Designers for Theatre, Performance and Events

Note: Completion of a TAFE SA course does not guarantee an employment outcome. Formal requirements other than educational qualifications (eg licensing, professional registration), may apply to some occupations.

Job Prospects Openings 5 years to November 2019: 5,001 to 10,000
Salary Range Median weekly earnings: $1051 to $1300 to Source: Australian Government Department of Employment 2015
Brief Designers are responsible for creating the spatial-visual aspects of productions. Designers encompass all or some specialisations in costume, properties, setting, lighting or audio-visual design. They work in close creative collaboration with directors and choreographers in the first instance and with performers, production managers, set builders, props makers, costume makers, lighting, sound, staging and vision technicians, company administration, and publicists in the realisation of productions.

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TAFE SA courses that may be relevant for: Designers for Theatre, Performance and Events

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Designers are generally attached to companies and or directors /choreographers. Designers are often working on 2-6 productions simultaneously at various stages of development. Demand patterns for employment are both seasonal and feast-famine in nature. Continuity of contractual employment is also increasing.

In response to contractual fluctuations, designers also employ skills in related areas. Typically this will include a range of craft skills in drafting, drawing, model making, costume maintenance, and finishing, set construction and finishing, props buying, making and finishing and scenic art. Dependent on the designers skill-set, they may also work as assistant stage managers, assistant directors and assistant lighting designers. Use of website portfolios and online networking are increasingly used as a means to maintain an industry presence and build profile. Proactive ongoing engagement in the industry is essential for success.

Graduates are employed in all sectors of performing arts, entertainment and other creative industries including theatre, opera and dance companies, film and TV productions, arts centres, festivals and arts events, sports and tourism events, conventions and corporate theatre, museums, theme parks and other tourism linked entertainment. Many graduates also function as entrepreneurs generating cultural products independently.

Designers frequently specialise in one or a number of areas. These include Set Design Costume Design, Props Design and Lighting Design. Some work in all areas.

The Set Designer creates the space and look of the physical elements, the Costume Designer creates the look of the characters, and the Props Designer creates the properties, hand properties furniture, set dressing, and special effects elements for a production based on collaboration with the Director and technical and manufacturing crew.

The four main growth areas for employment of Live Designers in Australia are festivals, consumer created product, design driven performance and performance for the young. These are being driven by the adoption of open access festival models (Feast, Fringe, OzAsia, Festival, SALA), consumer generated product creation delivered via emerging digital media platforms (social web nets, ABC2), the international trend to design driven performance (WSD events, Scenofest, Design expos), and the professionalisation of performance for the young, including education (artist in schools, ASITIJ, IB Drama).

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Education Requirements

To become a competitive professional Designer you need an Advanced Diploma, Degree or higher qualification in Design. To become a competitive entry level assistant designer a Certificate IV in Design (Entertainment), Diploma or Advanced Diploma in Design is required.

Adelaide College of the Arts offers the following course that may help you enter this occupation: Advanced Diploma of Design for Live Production, Theatre and Events and Diploma of Live Production Design. Pathways include the Certificate III in Live Production and Services.

The design-training program at Adelaide College of the Arts has achieved an increasingly higher rate of employment, increased higher pathway transition and successful career building for its Advanced Diploma graduates in recent years.

Career Path

Most graduates begin their careers as Assistant Designers with established performing arts companies or as Designers with smaller companies. Designers typically develop a career profile and increase their public recognition through working with directors, choreographers and performers. Successful Designers increasingly attract more lucrative production contracts. Typically design graduates are ‘industry tested' before progressing. Networking, industry reputation and word of mouth are the most frequent means of gaining employment. Cold calling is a necessary aspect of success.

Designers are also employed by high schools and tertiary education and other training organisations as artists in support of drama education training. Designers develop productive collaborative partnerships with artistic directors, directors and choreographers with ‘repeat’ engagement providing an element of consistency in employment. Recommendations by related professionals, production managers, stage managers, and heads of departments also play a significant role in gaining ongoing employment.

