Design and Technical Theater Concentration

A theater major may concentrate in all areas of design (scenic, lighting and costume) and technical theater or in any combinations of these areas.

Theater design is an art form, not a craft. As such, it demands dedication, commitment and discipline. Through the application of developed skills involving analysis, research and conceptualization, the designer (scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer) studies a play text and, in collaboration with the director and other designers, interprets the text and determines an appropriate production approach in order to bring a visual life to the work on stage. Utilizing a broad range of skills the designer produces a series of documents describing the design and then oversees its execution. The study and practice of theater design demands a passion for life, learning, theater and the visual experience.

The theater technician (stage carpenter, electrician, costumer, property manager, sound technician) is a theater artist as well as a craftsperson. Responsible for constructing and handling all physical production elements, the theater technician must understand the nature of the art form of theater and must develop all appropriate production skills.

The stage manager is responsible for the coordination of all aspects of production throughout the rehearsal and performance process. In addition to a wide range of skills (maintaining a prompt script, call a production meeting, rehearsal understudies, etc.) a stage manager must be capable of diplomatically insuring that all parties involved in a production communicate effectively with one another in an organized and timely manner.

Although it is possible to focus on any one design area or on stage technology alone, students are strongly urged to study and gain experience in all areas.

A theater designer must possess a basic core of skills and both specific and general knowledge on a wide variety of subjects:

  • Theater history and world drama as well as contemporary issues in American and world theater
  • Dramatic theory and analysis
  • Art history (a knowledge of styles and periods of architecture, painting, sculpture, furnishings, costume, decorations, etc.)
  • Drawing, drafting and painting skills
  • Principles of two-dimensional and three-dimensional design
  • Stagecraft techniques and skills
  • Specific design techniques and approaches
  • Strength in all the arts (music, dance, opera, literature, film, etc.)
  • Functional knowledge of humankind through the study of history, politics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.
  • Research skills
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Skill in all presentation techniques
  • A working knowledge of and sensitivity to all other areas of the theater
  • Awareness of contemporary issues (in the community, nation, and world)
  • Ability to perform efficiently and calmly while under stress

Typically, a designer or technician is best served by an undergraduate program in a liberal arts college complimented by a major in theater, a concentration in design, and a carefully designed program of electives in studio art and art history. The early period of a designer's training is best supplemented with an active involvement in an active production program and exposure to the professional theater through some form of an internship.

Although there are possible alternative routes leading to a career in design, most designers continue their training in a professional graduate degree program (Master of Fine Arts) at one of the few respected professional theater schools (such as Yale or NYU). after acquiring additional professional experience, designers may then opt to take a competitive examination in order to join the professional trade union (United Scenic Artists).

In order to make the most out of the undergraduate years, students interested in theater design and technology must take full advantage of the advising program. Given a chosen field of interest, an appropriate faculty member should be sought to serve as a mentor throughout the program. This mentor, in addition to teaching a variety of required and elective courses, will assist in course selection and planning, and will supervise and evaluate all production work.

Given the nature of this course of study, it is best to declare a commitment as early as possible (even if tentative) in order to take full advantage of the college, the department, the faculty, and all related programs.

Getting Involved in the Production Program

The way to get involved in the skidmore Theater production program is simply to meet with one or more of the faculty members in the area of interest. YOU DO NOT NEED ANY SKILLS PRIOR TO COMING TO WORK.

Lary Opitz
,Design Director (Scenic and Lighting Design and Stage Management, Member United Scenic Artists #829, Actors' Equity Association)

David Yergan
, Lighting Designer, Technical Director and Production Manager (Lighting Design, Sound Design and Stage Management)

Patty Pawliczak
, Costume Designer and Costume Shop Manager (Costume Design and Construction)

Garrett Wilson
, Scenic Designer and Assistant Technical Director (Scenic Design and Scenic Painting)

Discuss your interests with one or more of these people throughout the semester. Work opportunities are available in all areas of production. Be aware, however, that some positions are much sought after and some might require previous experience. Students are given as many production opportunities as possible. Guidance will be provided to avoid students becoming over-extended in these sometimes demanding and time-consuming areas.

Generally, as soon as a student is identified as being interested in the design/tech/stage management area, every attempt will be made to insure that there will be appropriate work experiences available each semester. Eventually, after appropriate classes and successful experiences serving as technicians, assistant stage managers and assistant designers, qualified students are invited to serve as production designers, stage managers, master electricians, and technical directors on studio and seminar productions.

Electives for the Design/Tech Concentration

Although the minimum number of credits for a Theater Major is 41, in order to prepare for a career as a designer, it is recomended that students consider taking as many as 60 credits in a combination of Theater and Art courses

  1. The following concentration courses (21 credits)
    • TH 216 THEATER GRAPHICS (Intermediate Design) (4)
    • TH 228 STAGE LIGHTING (3)
    • TH 238 COSTUME DESIGN (offered once per year) (3)
    • TH 371/372 INDEPENDENT STUDY (Advanced Design) (3)
    • At least TWO studio art course (ideally, as many as possible from the following list
      • AR 131 VISUAL CONCEPTS* (4)
      • AR 108 LIFE MODELING (4)
      • AR 132 FORM AND SPACE* (4)
      • AR 133 DRAWING* (4)
      • AR 134 COLOR* (4)
      • AR 201 PAINTING (4)
      • AR 224 FIGURE DRAWING (4)
      • AR 234 WATERCOLOR (4)
      • AR 326 ADVANCED DRAWING (4
  2. Other recommended theater electives (semester hours as desired or possible)
    • TH 371,372 INDEPENDENT STUDY (3)
    • TH 299,399 PROFESSIONAL INTERNSHIP 3, 6 or 9
    • TH 305/6 SPECIAL STUDIES IN DESIGN AND TECH. theater (3)


    Design Responsibilities for the Concentration

Each design student should either design (sets, lights, or costumes) or assist faculty or guest designers on at least two seminar productions and at least two studio productions.

Technical students should serve as technical director, sound designer, master carpenter, master electrician, costumier, or property master on at least two seminar productions and at least two studio productions.

Any or all of these experiences may be available for academic credit through: TH 235, TH 335, TH 371, TH 372, TH 250, or TH 376.

Students will be invited to serve as production designers, technical directors, or department heads on the basis of desire and the review of course work and previous experience.

Suggested Electives Throughout the College

Although the real excitement of a liberal arts education is discovery, and many courses at Skidmore are potentially inspirational and useful for a design/technical student, the department believes that the careful selection of pertinent courses will be particularly valuable for the undergraduate design/technical student and suggests that the student review the catalogue descriptions carefully and discuss selections with advisors and the design/technical faculty.


Additional Information

Design students will begin a portfolio review process at the end of the sophomore year. If they so desire, students will be assisted in developing a well-conceived and representative portfolio and periodical evaluations will be offered.

Design students will be urged to seek professional experience throughout the college career. The design/technical faculty will assist in recommending and suggesting appropriate summer internship opportunities. On occasion, students may be invited to assist faculty designers on professional work. Opportunities will often arise for crew calls at Capital Rep, Proctor's, Home Made theater, Lake George Opera, SPAC, etc. Design/technical students are urged to consult with the design/technical faculty in order to take full advantage of these opportunities.

In the junior year design students are encouraged to investigate appropriate graduate study programs as well as alternate training programs. All design students are urged to meet frequently and regularly with appropriate members of the faculty for advice and guidance on the choice of electives and production responsibilities.

Production Model for 2007 Skidmore Theater Production of Europe, Scenic Design by Samantha Read ('08)