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Sep 30 / Caleb Matthews

An Introduction to Designing for Warriors

As I begin my attempt to encapsulate the experience of being a designer at Wayne State into a series of text posts (and potentially images), I think that the easiest way to introduce you to the program would be for me to recount what the first six weeks of the semester have entailed for me.  From there, I think that you should all have a decent idea of the sorts of opportunities Wayne has to offer for Theater Design and Technology students, and the kind of experiences available to new students interested in theater.

Two weeks before classes started, design meetings for Xtigone (the first piece in the undergraduate season) began again, picking up where they left off in May before the summer Holiday. The most important elements of the director’s vision for the script had been communicated in the two meetings previous to this one, and the design team had spent the summer (in between day jobs, positions at regional Summer Stock Theaters, and any other design opportunities they sought out before August) developing their own ideas about the script, compiling research, and preparing materials to present when the project began again.

This three-month hiatus was a luxury for our team; for almost any other production, we would only have had a month or two to develop a design, while simultaneously maintaining our course work and work in the various shops at the Production Center. Given the lengthy “conceptualization” period on this piece, we came to the first meeting of the school year with strong, well developed ideas, and moved into our final, fully realized designs in less than two weeks. This was fortunate, as Xtigone opens on October 12th, and the set, costumes, props, sound, and lighting elements would all need to be in the theater in their completion by October 7th.

So, two weeks and one meeting later, the Tuesday before classes began, designers presented their final designs for approval. The scenic designer had produced detailed drafting of the set, and a scale model for the rest of the team to reference and for the director to utilize for blocking. The lighting designer had produced a collection of research images explaining his ideas for different scenes and moments. The sound designer presented her concepts for the soundscape, Props presented their research, and I presented color renderings of each of the costumes worn in the play.

Each rendering must be detailed and clear, capable of expressing to the director and performers what sort of person each character is presenting to the world. A the same time, they need to be accurate enough to tell my coworkers at the Bonstelle Costume Shop everything they needed to know about producing the designs. We were given final notes on our designs from the director and our design mentors (faculty from our respective areas who observe and assist us in production meetings) ,and went home to make final adjustments. The following day, classes started.

In class, I studied dramatic literature, reading Aristotle’s Poetics, exploring Euripides and his intentions for Medea. Laughed with The Brother’s Manaechmus, the ancient Roman combination of Greek Comedy and street performance. Discussed the complexities of Japanese Noh theater, reading the hauntingly beautiful story of Matsukaze, the ghost-sister. I painted gowns from history text books, applied the basic theories of design to garments on paper. Began looking at the guts of successful plays in a playwriting class, relearned how to see regular objects for 8 hours a week in a drawing class, and began asking what art wanted from it’s viewers in an online class about the philosophy of aesthetics.

In between it all, I cooperated with the Foreman of the Bonstelle Costume Shop, who was also my design mentor and boss, to construct a plan of attack for producing all of the costumes I designed. What pieces would come from where, what pieces could be built, how long each would take, and how much it would all cost. In communication with my fellow designers, a budget was agreed upon for each area, and we began the build with a little less than four weeks to spare.

As an undergraduate assistant at the Bonstelle costume shop, I am obligated (and payed) to spend 12 to 15 hours a week in the shop, constructing costumes for various productions. As the current designer, I choose to be in the shop every afternoon and many nights, building, buying, and communicating about costumes. Scheduling fittings with actors, maintaining communication with the production team in weekly meetings about what I have spent, how far I have come with the build, and providing and receiving clarification about specific elements of the project. In the month of October, we attended 2 “designer runs”, rough put-togethers of the play in rehearsal meant to help achieve a stronger understanding of how the actors move and use the space.

Every day, classes. Every afternoon, build. Every night, coursework and communication. As a design student with an active assignment, I spent the first six weeks of classes completely ensconced in my craft. As a Designer working for Warriors, I had the opportunity to spend the first six weeks of my Junior year living design and technology from sun up to sun down, in a community of people doing the same.