Set design can be a lot of fun: after all, it’s the first time you see your vision really come to life. But if you’re on a limited budget, the process can be disheartening. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Even if money is tight, a little bit of imagination can go a long way… Here are some helpful tips for building theatre sets on a budget!
One of the most common mistakes first-time directors make is to skimp on the designing stage. Even if you don’t have the money to hire a professional, you’ll still need to plan the set properly. Take this first step seriously, because it will have a significant impact on the end result. Start off by taking accurate measurements of the stage. Take into consideration the space taken up by your front-of-house curtain when it’s drawn. Draw everything up so you have a schematic to refer to. Now make a list of the most vital elements of your set and add them to your plan. Then start adding optional elements. Make sure everything fits on paper! If it doesn’t work now, it’s definitely not going to work later.
If you only have a small set design budget, keep things simple. Again, go for the big-ticket items first, and add important elements if you have some money left over. Of course, simple doesn’t have to mean plain and boring. It does, however, mean being practical. For example, projectors are a great way to add changing set elements without needing to invest in tangible items. If your play is set in a living room, rather than creating walls, windows and doors, simply add a couch, coffee table and TV screen. Items like these can be rented from furniture stores and don’t require any production work.
Of course, whether you’re on a budget or not, all sets should be built with safety in mind. Stage fabric products should be fire treated according to your country’s standards, and it should be easy for actors to leave the stage in case of an emergency.
If you make sensible decisions and get creative, it’s possible to create a great-looking set on a small budget.