Set Design for Small Stages


Factors to consider for set design of a theater's stage are very similar to the factors considered for any interior design plan. The task of the set designer is to create the correct atmosphere for the production in the context of the specifications of the director. Those specifications are most often determined by the script, the entry and exit of the characters on stage and the lighting. The experienced set designer begins by inspecting the stage with the director and discussing preferences, details and limitations of the stage accoutrements and its equipment.


  • The small stage can accommodate the correct set for most any production. Decide with the director how the stage will be used and if the set needs to be minimalist. Think conceptually as well as creatively. Make the set manageable for the stage hands. Safety is the first consideration for all interior design plans; safety must be the basis of all of the designs for the set of a small stage.


  • Flies are the overhead rods hidden from the audience and are installed in rows. Inspect the flies and determine that each is in good working order. Plan the use of the flies for moving larger set pieces on and off the stage. Focus on the larger pieces of the set that are essential for only one or two acts. These are the set pieces to hang from the flies on a small stage. Inspect the curtains at stage right and stage left. Make certain that the set pieces on the flies can be concealed from the audience when those pieces are not required on stage.

Curtains Are Critical

  • On the large stage an audience may not actually focus on a curtain that is not in good condition. However, on the small stage every detail is noticed. Make certain that all of the curtains to stage right, stage left and upstage have no holes and that the hems are in good order. Nothing is more noticeable on stage than a curtain with a hole or dragging hem. Insure the audience sees the production by eliminating the visual dissonance of torn or frayed curtains.

Cast Entrances And Exits

  • Many scripts allow for the need to change an entrance or exit to stage right or stage left. Make allowances for alternate entrances or exits in the event that a set piece interferes with the safety of a member of the cast. Explain the issues to the director with the director onstage.

Abstract Sets

  • Think in abstract terms when designing a set for the small stage. Meet the challenge with creativity and modular designs that maintain the flow of the production when those pieces are moved on and off the stage. Investigate the possibility of using a single item to represent an entire room rather than the trivial items found in the room. The audience will rise to the challenge of mental conceptualization of the accoutrements that are lacking.

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