Open Forum

 View Only
Expand all | Collapse all

Set design training in your drama teacher program?

  • 1.  Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-17-2018 13:24
    The responses to my survey keep coming in (thanks to those of you who've participated), and I'm seeing some definite patterns. One of my questions was, how well do you feel you were trained in set design during your drama teacher program? So far, less than a third of the respondents indicated they were very well trained, yet over two thirds indicated they currently teach set design.

    So, my intention behind the survey still being the same (finding out what's missing and where I can fill in), I'd like to ask you to tell us a bit about your training in set design: what was covered, how was it covered, and -- now that you've been teaching for years -- what was not covered but you wish had been. Please keep in mind that, in cases like this, identifying what worked can be just as valuable as identifying what didn't work.


    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 2.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-17-2018 21:15
    I received my BA in Theatre from Western Washington University. To complete a theatre major, you have to take a bunch of general theatre classes (acting, directing, stagecraft 101, lighting 101, set design 101, costuming 101, script analysis, theatre history, etc.)  You then have to choose a concentration and take upper level classes in that concentration (lighting, set design, directing, acting, education, etc.) As an education concentration, I didn't have to take anything above the most basic design class, HOWEVER, I chose to take two more upper level scenic design classes because I was interested in them, and they fit into my schedule.

    Christopher Hamilton
    Drama Teacher
    Kennewick WA

  • 3.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-18-2018 10:41
    I don't recall any set design training in my undergraduate theatre program.
    My first teaching job put me in charge of everything theatrical, of course...uh oh!
    My MFA at Catholic University was in Directing, but my work study was as assistant to the scene/lighting designer, so I was in the shop a lot. And I took every single technical theatre class they offered, to make me much better prepared to be a one-man band at my next teaching gig, where I stayed for many decades.
    My impression is also that technical theatre is the weak link for not just many, but MOST theatre teachers.

    Douglas "Chip" Rome
    Theatre Consultant
    Educational Stages
    Burke VA

  • 4.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-18-2018 14:52

    Tech is indeed a weak link and I am uncertain why colleges and universities do not mandate more training for aspiring theatre teachers. I do know that there are genuine challenges in finding time for additional hours at the undergraduate level but still feel that something could be done.

    As an adjunct faculty member at the University of Evansville, I teach Secondary Theatre Methods with a heavy emphasis on tech. My goal at the beginning of each semester is to determine what area the students feel deficient in and then try to address that. That determination is made by giving them a rather broad survey where they indicate their relative strengths and weaknesses in everything from directing to rigging. I am then able to tailor instruction for each of the participants. (primarily in the area of lesson plan creation for those weaker areas).



    Dana Taylor
    MSD of Mt. Vernon
    Evansville IN

  • 5.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-19-2018 08:51
    For my college, the theatre major was distinct from the education major, so I had a pretty strong training in technical theatre, especially design. However, I'm in a situation where I have a full-time tech theatre teacher while I focus on the drama classes, so my knowledge of many light and sound programs is very, very dated as it hasn't been necessary for me to keep up. But, I am very strong in design for set, light, and sound - and I'm a great costumer (design and construction, and I'm 100% shamelessly bragging).

    It it seems that if someone was trained specifically to be a theatre teacher, their tech knowledge is more limited. But if the training was a theatre BA, then there is a wider bearth of knowledge.

    Cynthia Calhoun
    Maricopa AZ

  • 6.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-20-2018 06:44
    Edited by Rachel Ferrari-Engel 02-21-2018 06:19
    I come from a different perspective.  I'm trained in Tech Theatre.  I find my self always advocating for qualified people when it come to safety... or even just making the school aware... which in high school I feel sometimes can be a problem... it really depends on your situation.  Its crazy to me that teachers are expected to do things that they are not trained in especially when it can pose such a safety risk....a professional theatre would not hire or expect someone to do rigging without having experience or being trained. I know that many teachers are very self motivated and do their research or hire others if they are able to. However, I worry for the schools that just try things....

    I also think one of the challenges is that the standard is for teachers is with an acting/english background... or at least that is what I've encountered and has been my experience.  There is not a lot of precedent to hire a Tech Theatre to manage the space and production at school in my district.   I'm advocating for that in my school district.. however we are a large district with many high schools.  It's been a long difficult road... and I'm worried I'm becoming overworked and a bit bitter.... I frequently find myself dreaming of working for a school who has tech theatre teachers and values the importance of what they do....schools that have a performing arts center and the suburban schools seems to have better support for that...

    I have a training in all of the above.. finishing with an MFA in Production in Design focusing in Scenic Design and Properties.  I hope that someday there is change or a movement that makes things safer and pushes schools to train & hire more tech or in teacher programs require an equal section of tech, and even choreography to balance things. 

    I feel the need to apologize for my previous message as I've toned down my original... which was a bit angry... I have a situation going on at my school and I feel that has tainted my perspective right now.  

    Tired, but looking forward to the persevering.

    Rachel Ferrari-Engel
    Pittsburgh Pa


  • 7.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-19-2018 06:49
    I am not a Teacher but would like to respond, as I know educators on the high school level that have come from different paths in achieving their teaching certificates.

    Some educators have taken a path in studying theatre in college then as a minor or at a later time wanted to get their teaching certificate.

    If the educator followed the Theatre path there were 2 different roads... 1. being a BA theatre program where a wide range of theatrical requirements are presented, or a BFA program which is more limited and emphasizes a specialty typically more toward the performance or directing end with a smaller number of students being on the technical path.

    I understand in the education paths, there are only minimal courses required to achieve this  certification.

    I have had educator friends which have after in the field for a time, have gone back as part of continuing education into a summer program or to an educational summer stock program where they have studied these skills.

