I have taught this lesson twice now as part of the Preliminary Course and have been struck by the level of engagement and thoughtfulness of the students participating. I used to teach this lesson using slides of different sets, videos of interviews with set designers and class discussion, but this is substantially more effective and meaningful.
Various pieces of staging, costuming, props etc. (Note: You do not need much!)
Music if you wish
1. Pre-set – Create a basic set for viewing. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it must tell a story. For example, in this set I included a suitcase, clothing, burnt out tea lights, paintbrushes, an old chair, a photo of a beautiful lady, old frames etc.
You may also add other production elements such as lighting or music. Divide a large piece of butcher’s paper into four columns – See, Think, Wonder and Feel. Place the butcher’s paper and textas in front of the set.
2. Explanation – Prior to viewing the set ensure the students understand the routine. If it is the first time using the routine they may need more specific detail, otherwise just recap. Ask students to write their answers collaboratively on the butcher’s paper. As they are writing they can also read the response of others and if they agree or have a similar thought they are encouraged to place a tick beside the other response. Explain to them that it must be done in silence and they are not to engage in verbal discussion. I also find this works more effectively if you give them absolutely no indication of what they are looking at or why they are looking at it. I don’t even mention the word ‘set’ at this stage.
3. The Reveal – Reveal the set. Give them a defined time to just look, not write. I encourage them to move around the front of the set so they do not miss anything. Students begin to write in silence.
4. Processing – I generally gauge how long they write based on my popcorn cooking methodology. When the writing becomes sporadic and begins to die down it is time to stop. Sit with the students and read some of the responses out loud from each column. Do not discuss them, just read them and let them float in the air.
5. Responding – Give each student a blank piece of paper and a texta. Ask them to stay silent and move to their own personal space in the room. Reflecting on all they have written, read and observed students are asked to imagine they are the character that inhabits this space. Students write a creative response as that character. Emphasise that there is no right or wrong answer. You may give them a writing prompt to get them started if you feel it is needed. (Eg. My name is….. and this is my home.) Ask them to explain this characters story in their response. They write silently. Again, judge the timing by watching the rapidness of the writing.
6. Performing – Ask students to re-read their responses quietly thinking about how their character would talk, walk, sit, and gesture? Gather students to the front of the set again. Give students the opportunity to walk into the set as their character and read part or all of their response. This should be done in a focussed and committed manner. They should place themselves in the set as their character and perform for their classmates. You will find that you have very different characters as a result of the exercise.
7. Evaluating – Ask students to comment on the exercise. What do they think the purpose of this exercise was? What conclusions did they come to? What questions do they still have? Introduce them to the purpose of set design Eg. To set the mood/tone of the play; suggest the style of the play; create the world of the characters; indicate time, place and situation. Discuss these ideas in relation to the set they have been working with.
8. Application – Break the class into two teams. As a team they must design a new set. It can be abstract or realistic, but it must be purposeful. It should create the world of the play, set the mood and define the time, place and situation. They can use anything they can find in the space, however it must differ from the set they have already analysed. They are to construct their set and when complete reveal it to the other group. During the reveal of the newly constructed sets, use See, Think, Wonder, Feel as verbal prompts to promote discussion of each other’s set. Ask the group that created the set if there was anything in the responses that surprised them. (You will find the audience will imply much more than the designers have thought about!).
9. Scene Work – Each group must create a short scene that can take place in the other groups set. (Eg. Group A creates a scene for Group B’s set and visa versa.) They have ten minutes to devise their scene. Each group performs for the remainder of the class. Students respond to each performance using the prompts I noticed… / I liked… / I wonder… .
10. Logbook Reflection – Students recall, recount, and reflect on the lesson through their logbooks. What did they learn about the importance of set design in theatre? Ask them to Think, Pair, Share their responses with the remainder of the class.
This lesson is an introductory lesson leading into the practical skills required to design set such as stage plans, scale drawing, working with other production departments etc. It provides a sound basis for these practical skills and scaffolds effectively the purpose of set in the theatre.