National Shakespeare Youth Festival Guidelines: Design

How To… Design Sets and Costumes

Participants: 1 – 3 students

What you’ll need to present:

In-Schools Festival: Renderings for costumes for AT LEAST 5 separate characters; AND ground plans and front-perspective drawings showing your ideas for a set design. You can visit the Virtual Shakespeare Lab for examples of each.

National Festival: In addition to the above, students must provide fabric swatches for costumes, a SECOND drawing for each of the 5 characters, and a basic paper-model of the set design. You will also need to contribute to the Festival blog each week, so make sure you keep your entries up to date!

Keep in mind: When developing your ideas, imagine you are designing costumes and set for a real full-scale production with an endless budget! Students should justify how the design relates to the play and why this design has been chosen.

For more tips and info, click below!



1. Select one of Shakespeare’s plays and read the play.

2. Develop an overall design concept for the play. A play’s costume and set design needs to communicate information to the audience that will help them understand or enjoy the story. Decide on a particular period or aesthetic and research it. (For example, do you want your play to be set in Elizabethan England, Imperial Japan or modern Toronto?)

Costume: The costuming needs to tell the audience just by looking at the actor who their character is.  What is their status, their personality, and what role they are playing?

For example, if your first character is a king who is very strict, formal and uptight, then you will want to represent he is a king through the addition of a crown, robe and cloak.  Strict and uptight can be represented by having his costume entirely black and white with sharp, angular contours and patterns.

Set: With the chosen play, brainstorm what locations, structures, furniture, etc are needed to tell this story.

Many plays have more than one location, and it is the job of the set designer to find a way to easily and creatively move between each scene’s location onstage, whether it be through major set changes, minor adjustments to one consistent set, or even having each scene represented on different parts of the stage.

Now we have our must-have locations.  Let’s brainstorm ideas on how to present that location to the audience, so that they will know immediately where the scene is set.  For example, if the scene takes place in a kitchen, we know that including a small table, a sink, a stove, a fridge, even a microwave will clearly represent a “kitchen” to the audience.  Colour is equally important:  Will objects be true to their actual colour in the natural world?  Or will it represent the theme?  Maybe it communicates the story more to have it primarily red or blue, for example.  What if the entire set is black and white?

We have our locations; we have our furniture; now we need to put them on the stage.

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