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Schools for Stage Set Design

by Dr. Kelly S. Meier

If you are creative, love design work and are interested in working behind the scenes on performing arts productions, being a set designer may be an ideal job to consider. Being a set designer requires working with a team to help the story come alive through the imaginative and artistic use of everyday materials. Specialized pre-college, undergraduate and graduate programs are available at colleges and universities across the country. The combination of academic curriculum and experiential learning on production sets will prepare you to seek a professional position in theater, film or television.

Wright State University

Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater design and technology. Students spend four years learning from faculty who teach and work professionally in set design. Classes include scenery technology, drawing, costume and lighting design. Students can specialize in design or technology and will experience a mix of in-class and onstage learning opportunities. Admission is based upon being accepted to the university, but students must present a portfolio and interview with faculty at the end of their first year to remain in the program. Professional internships are available at local theater companies.

Tisch Design for Stage and Film

If you are interested in studying in New York City, Tisch Design for Stage and Film offers a graduate program focused on design for theater, film and television. This three-year program allows students to focus on set, film or lighting design. Coursework includes dramaturgy, project management, 2D/3D techniques and production. Students apply their learning to in-house productions to deepen their educational experience. The admission process includes an interview, portfolio and graduate application.

Johnny Carson School of Theater

The Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln houses a graduate program for students interested in scenery, lighting design or technical production. This three-year program emphasizes the use of technology and interactive design for television and film. Students work with advisers to select courses that address a particular interest or specialization. A bachelor’s degree and evidence of previous experience along with a resume and professional references are required for admission. A limited number of assistantships and fellowships are available to defray the cost of attendance.

Emerson College

If you are considering a career in set design but are interested in learning more about the profession, Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, offers a pre-college program for high school juniors and seniors. This five-week program highlights design elements such as lighting, costuming, construction and scenery. Students will also learn how to develop a portfolio that can be used for the college admission process. The program culminates with a public presentation allowing students to showcase their accomplishments throughout the program. Admission to this residential program is based upon a written statement of purpose, letters of reference and your resume.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly S. Meier is a professor and college administrator for a large public institution in Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University and her master's degree and doctorate from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published more than 15 books on education, group development and diversity.

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