Program Information

The purpose of the Design program is to develop theater artists who are accomplished, committed, daring designers of costume, lighting, projection, set, and sound for the theater. The program 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.

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.

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 and realize the excitement of evolving a production through the process of collaboration.

The program endeavors to create an atmosphere conducive to creative experimentation, tempered by honest, open criticism and disciplined study.

Students are admitted to the program 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.

Approximately seventeen students are admitted each year. There is a high faculty-to-student ratio. We make a strong personal commitment to each student who is accepted, and we work to provide the resources necessary for all students to succeed in the program.

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 in the classroom, and projects that are realized on stage, is the ever-present goal. Collaboration among disciplines, both within and without the Design program, is a constant practice.

All design concentrations are closely interrelated. Each is part of a greater whole. Therefore, with some exceptions, students in their first year of study take classes in all five design concentrations. 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 program reserves the right to alter the required sequence when necessary in order to provide each student the experience best suited to the student’s particular circumstances and goals.

The Design program is committed to dismantling racism by engaging in an ongoing examination of the policies and practices of the program and the profession in general in order to expose biases and systemic advantage/oppression where they exist and to build a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment through anti-racist practices.

Costume Design

Our costume design program is dedicated to the training of new generations of designers in a diverse community of students and teachers where we fully embrace multiple perspectives and backgrounds as we actively promote diversity through our curriculum, performances, and student experiences. The study of costume design requires us to continuously explore new ways of storytelling as we examine the human spirit to be able to communicate the life condition of the character through clothing on the stage. The student must have knowledge of the vocabulary of design and be able to communicate all aspects pertaining to the profession in order to achieve this goal in a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment that promotes anti-racist practices. Through class projects, practical and theoretical, and real experience working on academic and professional productions the student will leave the university setting and become valuable, vocal, and seen members of the entertainment industry.

The first year of study is dedicated to the background and practice of costume design to develop the students’ technical skills in life-drawing, costume construction, knowledge of costume history, and a thorough grounding in the business of the professional costume design integrating technical skills with theoretical understanding as the student take courses in every design discipline. The second year enhances the students’ analytical/dramaturgical thinking and critical aesthetic voices in the execution of designs in collaboration with student and professional directors, with advanced classes in life-drawing and digital costume illustration. The third-year students continue their training based on professional-level processes and practices with an established director, culminating in the design of a professional production. Our training strives to create new and lasting relationships between designers, directors, actors, and technicians, evolving into a diverse community that shares a unique and bold aesthetic as our students enter into the professional world.

Lighting DesigLighting cannot be taught in the classroom. Words and two-dimensional representations are not adequate to express all that needs to be expressed or to communicate all that needs to be communicated when exploring and discovering the role light can play in live theatrical performance. Light must be experienced firsthand, in space and in time. Moreover, like playing an instrument, the skills involved in lighting must be practiced constantly.

Therefore, in the Lighting Design concentration, we prioritize realized production work and exercises done in theaters or the light lab over theoretical, paper projects.

Light is intricately intertwined with all the other design concentrations. The configuration of the scenery determines what lighting possibilities exist in any given production; the silhouettes created by the costumes and their color palette have everything to do with the composition of the stage picture and the color palette of the lighting; the aural landscape and the rhythm of the lighting are two parts of a single whole; projected imagery is a kind of light itself. For these reasons, lighting students study the other concentrations, and we include students of the other concentrations in our lighting classes, as far as the schedule will allow. Lighting students also study figure drawing, as the human figure is the basis of our sense of composition, and drawing is the best possible training for the eye.

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.

Yale 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.

Set Design

The Three-Year Curriculum Arc (Scenography)

In the first year, students delve into a wide spectrum of classic texts, operas, and musicals alongside modern and contemporary works. The goal is to create three-dimensional models every week and present the completed model (1/8” or 1/4” scale) the following week. This structure provides the foundation on which the following two years are based. During the course of the year the students will also assist on student productions and at the Yale Repertory Theater.

In the second year, the set designers meet twice per week. On Wednesdays the students take part in an interdisciplinary course with the Directing program in DRAM 232a/b, Advanced Discussions in Directing and Scenography. This course seeks to cultivate and reinforce the creative relationship and professional-level processes between directors and designers, concentrating on an in-depth analysis of a selection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century plays and operas. On Fridays the students meet with the Set Design faculty in discussions that expand and deepen the exploration of the texts discussed in the Wednesday collaborative class from a scenographic perspective. There are two projects per term, each culminating in a final presentation. During the course of the second year, students will also be designing for School of Drama productions.

In the third year, the students will choose their own texts and operas, including adaptations. Having a strong foundation in classic, modern, and contemporary works to draw on, the students will be able to develop a more personal approach. The second term of the third year will concentrate on a thesis that will be presented to the entire Design faculty. During this year the students will also be interviewing with directors for Yale Repertory Theatre productions.

The overall mission of the program is to nurture a thorough appreciation of existing scenographic traditions as well as a vigorous commitment to developing individual voices for a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive American theater.

Sound Design

Sound is inherently personal. Beautiful sonics for any two people will be different, yet the overall goal of the Sound Design concentration at David Geffen School of Drama is to find the bridge between the personal and the universal, to discover the essence and atomic quality of sound such that one can bring one’s personal perspective while being able to effectively communicate one’s concepts with anyone. Openness, inclusiveness, and rigorous work ethic are the necessary qualities one must have to achieve this goal in the Sound Design concentration. There will be many collaborative circumstances, from the classroom to the professional stage at Yale Repertory Theatre, for students to have an opportunity to sharpen their technical skills and develop their creative voice.

The Sound Design experience at the School is unique in that the five areas of design—set, costume, lighting, projection, and sound—are integrated. This ensemble approach provides a foundation for the collaborative experience at the School. Students must be dedicated and willing to work hard. The course work covers design aesthetics, script interpretation, dramaturgy, music composition, critical listening, professional collaboration, sound and music technology, acoustics, aural imaging in large spaces, investigations into psychoacoustics, digital audio production, advanced sound delivery systems, advanced problem solving, advanced digital applications, production organization, and professional development, all in concert with a wide variety of practical assignments.