Department Information

The purpose of the Design department is to develop theater artists who are masterful designers in set, costume, lighting, projection, and sound for the theater.

Yaara Bar ('19) at a projection design installation, Yale University Art Gallery, 2017. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Yaara Bar ('19) at a projection design installation, Yale University Art Gallery, 2017. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The department encourages students to discover their own process of formulating design ideas, to develop a discriminating standard for their own endeavors, and above all to prepare for a creative and meaningful professional life in the broad range of theater activities.

In the belief that theater is a collaborative art, it is hoped that through their David Geffen School of Drama experience design students discover a true sense of joy in working with other people, especially directors, and realize the excitement of evolving a production through the process of collaboration.

Finally, the department endeavors to create an atmosphere conducive to creative experimentation, tempered by honest, open criticism and disciplined study.

Theater is an act of transformation, and for designers it is the transformation of words into visual and musical imagery. Set, costume, and, to a certain extent, lighting and projection designers must have the capacity for visual expression, with its foundation set firmly in the ability to draw and sketch clearly and expressively. Drawing is not merely a technique for presentation; it is the language that reveals one’s thoughts, and thus creates a dialogue among the director, the designers, and their colleagues. Through drawing, one observes and records one’s world. Drawing informs and clarifies one’s vision and is an integral part of the formulation of a design. Drawing should be as natural to the visual designer as speaking; therefore, the department offers a weekly life drawing class so that design students can keep their skill honed.

Students are admitted to the department on the basis of their artistic abilities as shown in their portfolios, as well as their commitment to the theater and their ability to articulate their ideas.

Each entering class is unique, with the ratio of set to costume to lighting to projection designers varying according to the qualifications of the applicants. Approximately twelve students are admitted each year. The Design department faculty make a strong commitment to each student that is accepted. There is no second-tier status. All students participate at the same level and are expected to complete the program of study.

The student’s training is accomplished through approximately equal parts classroom work and production experience. A balance between theoretical work, which students conceive of and develop on their own, and projects which are realized on stage in collaboration with others, is the ever-present goal.

Students of visual design study set, costume, lighting, and projection design in their first year. Lighting and projection designers also study sound design. Starting in the second year, the required sequence of courses for each student focuses more closely on the student’s primary area or areas of concentration. The goal of the department is that students achieve mastery of their own discipline and working knowledge of all disciplines. Given that no two students arrive at training with the same skill sets, the department reserves the right to make different course assignments for each student in pursuit of this aim.

Sound design students who are admitted into the Design department are also required to take introductory visual design classes in an attempt to develop a common body of knowledge within the entire design team, and to provide opportunities for all designers to develop collaborative communication and presentation skills.

Projection Design

The Projection Design concentration, offered through the Design department, provides a unique opportunity to develop skills that work in concert with all the other design disciplines of the theater. Projection design for performance is both one of the newest and one of the most rapidly advancing areas of theatrical design. It is vital that future practitioners learn to deliver this new media within the larger context of theatrical storytelling. It is the goal of the program to teach the use of these powerful tools of media and animation to enhance the live experience. Study and projects in all the other design concentrations—set, costume, lighting, and sound—along with the practice of projection design, foster the creation of total theater artists.

The question of “why projection” is a constant heartbeat of the program. Not all theatrical production can or should support projection. Through the study of historical usage and exploration of the power of media in performance, students develop the critical thinking that will allow them to create meaningful and relevant work.

David Geffen School of Drama requires design students to train in all disciplines: building set models, drafting light plots, drawing costume renderings, and creating sound samples. Success in the program demands both digital and hand skills. A weekly life drawing class is required in the first year of study to sharpen the student’s hand and eye. It is essential that students be able to process what they see in front of them, as well as transfer ideas from thought to a form viewable by others. Classes in digital skills as well as digital and analog animation are offered as well.

The program includes script analysis, dramaturgy, and the essential collaborative skill, listening. There are opportunities to work directly with playwrights, directors, and other designers in both class projects and public performance. There is no substitute for the experience of creating actual production work, and the opportunities to create as well as to assist are abundant.

Projection designers each have a workspace in the visual design studios with the other visual designers in their graduating cohort. There is a specialized studio space for all projection students at 305 Crown, with resources and workstations designed to support the specific needs of projection design students. Additionally, with proper training, students have access to the production studio, motion capture equipment, and other resources at the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media.

In addition to course work and production assignments, there is the opportunity to create an installation in collaboration with the sound and directing programs and several programs with Yale Opera. Throughout the year, a variety of workshops support artistic and technical growth, with the goal of looking beyond the traditional dramatic framework. Past workshops have included Manual Cinema, Mark Coniglio/Isadora, Touch Designer, and nonverbal drama.