Design

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View a video introduction from Stephen Strawbridge, Michael Yeargan - Co-Chairs.
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Rasean Davonte Johnson ’16, Projection Design
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Montana Levi Blanco ’15, Costume Design
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Mariana Sanchez Hernandez, ’15, Scenic Design
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Nina Hyun Seung Lee ’12, Lighting Design
Design

Stephen Strawbridge, Michael Yeargan, 
 Co-Chairs

M.F.A. and Certificate

The purpose of the Design department is to develop theatre artists who are masterful designers in set, costume, lighting, projection, and sound for the theatre. The department encourages students to discover their own processes 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 theatre activities.

In the belief that theatre is a collaborative art, it is hoped that, through their Yale 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.

Theatre 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, to keep their drawing skills honed, all design students are required to take a weekly life drawing class offered by the department.

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 theatre 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, personal 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. It is understood that students of visual design will study set, costume, lighting, and projection design in all three years. There are certain exceptions. For example, projection designers can substitute sound design for one of the other visual design disciplines. The culmination of this training is the Master Class in Design for the Stage, taken by all visual design students in their third year, in which a number of unified projects and a thesis project are presented to the combined faculty in the course of two terms.

It is recognized that some students are stronger in some areas than in others, and allowances are made for this fact in production assignments. For the first year, and to a limited extent in the second year, students may be assigned to assist a designer without regard to such strengths. When assignments are made as principal designer of one aspect of a production, chiefly in the second and third years, such an assignment usually reflects the student's strengths and career aspirations.

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 theatre. 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 practioners learn to deliver this new media within the larger context of theatrical storytelling.  It is the goal of the program to teach each the use of these powerful tools of media and animation to enhance the live experience.  Study and projects in all the other design concentrations - sets, lights, costume, and sound - along with the practice of projection design, encourage the creation of total theatre artists.

The question of 'why projection" is a constant heartbeat of the program. Not all theatrical production can or should support projecton. Rigorous exploration of the place and potential of projection media, including the study of its historical usage, assists all potential designers to create relevant work.

The program requires a great deal of hard work.  Study and projects in all departments require excellent time management, and both digital and hand skills.  The student is required to build set models and create lighting sketches along with projects in media design.  Having good hand-drawing skills is very helpful. To help maintain and develop the capacity for drawing, a weekly figure-drawing class is required for all students.  Classes in digital skills and animation are offered as well.

The program includes script analysis, dramaturgy, and the essential collaborative skill, listening. There are opportunitites 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 opportunitites to create as well as to assist are abundant.

In addition to course work and production assignments, there is the opportunity to create an installation in collaboration with the sound and directing programs as well as an assignment with the playwriting program and the Yale College music program and dance division.

Preparing a SET Design Portfolio

No video or other digital imagery will be accepted as part of a set design applicant's portfolio. All such materials will not be reviewed.

A portfolio should only be mailed to the Design Department if the set design applicant cannot schedule an in-person interview in New Haven. Every piece in the portfolio must be marked with the applicant's name, the name of the play, the date of creation, and whether it was realized in production. If the portfolio needs to be returned, a $20 handling fee must be included in the portfolio to cover the return shipping unless the applicant retrieves it in person. Portfolios are returned after the review process is completed. Please refer to Design Admissions Guidelines for specific information regarding scheduling an interview.

The portfolio is not an advertisement and should not be "dressed up" to "sell" oneself. Please avoid large mats, acetate covers, superfluous graphics, and other forms of "eyewash." Such dressing does not make up for weak drawing and design.

Although the Design department expects students to take courses in all visual design disciplines — set, costume, lighting, and projection — it is not expected that the applicant's portfolio will be balanced equally among them. A set designer's portfolio should be mainly set designs, but it is essential that some work be included which shows that the applicant understands the other areas of design. The portfolio should convey information about the applicant's ability to express him or herself visually, and how he or she reacts to musical and dramatic materials. It should include a broad spectrum of work from the last several years. If in doubt about a particular item, include it, as an applicant often unwittingly leaves out valuable work. It should also include, if possible, rough preliminary sketches (not computer generated) and sketchbooks, as they show an applicant's thought process and design journey. Production photos must be accompanied by sketches (originals preferred). A limited amount of non-theatrical work such as graphics or painting (not oils) may be included. Photos of scene painting which the applicant has done, or props, masks, or similar items the applicant has built, may be included.

If possible, include a few examples of drafting. Ground plans should accompany each set sketch where possible. Technical (rear) views of scenery are not as useful.

PREPARING A Lighting Design Portfolio

No video or digital imagery will be accepted as part of a lighting design applicant's portfolio. All such materials will not be reviewed.

A portfolio should only be mailed to the Design department if the lighting design applicant cannot schedule an in-person interview in New Haven. Every piece in the portfolio must be marked with the applicant's name, the name of the play, the date of creation, and whether it was realized in production. If the portfolio needs to be returned, a $20 handling fee must be included in the portfolio to cover the return shipping unless the applicant retrieves it in person. Portfolios are returned after the review process is completed. Please refer to Design Admissions Guidelines for specific information regarding scheduling an interview.

