Stage Scenery Designer Career Options and Requirements

Sep 29, 2019

Artistic ability, as well as an understanding of the technical aspects of stagecraft are needed to work as a stage scenery designer. If you're interested in the field, you will need a bachelor's degree in theater arts or a related area to become a set designer. However, other job opportunities, such as a technical director or college instructor, may call for a graduate degree.

Essential Information

A stage scenery designer is responsible for creating the physical surroundings in which a stage play, concert, dance recital or exhibit takes place. The backdrop, furniture, props and accessories that make up a set are all part of the scenery design. Experienced designers may become technical directors or teachers of set design and technical production at the post secondary level.

Career Set Designer Technical Director Theater Arts Instructor
Required Education Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Master's degree
Other Requirements None 4-5 years of experience in scenery design Professional experience
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 5% 5% for all producers and directors 11% for all postsecondary teachers
Median Salary (2018)* $54,270 $71,680 for all producers and directors $69,960 for all art, drama and music postsecondary teachers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

A stage scenery designer may work as a set designer, technical director, or theater arts instructor depending on an individual's level of experience, schooling, and personal preferences. Technical director's and college instructors generally earn more, but also require more schooling. More information about these three options is given below.

Set Designer

Most set designers work on productions presented at a theater, but their skills are also utilized for film and television productions, as well as for concerts and sporting events. The designer will first read through the script of a performance several times to get a feel for what's required to fulfill the action, mood and atmosphere. All necessary furniture, props and accessories must be accommodated in the design. The designer will also need to take note of the action occurring backstage to be sure the set design allows for the necessary movement of people and props on and off the stage.

A set designer is often responsible for researching the historical setting of a production and developing a set that portrays the facts accurately. Designers who work in large theaters may collaborate with the production's director and with the costume, sound and lighting designers to create a unified look. Smaller theaters often ask a set designer to perform other design jobs in addition to working on the set.

Requirements for Set Designers

According to O*Net Online, 78% of set and exhibit designers held a bachelor's, master's or professional degree ( in 2016. Most designers major in theater arts or a similar field. Many drama departments offer a concentration in design technology, scenic design or a related area for students interested in set design.

Theater design students typically take classes such as drafting, drawing and history of the theater. They work on student or community productions during their college years and may receive academic credit for internships and practicums. Employers often prefer to hire designers with volunteer or paid experience in the field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for set and exhibit designers should increase as fast as the average from 2018-2028. The BLS also states that the mean annual salary for set and exhibit designers in 2018 was $61,020.

Technical Director

An experienced set designer may have an opportunity to become a technical director and oversee all aspects of a production. The technical director supervises lighting, scenery, electrical equipment, sound and other technical parts of a show or play within the budget set by theater management. This person may supervise or assist in the construction of sets and stages. The technical director often manages volunteer and paid laborers and assigns workers to specific performances.

Requirements for Technical Directors

Most employers require technical directors to hold a bachelor's degree and may prefer that they possess a graduate degree. A prospective technical director typically needs four or five years of experience in scenery design or other technical area to be considered for the position. In 2018, the BLS projected employment growth which is as fast as the average for directors and producers, through 2028. In addition, the BLS revealed an annual mean salary of $89,840 for directors and producers, in 2018.

Theater Arts Instructor

Set designers with good communication skills and a fondness for teaching may want to consider a job as a theater arts instructor at a community college or 4-year university. Such positions typically involve teaching scenic design, stage craft or scenery technology classes, as well as supervising and mentoring students as they produce plays and other departmental events. An increase in post-secondary positions for art, drama and music teachers was predicted by the BLS for the 2018-2028 decade, which is much faster than average. In 2018, post-secondary drama, art and music teachers earned an annual mean salary of $82,560, per the BLS.

Requirements for Theater Arts Instructors

Most post-secondary institutions expect that their theater arts instructors will have a master's or doctoral degree in the subject they are teaching. In some cases, however, professional experience may be considered a substitute for a post graduate degree. Theater arts instructors need good interpersonal skills to convey their knowledge of design and technology to their students.

Stage scenery designers create the physical space for a play, or can work as a technical director or postsecondary instructor. Skills needed for this field include research, drafting, drawing, and the ability to collaborate with other designers. Stage scenery designers can apply their talents toward stage plays, and also film, television, concerts and sporting events.

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