Talking Tech: Scenic behind the scenes

By Sara Cruz


Set design for Nice Nails

How does the set of a production comes to life? Is there a “Sets ‘R’ Us” store out there that directors can order whatever they want? Not that we’d need it, as our sets are designed and built by a very talented and dedicated group of people. A couple weeks ago we learned about the job of a Technical Director, so today we will dive into some of the work done by the scenic designer and scenic charge artist.

Chris Mueller, Scenic Designer

The scenic designer is responsible for creating the world that the play will inhabit. It can involve the stage only, but it can also extend to the house or even the lobby depending on how immersive the designer wants it to feel.

Christopher Mueller is the scenic designer and scenic charge artist for our current play Nice Nails, and he shared with us some of the process of creating the set for this new production. The first step is to read the script and get an idea of where it takes place: a house, a building, a city, whatever it is and at this point you need to talk to the director.

“You don’t want to get too far into the process without checking with the director in case they were planning on having the play happen in space or something completely different from what you were imagining”, says Mueller.

Creating the salon’s

After talking to the director, it’s a good idea to read the script one more time and think of how to further all these ideas in sketches and ground plans. As the ideas progress, the designer keeps checking with the director and the rest of the scenic design team. Eventually the final ground plan has to be approved then the scenic designer works together with the technical director to implement, budget, and create a timeline.

What is a scenic charge artist? Basically, it is the person who paints the set. The designer at some point gives paint elevations to the charge artist, which show every single visible side of the set unit and describes the texture (wood, marble, tile, stone, wallpaper, etc.) for every visible surface. Most of the time scenic design and painting the set is done by two different people, however there are some instances that technical direction, scenic design, and painting are done by the same person.


The linoleum floor looking legit with lighting in a scene from Nice Nails.

“Personally I prefer working with many people instead of being in charge of everything, when working with more people you can get a better level of detail and get a variety of opinions that can enhance the experience, and theatre is all about collaboration.”

Mueller is an MFA in Scenic Design at Indiana University, he has a BFA in Scenic Design, Technical Direction and a minor in Interior Design from University of Idaho, but he says his interest in theatre and scenic design began much earlier!

“I started being interested in set design in elementary school. When everyone was at recess, I was in the library. They would put up plays there and I was fascinated by it. I would go in whether I was the lead character or using the cardboard boxes and markers to create the set.”

Before starting his masters at IU, he worked in various theatre companies around the country. He was the Resident Assistant Scenic Designer for Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina, and also worked for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Theatre West, and Idaho Repertoire Theatre. Chris enjoys his work as a designer but in the future also would like to pursue a carrier teaching at a collegiate level.

Check out his website here.

Nice Nails, a new play by MFA playwright Aaron Ricciardi is currently on stage and it runs through April 7th in the Wells-Metz Theatre at Indiana University.

About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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