When you see a play in a theatre, there are many more elements at work beyond the actors speaking their lines. A team of designers come together to combine their talents to create a production that looks, sounds and is staged impeccably. The four primary designers at work in any stage production are the set designer, costume designer, sound designer and lighting designer.
The set design is possibly the most important of the elements in the overall design for a play. This is because other elements, such as the lighting and costume designers, need to know the basic shape of the set design before they can do their work. The set designer and the costume designer work together with the director to create a unified look and design for the show. The set designer will create a plan that includes any building, furniture or rigging that needs to be included to create the total set. The work will then be carried out by a production manager and his team, with the set designer and the director supervising to make sure their vision is carried out accurately.
Set design is important for creating the environment in which the characters on stage will act, but the costume design can actually inform the characters themselves. When the audience sees a character dressed a certain way, they automatically make assumptions about the character such as whether she is rich, poor, good or evil. The costume designer designs the costumes that each actor wears, and helps supervise the making or purchasing of these costumes. The costume designer works with the director, the set designer and closely with the script itself to create looks that are appropriate for the period and characters, while fitting in with the overall vision for the design of the show.
In many smaller theatres, the lighting designer may also end up being the lighting operator. In any case, the lighting designer's job is to set the mood for the various scenes in the play through strategic use of light. The actors need to be seen, but the way an actor is lit, including the angles, colors and intensities, can greatly inform the feeling that the audience takes from a given scene. The lighting designer may also be responsible for certain other types of special effects or lighting, such as projections.
Much like a film, another atmospheric consideration in plays is the music and the sound effects. There is usually recorded music played underneath scene changes and often underneath the scenes themselves. Some plays also require many sound effects. Every phone that rings or car that drives by is the work of a sound designer. The sound designer may also be responsible for live music in plays where the music is not prerecorded. In that case, he would typically work in conjunction with a musical director or also hold that additional title himself.