    In either instance the educator is most of the time responsible for all aspects of theatre if not also a facility manager, in the event that they have someone to assist them, typically that person is the technical person or vise versa.

    I have great appreciation for the time and effort that they put in to making a successful program and they should all be commended.

    Jerry Onik
    V.P. Theatrical Supplies and Equipment
    Omaha NE

  • 8.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-20-2018 07:10
    I had one survey style class in technical theatre in college.  It gave me a basic knowledge of technical theatre, and I use the textbook as a reference from time to time.  My teaching has been mostly acting classes, and I have run the afterschool program for two different schools for a total of 15 years.  The past 3 years I have been teaching a technical theatre class, and it has been a struggle.  There are some materials out there, but not nearly as many as are available for acting classes.  I have learned a lot, and have depended on professional training on our equipment (our lighting and sound systems) to get through.  Like most teaching experiences, it is baptism by fire--at my first position, I was to run and publish a quarterly journal with 4 ancient computers, 6 students, and not a journalism class to my name.  The situation is not unique to theatre!

    Kristen Statt
    Thunderhawk Theater Director
    Lakota East High School
    Liberty Twp, OH

  • 9.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-20-2018 10:10
    I took basic level tech classes in my undergrad in a variety of areas, but I had a required 50 hours of additional shop time in both the scene shop and the costume shop. While I didn't have the same number of classes in design as in performance and direction, the additional required hours working in the shops gave me a pretty strong foundation in safety. Of course, I don't have almost any of the tools available in my job, so that aspect of my training isn't as utilized and has gotten pretty rusty...

    I do take tech classes frequently at Conference and/or ITF (including PDI's - which I personally find very useful). If there were more of these I think many of us would benefit from the info... especially on the newer hardware and software. I can't fit classes at the local universities into my life so I find it pretty difficult to stay current.

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 10.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-20-2018 12:00
    I feel I was fortunate that my BFA - Virginia Commonwealth University - and MFA - The University of Texas at Austin - programs both included set, costume, and lighting design as well as technical theatre in their education programs. Oddly, no sound design in either. I felt I had a solid grounding in most aspects of technical theatre and design when I took on my high school positions. Was I as good as someone who majored in those aspects? No, but I could provide a strong foundation for my students to begin their exploration of these arts.

    Robert Smith
    VA Co-Chapter Director
    Centreville VA

  • 11.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-21-2018 09:35
    I earned a BA in Theatre from Virginia Tech, and although I was fairly well-versed in some technical aspects, it was all in a fully-staffed and stocked scene shop, working with trained individuals, and on equipment that not only worked but was current.  
    In the field, I am the director, designer, and producer of everything.  I definitely specialized in performance and felt very comfortable with design, but in APPLICATION, it was and still is (13 years later) trial by fire!  
    I feel that the real disconnects are with the school system understanding what is actually required from a technical perspective to put on a show.  I rely on parents to bring in things like saws and drills because we don't have them, and we get ZERO budget from our county to either purchase or maintain ANYTHING!  To get anything fixed takes months of paperwork and pathways I don't have time to navigate.
    Additionally, there's no county standard in auditorium upkeep.  No one seems to have a master record of what equipment is used, when it was installed, when it was last or is next scheduled for maintenance, no one is in charge above the site-based theatre teacher.  

    There's no one above me in charge of facility upkeep.  No one who is an expert on stage spaces.  My cyc is hung downstage of my strip clearly the person who "renovated" our stage was lacking in some fundamentals...

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my job.  I GET to go to work every day.  I get to direct, design, and devise incredible works of art that my students and I are so proud of.  It would just be great if I wasn't the hub of EVERY wheel related to the auditorium and the use and upkeep thereof.  

    I would love to learn more about practical application of technical skills. Maybe even just a list of "essentials" to get a small scene shop up and running... something I can take to my admin and see if they can find money so I don't have to borrow everything every time...

    I've been fortunate to have students who are really motivated, who have taken my lighting and sound ideas and actually designed tech for our shows.  But, they can't touch the fixtures, so it's kind of a mess.  

    I think it's just draining to work alone and always feel like you're on some kind of crusade for your kids, your job, your space, your passion.  

    Lisa Dyer
    Henrico VA

  • 12.  RE: Set design training in your drama teacher program?

    Posted 02-21-2018 10:46
    Lisa, I am 100% with you! I got my BA in Theater in 1999 and didn't become a teacher or a theater director until 2009, so even though I was trained in some tech, it was nearly 20 years ago, with very different light and sound technology,  and always supervised. As an undergrad with an emphasis on acting, I didn't have the opportunity to design much of anything, so this has been particularly hard for me. The equipment at Penn State, where I earned my BA, was always state of the art and the instructors were amazing, but aside from one saw and two drills, I don't have any equipment to work with. We have a wood shop at the school, but the instructors have been hesitant to help much, and the theater department is not allowed to use it. The shop teacher has his own projects in mind and doesn't really have time to (or care to) build for the theater department. I would love to take a course or five in all things tech related but could only do so in the summer. Where I live, there aren't any universities that offer theater courses in the summer, so I am kind of stuck relying on the kindness of others to come help out. In my particular situation, we have no backstage or storage, so I couldn't really build big sets anyway. We get kicked out of the auditorium pretty regularly because the whole district only has one auditorium, so we would have to take things apart and put them back together all of the time. I feel bad for my students because although we always do well at region and state one act competitions, my theater students get no real training on any technical aspects of theater. I am allowed to have one student run (but not touch) lights, and one student run sound from a computer. We don't have a costume shop or even a sewing machine, so most of our costumes are borrowed or bought. Anyway....just venting. I would love to refresh my skills in all technical aspects of theater but have few resources. I am always open to suggestions!!

    Anne Elisa Brown
    Director of the MHS Drama Department
    Madison Central School District
    Madison SD