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Scenic Designer Training and Degree Program Overview

Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) with a concentration in set design and Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design (M.F.A.) programs expose students to the science and construction of theater production sets, as well as the business side of the field.

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Essential Information

Many aspiring set designers choose to pursue a bachelor's degree in theater or a related program with a concentration in set design. Advanced degrees, such as a Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design (M.F.A.), are also available. In these programs, at both levels, students study design, drafting and building, and learn about budgeting, stage management and other business aspects of set design. As expected, a great deal of the coursework involves hands-on, practical set construction work. Both programs sometimes ask qualifying students to submit a portfolio of previous work in set design.


Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Theater Design

A Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) can be completed in four years full-time and generally requires a high school diploma or education equivalent for admission. In a bachelor's theater design program, students generally spend their first year learning basic drafting and design skills, as well as the history of theater stage craft. Students that concentrate on scenic design typically spend their last two years learning the practical aspects of stage craft, with course topics like:

  • Lighting design
  • Design drawing
  • Script analysis
  • Prop design
  • Scenic painting
  • Color theory

Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Scenic Design programs involve advanced coursework in drafting, design, and aesthetics, and can include design rendering and computer-aided design. Programs are usually open to individuals with experience in the field and prepare students for higher employment in theater set design and production. They often take three years to finish and require a bachelor's degree in a related subject in order to apply. Commonly covered topics include:

  • Stage lighting design
  • Scene construction
  • Costume design
  • History of theater
  • Scenic painting

Popular Career Options

Bachelor's level graduates are prepared for entry-level positions in theater set design and construction. Graduates of an MFA program in scenic design often find advanced-level work in local theaters, community colleges or television stations. Some potential job options for scenic designers include:

  • Lighting technician
  • Technical director
  • Theater shop instructor
  • Prop-master
  • Assistant director
  • Scenic designer

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment growth for art directors (those who design and organize visuals for publication media, product wrapping and entertainment productions) will be at a rate of 2% over 2014-2024. In May 2015, the median salary for these professionals was $89,760 yearly (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median salary for set and exhibit designers was $49,530 as of May 2015.

A degree in scenic design may prepare students for work as scenic designers, technical directors, and prop-masters. Coursework typically teaches students drafting and design skills.

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