The career paths for Designers include the following occupations;

Entry Level: Assistant Designers, Props Buyer, Production Assistant, Set finisher, Scenic Artist, Model Maker, Technical drafter, Graphic design and display assistants, Art Department assistant

Middle Level: Assistant Designer to major companies, Designer on 2nd tier company and smaller companies, Designer on mid rang festivals and events, technical design support for commercial and major companies, Art Director on small independent films

Senior Level: Designer on major production, Design Team Leader on major events, Resident Designer to professional company

Executive Level: Head of Art Department, Design Team Leader on major events, Artistic Director, Festival Director, CEO Performing Arts Company

There are design and design related jobs in every sector of the performing arts and entertainment industries, in sport, recreation, arts and tourism events industries, the music industry, for theme parks and other tourism-linked entertainment industries, in convention, conference and trade show industries and in film and television industries. Skills are easily transportable between all employment sectors.

Nature of the Job

All Designers need experience in scripts analysis for a variety of theatrical styles, excellent research skills and excellent knowledge of theatre design and design history. Thorough knowledge and experience in the basic principles and elements of design, good drawing and painting skills with a variety of media and ability to work as a member of a collaborative design team are also required as are excellent interpersonal and communication skills, good time management skills and the ability to remain calm in high stress situations while practising good problem solving skills.

Set Designers also need:
A good knowledge of basic construction and finishing techniques, excellent knowledge of theatre technology and environments, technical drawing and model making skills and problem solving skills.

Costume Designers also need:
A thorough knowledge of costume and fabric history, good knowledge of basic theatrical cutting and sewing, and knowledge of fabrics, trims and notions.

Props Designers also need:
Good knowledge of basic properties construction and finishing techniques, knowledge of theatre technology and environments, thorough drawing and painting skills with a variety of media, technical drawing and model making skills and excellent problem solving skills.

To have the best chance at success you need an even range of left and right brain skills.

All designers have the following responsibilities: read the scripts and determine the functional needs of the promotion. With the director they also determine the concept the artists will work within, research historic periods, predecessors and technical scoping. The designer creates the colour palette to be used on a production in collaboration with the other designers and determines materials, construction techniques and finishers to fulfil ideas determined on renderings. They attend rehearsals as necessary, attend fit-ups – get-ins- bump-ins as necessary, meet scheduled design deadlines and take responsibility for and lead design teams as necessary.

Set Designers are also required to:
Create the model, working prototypes, technical drawings and renderings as necessary. They meet with production and technical personnel as necessary to facilitate the interpretation of the set renderings into 3D.

Costume Designers are also required to:
Determine the costume needs of the production, research period details, fashions available and rental possibilities and create the colour scheme to be used as a rendering in collaboration with the set and lighting designer. They sketch ideas into renderings for Director and Actor approval, and as working drawings for the costume construction team. Designers determine fabrics and/or fabric modifications necessary to fulfil ideas determined on renderings, meet with costume personnel as necessary to facilitate the interpretation of the costume renderings into 3D costume and attend rehearsals and fittings as necessary.

Props Designers are also required to:
Determine materials, construction techniques and finishers to fulfil ideas determined on, transpose sketches ideas into renderings for the Directors and performers approval, and as working drawings for the props crew. Designers sketch ideas into renderings for the Directors and performers approval and as working drawings for the set construction crew.

Typical Physical Working Environment

Designers are usually based in capital cities or large regional cities. Designers are usually employed on contract for a single show or a number of shows. Full time design employment is only found in top commercial performing arts and entertainment areas and in education.

Designers are contracted over generally longer periods of time from pre-production till performance week. Workloads are usually not evenly distributed with intense periods during creative development, production and technical weeks. Design is a highly portable career with the opportunity to travel and work worldwide. Standardisation of production design practice is occurring globally.

Typical Occupational Example

Designers are employed in every sector of the entertainment industry, from drama, dance, musicals and for other production companies to the music industry, major events, conventions and trade shows, film and television productions.

Further Information

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