Design Ideas for a Train Station Stage Prop

By Betty Jean Steinshouer
Business man and woman talking as a train arrives at the platform.

"All it takes to make a drama is one passion and four walls," novelist Willa Cather said. But in the world of theater, the fourth wall is removed, letting the audience see inside a room or building or scene. The set design shows where the action will take place. It can be indoors or outside, depending on the imagination of the designer, working closely with the director and governed by the budget of the producer.

The Geography of Design

The clock at New York's Grand Central Station is a famous landmark that immediately denotes place.

If your design must include a geographic location as part of the play or story line, have fun with finding creative ways to let your audience know where your production is taking place. Geography-specific stage props for train stations may include distinctive city skylines, famous railway stations or railroads, or unmistakable landmarks such as clocks, statues and fountains. Just a simple station marker can evoke a sense of place in the audience, whether of having arrived, waiting for someone else to arrive or boarding a lonely train in the night.

Railroad Props

The light from a certain angle in a train station may be all a play needs for suspense.

To get design ideas for a train station stage prop, study real train stations for architectural detail. Notice how they are lit, especially at night. Incorporate that atmosphere and detail into your props. Create a waiting area, a ticket counter, a small cafe in or near the station -- all places where important scenes might take place. Look for moments in your script that could be effectively staged in a train-inspired setting. Characters look more furtive, somehow, when they are in a railway depot, waiting for something to happen.

Mixed Media

A projected image of a train, still or moving, can be part of a stage design.

Modern technology makes it possible to incorporate design ideas into stage settings using not just canvas-and-wood props. Through the mixed media of sound, still images and video, a train station can be created without building a single prop. Theaters use this technique to convey flashbacks in memory, dream sequences and futuristic fantasies. It can certainly be used to create a train journey, as well, whether in silent images or loud, jolting combinations of movement and sound.

Sound Design

The shuffling sound of the destination board can serve as a train station prop.

A stage set involving props for a train station must include sound as part of the design. What is a train without a whistle or the chugga-chugga sound of the wheels? Sound effects can easily become part of the tech design and include not only the train approaching, stopping, passing or leaving, but also the interior noise of the station. What train traveler has not been thrilled to hear the announcement of a certain destination or the arrival of a train bearing a loved one from afar?

About the Author

Betty Jean Steinshouer started writing professionally in 1980 with a weekly column in her hometown newspaper. She is published in literary textbooks and has penned articles and book reviews for magazines and newspapers. Certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, she has degrees in speech communication and English literature.