Set Designer Beckie Morris is no stranger to the Lighthouse stage. She’s designed the sets for Corpse!, Prairie Nurse and last season’s smash hit Halfway There by Norm Foster. What goes into designing a set? How long does it take? What’s the creative process like? Why aren’t aren’t we getting to the interview??? Well, without further ado, let’s delve into the world of set design with designer Beckie Morris!
Lighthouse (L): How do you research and develop ideas for a new set design?
Beckie Morris (BM): The research and development process happens in so many forms! When I am working through my first batch of thoughts I will start a rendering that has the space laid out multiple times side by side. I will start roughly drawing out any and every idea that pops into my head. I will then walk away from that file and revisit it after a few days. When I return to the drawings, it quickly becomes clear which concept I am most drawn to. I then revisit the script and try to pull the additional information needed to inform the initial concepts. Then we draw again!
L: That sounds like a lot of drawing! Once the set design itself is completed, how do you select furniture and props for a set?
BM: Prop design is one of the most fun parts of the job. It really is like imagining a world in your head, much like when you read a book, and then starting to create the reality around you. Sometimes you know exactly what you are looking for. This can be common when working in a specific time period or place. Other times I will see something in a store or even on the side of the road, and know “That’s the one!!!”. You get the strangest looks sometimes when the “aha!” moment strikes. It is always great fun to have to expand your horizons to correctly inform your choices. I have learned so much about historic furniture and architecture from doing research on a piece.
L: How do you create renderings or models of your set designs? Are they completed as a maquette or using software?
BM: I use 3D CAD software to workout and digitally render my models. Paper drafting is an artform that I have such great respect for; for my process, using CAD software rather than a paper and pencil helps me realize my vision much quicker. I have spent over a decade working on these skills and have found it extremely useful when working with a director to make adjustments in real time. This can be as simple as moving a piece of furniture or as complicated as removing and adjusting walls.
L: How can set design be used to enhance the storytelling of a production?
BM: Set design can enhance or detract from the storytelling onstage. It is important to remember that everything we do as members of the creative team, must serve the play. While some scripts can read as fully realized locations, it is important to remember that the directors vision for the show can lead you to strip back the elements to the bare necessities. Creating the world that the play lives in is such a meaningful part of the art for me and when you add the other design disciplines (lighting, sound and costumes) the whole world comes alive! One of the best parts of the whole process is seeing the actors onstage for the first time with all of the elements present. How all the parts work together is truly magical.
L: Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a set designer?
BM: The best advice I have for someone looking to get into set design is to work on finding the language or presentation skills to communicate your ideas. It can be a wonderfully collaborative process, and it is equally important to be able to let some ideas go. It takes so much effort to force a concept onto a design, sometimes you don’t know you’re doing it until you change course. If it doesn’t serve the play, let it go!