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Stage Designs

Laura Thatcher on the illusion of theatre

Laura Thatcher

Almost everything an audience sees on stage is illusion, and the biggest and most expensive illusion of all is the scenery.

For hundreds of years painted cloths and even people have been flown on lengths of rope, and scenery has been pushed and turned by stage crew. Nowadays sets are moved by computer, and metal wires are used instead of rope, but the illusions and theatrical trickery involved are the same as those employed and created three hundred - even four hundred years ago by architects, engineers and set designers whose work is depicted in this selection of drawings.

From idea to design to stage


Is it cloth or wood?

Sections of scenery



Painting and dressing a set

Scenery in rehearsals

So you want to be a Stage Manager?


Up-stage: The area behind the performer and the furthest away from the audience

Down-stage: The area in front of the performer and closest to the audience

Stage-right: The right-hand side of the stage (the left as the audience sees it)

Stage-left: The left-hand side of the stage (the right as the audience sees it)

Fly Bar: The metal bar (like a scaffold pole) to which scenery and cloths are attached for flying above the stage

Flys or Fly Tower: The area above the stage where scenery, cloths and lanterns hang out of view of the audience

Grid: The roof area above the stage from which the pulleys of the flying system are supported

Lantern: A generic term for a theatrical light

Mark: Correct position onstage

Model: A scale (1:50) cardboard model that should look identical to the finished set with the correct colours, paintings and textures. It is used as a reference by all departments

Proscenium: The frame that stands between stage and auditorium

Rake: Sloping or ramped floor

Set: (noun) – the stage setting or scenery, (verb) – to place an object in the correct position eg. (is the table set down-stage?)

Stage Weight: A slotted cast iron weight

Struck: When a prop or piece of scenery is removed from the stage

Tech: Technical rehearsal

Treads: Stairs, staircase or steps

Reading list

Kate Poynton, Contacts: Stage, Television, Film and Radio, pub. The Spotlight, 21/10/2003 www.amazon.co.uk

Author's Biography

Laura Thatcher is a Stage Manager with English National Opera at the London Coliseum. She trained in stage management at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Unicorn Theatre, Almeida and Theatr Clwyd before joining ENO in 1990. Some productions at the ENO have included: Nixon in China, War and Peace, La Boheme, Rigoletto, Peter Grimes, Les Troyans, Falstaff, The Mikado, The Fairie Queen, Verdi Requiem and Morning to Midnight. Future plans include The Ring Cycle and Ernani.

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