Art of Set Design



The set design of a play is a fascinating thing. I've often found myself sitting in the audience wondering how they dreamed up the details of this imaginary world and made it happen. The richly designed sets of two recent shows, Other Desert Cities at the Indiana Repertory Theatre and North of the Boulevard at Phoenix Theater, have sparked my interest in the designers imagining specific places and bringing them into existence for just a few weeks' time. I have included photos from those productions and a few others of my favorite sets from recent years. Take note of the set designers, these are artists whose work is worth seeking out just as much as the ones hanging in galleries.

  • James Still and Zach Rosing

Other Desert Cities at Indiana Repertory Theatre | Set Design by Anne Sheffield

My immediate reaction to viewing the mid-century modern inspired Palm Springs set was that I wanted to skip the play and move in. While the set had many elegant details, it managed to balance contemporary style with old Hollywood charm. The wading pool on the edge of the stage and the mountains rising above added depth and details, making it clear this was Palm Springs. Anne Sheffield is professor of set design at California State University, Fullerton and has designed more than 10 sets for the IRT.

  • Scot McKim

The Theban Plays by NoExit Performance | Set direction by Georgeanna Smith, Michael Burke and Michael Bachman.

NoExit Performance doesn't just build sets, it finds the perfect environment for the plays. Setting the Greek trilogy of the Theban Plays in the Indianapolis Museum of Art gardens was an inspired idea that led to a breathtaking, all-encompassing theatrical experience. The directors chose picturesque spots for each scene as the audience moved around with the play. The perfectly timed sunsets added to the beauty and the spring showers added to the tragedy. You can see the artistry of Director Michael Burke in the NoExit current production of Middletown at Indie Indy Artist Colony.

  • Zach Rosing

Into the Woods at Civic Theatre | Set Design By Robert Koharchik

When staging Into The Wood, a musical full of fairy-tale characters, a magical set is a requisite. Rob Koharchik's rotating set weaved us through the beautifully lit woods and into storybook perfect homes. Ryan Koharchik is the resident designer at Civic Theatre whose next show promises a large-scale production of Les Misérables.

  • Zach Rosing

North of the Boulevard at Phoenix Theatre | Set Design by James Gross

North of the Boulevard's lived-in looking auto-garage (including a car on stage and low-hanging fluorescent lights) filled in details of the characters' lives beyond the spoken words, while perfectly symbolizing the run-down Philadelphia neighborhood in which it takes place. James Gross has been responsible for many memorable set designs for more than a decade at Phoenix Theatre, as well as being professor of theatre at Wabash College.

  • Zach Rosing

Rent at Footlite Musicals | Set Design by Ryan Mullins

From the gritty alleyway set design to the gorgeous lighting, no technical detail was left undone in this production of the popular NYC-set musical Rent. There was clear evidence of fans of the show eager to do it justice and blow away expectations of community theatre. Beyond set and lighting design at Footlite Musicals, Ryan Mullins is also Technical Director for NoExit Performance. 

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