Technical theatre design includes the manual mapping and implementing of lighting, sound and stage design. All of these must work together in order for a theatrical production to succeed. Read on to learn more about technical theatre design, potential careers and education programs.
In the world of theatre, an actor or actress needs to be seen, heard and placed into a world that is inviting to, but detached from, the viewing public. As a technical theatre designer, it will be your responsibility to create and draw the audience into these imaginary places and times. While some of your training may take place on the job, programs in technical theatre design can be found at both the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. Some general theatre programs may also be available online.
As a technical designer, you could pursue a career in theatre or a variety of other media, such as television, film or live performance. Potential job titles include lighting or scenic designer, model maker, production assistant and theatre production manager, to name a few. If you earn a terminal Master of Fine Arts degree in this field, you'll be able to teach these skills at the postsecondary level.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), model makers who work with metals and plastics were paid a median annual wage of $46,080 in May 2013. Professionals in the lowest 10th percentile earned $27,710, while those in the 90th percentile earned $71,380 that same year. Meanwhile, set and exhibit designers had a median annual income of $50,000 in May 2013. Designers in the lowest 10th percentile earned $23,790, and the 90th percentile earned $87,350. During the same period, the median salary for art, drama and music college professors was $62,830 a year (www.bls.gov).
Through an associate's degree program in technical theatre design, you can learn how to analyze a light plot and hang lighting equipment, operate technical sound and lighting boards, design a stage and use the correct tools to construct a set. You'll also become familiar with the responsibilities of each member of a production crew, as well as the safety guidelines associated with professional theatre work.
Bachelor's degree programs combine classroom instruction with hands-on work in school productions, which can help you understand how light, scenery and sound come together in a successful production. Expect studio art courses in drawing, as well as classes in design, color, architecture, speech and composition. Costume, lighting and scenic design may be reserved for more advanced courses within the undergraduate curriculum. Many schools also offer internships with professional theatre companies.
Master's degree programs in technical theatre design typically take three years to complete. Advantages of a graduate-level program can include the opportunity to pursue concentrated coursework, build a technical portfolio and participate in college and university productions. Depending on the program, your course load may cover topics in structural design, stage rigging, stage machinery physics and theatre production management. In addition to coursework, you may also have to complete an internship and write a thesis.