explains. “But online, that’s not necessarily the case. We’ll have to combine A and B into one single image file so they display together online with a single caption that describes both of them.”

This ability to seamlessly bridge the gap between digital and physical design is a skill that Kelly has honed over the years, and it’s one that she brings to every set design project she works on.

“It’s all about finding creative solutions to complex problems,” Kelly tells me. “And that’s what I love most about set design – the challenge of turning a blank canvas into a fully realized world that captivates the audience.”

One of the most impressive aspects of Kelly’s work is her ability to collaborate with the rest of the production team. Like Sue, Kelly is a true team player, always looking for ways to elevate the overall vision of the production.

“There is a thoughtful attention to detail in everything we do,” Kelly explains. “I don’t think there’s any aspect that is overlooked. From the color correction and white balance on the artwork to the seamless integration of digital and physical design elements, it’s all about creating a cohesive and immersive experience for the audience.”

And that’s exactly what Kelly does with her set designs. Whether she’s working on a grand, sweeping musical or an intimate, character-driven drama, she always manages to create a world that feels alive and authentic, one that draws the audience in and keeps them captivated from start to finish.

The Storyteller: Jared Krichevsky

Last but not least, we have Jared Krichevsky, a set designer who truly embodies the art of storytelling. Jared’s approach to set design is all about creating environments that not only look beautiful but also serve as a reflection of the characters and the themes of the production.

“For me, set design is all about finding the right balance between form and function,” Jared tells me. “It’s not just about creating a visually stunning backdrop – it’s about using the set as a tool to help tell the story and draw the audience into the world of the play or musical.”

One of the things that makes Jared’s work so compelling is his ability to incorporate unexpected elements and design choices into his sets. Whether it’s a towering, abstract sculpture that serves as the centerpiece of the stage or a seemingly simple, yet highly symbolic, set piece, Jared always manages to create sets that are both visually striking and deeply meaningful.

“I’m constantly asking myself, ‘What does this set element say about the character or the theme of the play?'” Jared explains. “I want every single piece of the set to be imbued with a sense of purpose and significance. It’s not enough for it to just look pretty – it has to contribute to the overall storytelling.”

This attention to detail and commitment to the narrative extends to every aspect of Jared’s design process. From his initial research and concept sketches to the final build and installation, Jared is constantly refining and tweaking his ideas, always striving to create a set that is as impactful and meaningful as possible.

One of the things that I love most about working with Jared is his ability to truly immerse himself in the world of the production. Whether he’s collaborating with the director to develop the overall vision or working closely with the lighting and costume designers to ensure a cohesive aesthetic, Jared is always fully engaged and committed to the process.

“For me, set design is all about creating an experience,” Jared tells me. “I want the audience to feel like they’re stepping into a completely different world, one that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant. And that takes a lot of time, effort, and attention to detail.”

One of the most impressive examples of Jared’s storytelling prowess is his work on the Musical Theater Center’s recent production of “The Fantasticks”. In this classic musical, Jared created a set that was both minimalist and deeply symbolic, using a series of suspended platforms and geometric shapes to create a sense of whimsy and wonder.

“The Fantasticks is all about the power of imagination and the magic of storytelling,” Jared explains. “So, I wanted to create a set that felt like a blank canvas, something that the audience could project their own ideas and interpretations onto. At the same time, I wanted to incorporate elements that spoke to the themes of the play – things like the idea of love, the passage of time, and the cyclical nature of human experience.”

The result was a set that was both visually striking and deeply meaningful, one that drew the audience in and kept them captivated from start to finish. And that, to me, is the true mark of a master storyteller.

Conclusion: Bringing the Magic to Life

As you can see, the world of set design is a complex and fascinating one, with each designer bringing their own unique perspective and approach to the table. Whether it’s Sue Hall’s perfectionism, Kelly Andrus’ visionary thinking, or Jared Krichevsky’s commitment to storytelling, these designers all share a deep passion for their craft and a relentless dedication to creating immersive, engaging, and meaningful theatrical experiences.

And as the artistic director of the Musical Theater Center, I’m honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with these talented individuals and witness the magic they bring to life on stage.

So, the next time you attend a musical theater production, take a moment to appreciate the incredible work that goes into the set design. Because behind the curtain, there’s a whole world of creativity, problem-solving, and storytelling waiting to be discovered.

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