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The Snow Queen: Set Design 101

Written by: Lilly Theater Intern, Kayla Brandt

From actors to costumes to props, there are so many factors that go into creating an authentic world on stage. To make the story believable, both the actors and the audience have to truly imagine that they have been transported to the world of the play, and one of the best ways to do that is by creating an awesome set! 

When it comes to building an elaborate set, it’s difficult to know where to start.  Here, we’ll show you a step-by-step behind the scenes look at the inspiration, creation, and implementation of the set of The Snow Queen, which opens in the Lilly Theater on Nov. 23. You might recognize this story, even though our characters don't include Elsa, Anna, or Olaf.

Before cutting any wood or sprinkling any snow on stage, the scenic designer, Jay Ganz (also the Senior 3D CAD [Computer Aided Design] Designer for the museum), was given script and directorial requirements: “The setting will need to provide for a quick flow of action and various areas for scenes to be played along with ample pathways for exits and entrances…(and) the structure allow for hidden special effects and lighting.” 

1. Inspiration 

After taking the requirements into consideration, a design concept was laid out on a document detailing setting, storyline requirements, and inspiration photos. 

The Snow Queen takes place in modern day Denmark where children can enjoy outdoor winter activities: “The set depicts a snowy bridge spanning a frozen waterfall that leads to a small skating pond along the stage front. These structures provide the ample playing spaces to create different scene locations on multiple levels with augmentation from lighting isolation and effects. This structure also allows the means to conceal special scenic units that can be revealed for incidental scenes.”

2. Creation 

After the design concept was laid out, Jay used Google Sketchup to create renders of the set. These renders gave Todd Norris (Director), Brent Winderlich (Theatre Manager), Santana Ross (Stage Manager), and the actors a visual aid to work with before building began. These renders included overall pictures of the set as well as detailed dimensions of each set piece.

3. Implementation 

Thanks to the detailed renders, Brent and the actors knew the exact measurements for each set piece when building began. Once the set pieces were built, Brent and the actors put them together and began painting. Different painting techniques were used to create the look of rock, wood, icicles, and snow. Karen Wade, a professional painter, was hired to create the more detailed work. Finally, certain areas of the set were covered with trees and batting, to look like a snowy forest. 

One of these photos is the computer design. The other is the set in real life. Can you tell which one is which? How many differences can you spot? 

Be transported to an enchanted winter this holiday season during The Snow Queen, running from Nov. 23–Dec. 30 on select days. Tickets are free with museum admission. Day-of tickets are available at the Lower Level Ticket Booth.

See you there!

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Categories: Theater
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