The portfolio is not an advertisement and should not be "dressed up" to "sell" oneself. Please avoid mats, acetate covers, superfluous graphics, and other forms of "eyewash." Binders are discouraged. Plots and paperwork should be printed full scale and folded if necessary.

Although the Design department expects students to take courses in all visual design disciplines—set, costume, lighting, and projection—it is not expected that the applicant's portfolio will be balanced equally among them. A lighting designer's portfolio should be mainly lighting designs, but it is essential that some work be included which shows the applicant understands the other areas of design. Applicants to the lighting design program are encouraged to include sketches and drawings, especially figure drawing.

The lighting designer’s portfolio must contain four or five full light plots showing a range of experience. Half-inch scale is preferred. Each plot should be accompanied by a lighting section and all paperwork (except cue sheets): hook-up, instrument schedule, and magic sheet(s). Plots sent without hook-up and magic sheet are not considered. Photos of the set under full light are encouraged as are any documents that help convey the physical production (set ground plan and section). Photos of cues can be submitted as well. Remember that photographs say more about the photographer than the lighting design or lighting designer. Highly selective pictures often fail to give a sense of the overall approach.

PREPARING A COSTUME DESIGN PORTFOLIO

Digital Portfolio

The Committee prefers the submission of a digital portfolio through the online application process.

  • Upload files: each no larger than 16MB in either jpeg, png, bmap or tiff. Large groups of images can be combined into a PDG and submitted as one document.
  • Label each file with a title and a brief description of the work
  • Include costume sketches, photographs of productions, key research images, and examples of life drawing
  • Scans of pages from a sketchbook are acceptable.
  • May include images of fine art or craft that the applicant has created to give the Committee a better sense of the applicant’s being a fully round artist
  • Must include costume design for a classical play (i.e., Shakespeare or Chekhov); if unable to submit a classical play design, design a theoretical project for submission

Costume design applicants who are invited to interview after the Committee's review, or who are unable to submit a digital portfolio through the online application process, should adhere to the following requirements.

The portfolio is not an advertisement and should not be "dressed up" to "sell" oneself. Please avoid large mats, acetate covers, superfluous graphics, and other forms of "eyewash." Such dressing does not make up for weak drawing and design.

Although the Design department expects students to take courses in all visual design disciplines — set, costume, lighting, and projection — it is not expected that the applicant's portfolio will be balanced equally among them. A costume designer’s portfolio should be mainly costume design, but it is essential that some work be included which shows the applicant understands the other areas of design. The portfolio should convey information about the applicant’s ability to express him or herself visually, and how he or she reacts to musical and dramatic materials.  It should include a broad spectrum of work from the last several years.  If in doubt about a particular item, include it, as an applicant often unwittingly leaves out valuable work. The portfolio should also include, if possible, rough preliminary sketches (not computer generated) and sketchbooks, as they show an applicant's thought process and design journey. Production photos must be accompanied by sketches (originals preferred). A limited amount of non-theatrical work such as graphics or painting may be included. Costume sketches should be swatched wherever possible. Pattern drafting may be included.

Photos of scene painting, which the applicant has executed, or props, masks, or similar items the applicant has built, may also be included. 

Preparing a Projection Design Portfolio  

Applicants to projection design should submit file format portfolios electronically through the online application, and also mail the portfolio to: Wendall K. Harrington, Design Department, PO Box 208244, New Haven CT. The portfolio submission interface allows applicants to label each file with a title, a date of completion, the materials used, and a brief description of the work. Digital files must adhere strictly to the specifications outlined here. Applicants may upload a total of 15 media files (in acceptable formats) that represent their work in three portfolio projects/productions/examples. Any balance or mix of media files is acceptable. Additionally, applicants may upload up to three digital media files that may not be part of the three primary portfolio projects. A significant number of the files should represent work done within the last twelve- eighteen months. To conform to the viewing format, each still image file may be no larger than 16 MB. Applicants should not format images in any presentation program (e.g., PowerPoint, Keynote), or include composite images (more than one work per file). Still image files may be sent in jpeg, png, bmp, or tiff format. File format for videos and moving images (videos) are accepted in QuickTime, AVI, or MP4, format. Video files should be no longer than five minutes in length, and the size of video uploads is limited to 265 MB. Do not include titles or credits within the video files. Applicants may post the video to YouTube and provide the link in the portfolio section of the application. This will embed the video in the application for later review. If the video is removed from YouTube or marked as “private,” it will not be viewable by the admissions committee.


The Design department’s three-year plan of study and detailed course descriptions appear in the Bulletin of Yale School of Drama.  Click here for the Bulletin.


Photo Credit: Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Tonya Pinkins (foreground) in War by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Yale Repertory Theatre, 2014.