Drama GCSE
If you’re involved behind the scenes in your local theatre, chances are you’ll be required to help with designing and constructing the set at some point. Hiring them can be pricey, and more often than not small local venues just aren’t designed to accommodate the large and complicated sets that are available for lease.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to create your own solutions- whether it’s painting flats or using weighted curtains – that will transport your audience and actors just as effectively into the world you’re trying to portray on stage.

Designing the set

Working with the director and any other key members of the production team– such as the stage manager – you’ll establish the overall style and tone of the piece, and should be able to gauge how the set will look. A pantomime might require brightly painted, exaggerated scenery while for a musical concert a star cloth behind the performers might be all the decoration you need. Part of your job will be to decide what’s most suitable, but you’ll also have to work to a budget and strict timescales, so you’ll need to be sure that your plans can be worked around any limitations.

Then, with the rest of the set design team you’ll draw up a plan of the set, including measurements and the positions of any moving elements of the scenery. You’ll present this to the rest of the production team for feedback and once it’s approved you can get to work on the build.

Depending on the production you’re working on, you may be required to create a scale model of the set so that the director and cast can visualise what they’ll be working with when they block the scenes. You might even be asked to create rough versions of the set for use in rehearsals, particularly if the show will involve cast members moving parts of the scenery around on stage, as they’ll need to practise this beforehand.

Theatrical Scenery

If your venue regularly puts on shows and events, they might have a collection of stock scenery that can be used in multiple shows.
Before you blow any of the budget, take a look at what’s already available- it might be that you can simply repurpose the existing scenery.


Flats, as the name suggests, are flat boards which are positioned on stage to give the appearance of backgrounds or interiors (as well as to cover backstage areas such as the wings). They’re built in standard sizes (usually 8, 10 or 12 feet tall) to allow for easy storage and reuse, and are usually kept in the wings, ready to be rolled on stage during scene changes.

They can be painted and repainted depending on what you’re using them for, so if you do multiple productions each year, they’ll certainly prove a useful way to invest your budget and a handy piece to keep in your set loft.

Flats are also great if your venue doesn’t have a conventional stage with wings and a backstage area, like many school halls and community centres. You can create a temporary stage by positioning the flats as wings would be laid out, allowing performers to wait offstage without being seen. Using a curtain around the perimeter would also serve as a backstage area for costume changes and hiding props.

Stage Wagon

A stage wagon is a portable platform that can transport 3D scenery around the stage on casters. Usually, the scenery is built on top of the wagon, which is then simply run or flown into position during blackouts or behind curtains.

Stage wagons allow for really quick scene changes during performances and can be safely fixed so that they don’t move on stage (usually using brakes or wedges to lock the wagon in place). They can be built in a range of sizes to fit your particular venue, but if you’re tight on space backstage, storing them safely in the wings during performances can be a nightmare, so you might need to consider an alternative option.


Although most commonly theatre curtains are used for masking equipment or backstage areas of the stage, they can sometimes come in useful as pieces of scenery.

Backdrops, for example, are painted curtains usually hung at the back of the stage which can be painted intricately to indicate setting. They’re often used to create expansive outdoor scenes on an otherwise bare stage, or when used in conjunction with flats can create the background to more detailed interior scenes.

Similarly, although more minimalistic, cycloramas and star cloths can be used to signify certain backgrounds. Cycloramas (a large white curtain) can be lit to represent a dark or light sky, or have scenes projected onto them using lighting instruments like gobos, creating a simple but atmospheric effect on stage.

Star cloths hung at the back of the stage can also create mood and atmosphere, and are an especially popular way of signifying scenes that take place at night- particularly romantic ones. They’re also a popular choice for music concerts as they’re a simple yet effective way of decorating a performance with a variety of different acts and performers.

There are a number of ways to achieve really striking set design no matter what your venue or budget, it’s all about understanding the performance and making sure that your chosen solution is right for it. In many cases the set is the first thing the audience will see when those curtains open, so if you make sure that your scenery impresses from the very beginning, the whole production will become that much more believable and compelling.

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