HOUSTON’S CREATIVE WORKFORCE: SET & STAGE DESIGN
Kristen Turner, Communications Intern
When initially thinking of a career within the performing arts industry, one’s mind often wanders to the performers, directors, and others on the front lines of the production. However, what about a career behind the scenes? Although you may think their work often goes unnoticed, they know differently. There are many technical aspects of productions that subconsciously affect your imagination and help bring what is happening on stage to life. One of these important technical aspects is set and stage design.
In an effort to fully understand what set and stage design is, it is important to nail down a clear definition. According to The Art Career Project,
“Set design, which is sometimes referred to as scenic design, refers to the design and creation of the sets used in works of performance art…At times, designing these sets may be as simple as arranging a few simple pieces of furniture on a stage. Other times, however, it may be as complicated as recreating a complex location, such as the inside of a spaceship, with limited materials.”
In other words, set and stage design creates a foundation and place for the production to play out. Furthermore, it allows the audience to fully immerse themselves into the story and to be transported to a world of “spaceships.”
A multitude of players make up the world of set and stage design. At the top is usually a technical director or set designer within the production staff. From there, duties fall to the various workers within set shops: carpenters, scenic artists, props masters… and countless others that play a role in the creation of the sets themselves.
Looking at the field of set and stage design here in Houston, we find a unique array of work currently being done. Most recently, the Alley Theatre’s production of The Nether won several Ovation awards, including one for “Stage Design” by Kevin Rigdon. This production featured a futuristic set with mirror-like flats, scenery shifting in on chains from above, elegant furnishings, and hues of blue and green throughout; all of which helped to create the eerie and other-worldly aesthetic that was played out on stage each night.
In addition to his Ovation awards, Rigdon presents a resume of varying accolades; including two Tony Award nominations, seven Joseph Jefferson Awards, four Drama Desk Award nominations, and more. Similarly, he brings design experience from influential theater companies all over the world, such as the Royal National Theater in London, UK, the Cameri Theater of Tel-Aviv, Israel, and over 345 productions on Broadway. Though, Rigdon is currently the Associate Director/Design for the Alley, he also spends a bulk of his time as a professor and Head of Graduate Design program at the University of Houston. Combining his years of experience and expertise, in the last two decades Rigdon has been successful at creating a lasting impact within the Houston’s design community.
In addition to the great work being done at the Alley Theatre, Houstonians are awaiting the new production of The Nutcracker at the Houston Ballet, said to present “larger-than life scenery,” according to the Houston Ballet’s most recent press release. As the previous production of The Nutcracker stayed in repertory for nearly three decades, this production, including its set and stage design, has quite large shoes to fill. While audiences have no idea what to expect, as is the territory with every world-premiere production, the Houston Ballet’s long history of success has audiences excited to see what the design team has in store.
We can find countless examples of work that is being done in the set and stage design field here in Houston. Whether that be theatrical, dance, or opera, our creative community is well represented with some of the finest set and stage designers in the performing arts industry. In continuing with this standard of excellence, Houston is sure to continue to be a beacon of artistic engagement in the coming years.