Mockups / Rendering / Scale Model
The very first thing a scenic designer must do is make a "mockup" of what the set will look like. This is a basic drawing that gives a general idea of how the set will look. If there is only one set then that is all that is needed, if the set changes one or more times during the course of the play then multiple mock-ups will be required. The mock-up is the first look at a set and is usually shown to the director to get their opinions and feedback on. The Rendering is then the next step. After the Director gives their feedback and after the Scenic Designer has seen a rehearsal or two and understands better what the set needs to convey or do they will have a better idea of how to make it. The final stage is usually only used in larger theaters; that is a scale model of the set is built to show the director. If the set has a lot of flats changing position or flying into the space then the scale model may be helpful to get an idea of how those elements will work.
Okay so drawing the set is the easy part, building it however…..well let's just say it harder. The set has to go from paper to an actual working one and depending on how complicated it is that can take awhile. The person in charge of making sure the set is built correctly is the Master Carpenter. One of the biggest concerns when building the set is to make sure that it is sturdy and safe for the actors. Care should be taken to make sure flats are properly braced and platforms given enough legs and support to stand on. The set will also have to be painted and treated to make sure the color lasts.
Scene Shift Rehearsal
Does your play have one set that never changes? Great you can skip this step!!! Oh wait you have more than one scene, in fact you have lots. Well then you better make sure your crew/actors can make all those changes. The scene shift rehearsal should happen either on or before tech day. You must make sure that every time the set changes it changes to the correct configuration, this can be made easier with the use of spike marks. These sort of rehearsals are the bane of existence if you are doing a festival of small plays (where each play may have a radically different set) and guess what they seem to be a favorite of small 99 seat houses where you more than likely won't have a crew to help you. It cannot be stressed how important it is to rehearse what is moving where and when and also how long will it take.
Remember that old gag about sand bags falling in the theater? Well that was because in olden days that's how you counterbalanced weight, by using a sand bag of the appropriate weight to help balance curtains or anything else that needed to be flown in the fly space…..But literally no theater uses sand bags anymore instead they use….
Basic math says that if you want to raise an object off the ground you will need another heavier object to do that. In olden days they used sandbags, but nowadays they use an intricate system of counterweights. This system is usually on one side of the stage and from their you can control all the devices that fly. The weight is represented by metal bars that each have a certain weight The bars are stacked onto the line to the appropriate weight of the device in question. As you might imagine flying rehearsals are VERY IMPORTANT! Remember an object that is "flying" is in the air…..above the heads of everyone onstage. It is not uncommon to have batons, set pieces etc. that are very heavy and can literally crush an actor is they are lowered too rapidly. The person operating the fly system should have a strong physical build and should probably be on the heavy side themselves. They must exercise extreme control when raising and especially when lowering the flying items.