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Teaching or directing tips Costumes and Props

Inspiring Design

This page is about the initial inspiration for Set design, Makeup design, Costume design, and Marketing design. When doing searches (see below) simply change one of the keywords to “set” or “makeup” or “costume” or “marketing”, or some derivation of one of those.

NOTE: This page is continuously evolving – all the resources listed below are free to use. They have been given to me by other educators for you to use. SO – paying it forward – if you have something you would like to share, PLEASE send it my way so I can add it to this resource page.

As with all design work, the first place to start is with inspiration! There are SO MANY places to get inspiration from, both online and in person. Remember, our job is to help “TELL THE STORY” to the audience. So, what your set looks like, the colors of your costumes, the makeup on your actors, the type of art in your posters, the props your characters use, all help “TELL THE STORY“. So, having a better understanding of your characters, locations, the when and the wheres of your story, will help you create a visual perception of emotions for your audience to see and feel!

Step 1: Identify the main components you want to get inspired about:

  • Location(s) – where do you plan on setting this play? Rome? The Beach? Intersteller?
  • Period – when do you plan on setting this play? Past, present, or future?
    • Period of the year – Winter? Summer? Rainy? Sunny?
  • Theme – Is there a specific look and feel you want to base the play around? (skip this if you want to be more open-minded to possibilities from the previous 2 bullet points)
  • OTHER: Textures and colors – both of these help engage the audience. Here’s a Google definition for colors and theatre: “Color can be a powerful tool in theatrical design to tell a story and enhance the mood. Different colors can evoke different emotions and create distinct settings. For example, red can convey passion, warmth, or violence, while blue can evoke sadness or the sky. Colors can also be used to reinforce depth and reveal form, such as by using different colors to create shadows on faces and scenery.”

Step 2: Inspiration

  • FIRST – Read the play. If you can, read the book the play is about. Read it out loud with your class or friends. Read other versions. Watch other versions. Try to do this more than once, as the more you are invested in the story, the more ideas will begin flow in your mind.
  • Online image search. See the keyword search ideas below. (tip: typically there will be suggestions to help filter your idea – maybe follow some of those as well)
    • Start with just your play:
      • Tempest
      • Dracula
      • Edgar Allan Poe, etc
    • Dive deeper: type your play and choose a subject from Step 1 above:
      • Hamlet – Day of the Dead
      • Midsummer Night’s Dream – 1950’s
      • Frankenstein – steampunk
      • Alice in Wonderland – underwater
      • Sherlock – Scotland
  • Pinterest is great! Check out this Pinterest Board! Go to the “saved” pins and have fun exploring! (Jerry Murray (@JerryMurray2) has curated quite the cornucopia of inspiration) Give him a thumbs up if you like his pins, I sure do!
  • Local Art Museum (get out and about – fresh air is good for the mind and soul!)

After a while, your head will be flowing with ideas. Now…

NOTES & SKETCH – jot down and sketch anything that comes to mind from all the inspirational seeds you have planted. Sketching is something that can be done anywhere along the process above. However, if you haven’t sketched yet, you get to start now! Remember, at this point, this is all about dreaming big! Let your imagination and ideas flow! SEE MORE DESIGN CONCEPT SKETCHES BELOW.

Annie Set Design sketch
  • Inspiration Collage
  • Makeup face template – This template is the exact same from your design challenge handbook
  • Stage set drawings – this can be done via hand sketch, or you can use programs such as Canva or Procreate
  • Set Designs
    • Lego Lesson Plan! Here’s a great sheet to get you and your kids started with making Lego Set Designs (thanks again, Roy!) – GREAT PHOTOS BELOW!
  • Costume template
    • Harry Potter UK has done a great job giving a basic outline of costume design – perfect for the beginner! Check it out here!
    • Here’s an exercise sheet to give you an idea of identifying your costumes for your play: Costume Plot Exercise Sheet (with great thanks to: Leslie Jo Bissett!). Run through this simple sheet, then do the same for your play. This will be a great jumping off point for creating ideas for your costumes.
    • Costume Plot Sheet – here’s a basic simple template to use and modify.

Have open discussions in class about the sketches – remember, only positives, no pulling people down if their drawings are not what others like.


Thoroughly Modern Millie set design concept
Little Mermaid set design concept
King and I set design concept
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By brendan kelso

Brendan is the main creative source and author behind Playing With Plays and the infamous Shakespeare for Kids series. You can typically find him inventing by day, playing with his family by night, and writing by very late night.

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