Stage Design

The stage design that never happened

Sometimes no matter our efforts, the best of intentions for stage designs just do not come together. This is the story of the journey of a stage design that ended up being mercilessly cut — after about 20 hours of work on the design alone! Here is a step-by-step list of how to develop a doomed stage design. Just in case anyone wants to put in a ton of work and then toss it out the window. 🙂 (And also a way to see how ridiculously meticulously tunnel-vision I can be until I come up for air and realize the idea is not realistic.)

November, 2013 —

Step 1: Discuss the sermon theme with the pastor. Our Creative Team learned about what the December theme was going to be. It was going to be called “Journey of the Magi” and each week the theme lent to a symbol that represented the message.

Step 2: Think of ways to represent the theme. I thought, why not make a literal symbol that would be added to the stage each week?

Step 3: Draw sketches of the design. I had in my mind what I wanted to do so I actually skipped this step. I “drew” it in my mind. 🙂

Step 4: Do research. I scoured Google for ideas, inspiration and reference photos.

Step 5: Draw the design. Using Illustrator, I drew up the artwork for each of the symbols and mocked up the stage design. The idea was to do a paper relief artwork that would have the shapes at various depths to create shadows. Each week a new symbol would be added. The rest of the set would have an LED star curtain, sheers on the side and Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling.

january stage


Step 6: Research paper sources. I was planning to buy large sheets of colored paper, cut them to size, and then glue them to plywood and use foam core to create space between the sheets. I looked into lots of places and discovered that, actually, no one makes large enough colored paper! Time to figure out how to cut and tape pieces together!

Step 6: Number each shape. The artwork was fairly large so I knew that I had to plan out how each of those pieces was being cut out. I assigned a unique number to each shape.

Step 7: Lay out shapes into a cutting template. I separated out each of those little pieces and grouped them on rectangles that were to scale for the size of the paper available. My document looked something like this.


 Step 8: Change the colors and make a new lay out. The colors looked a bit dull, so I thought it was time to brighten them up. But this meant different paper, different sizes, different layout — and each piece needed to be moved individually by hand. (Notice how the rectangles are smaller than the ones in Step 7.)



Step 8: Make a startling discovery and start all over again. I was so excited I could finally order the paper. Bad news. I went to the website and discovered there was a minimum order of 40 sheets per color. This meant that what was supposed to be a $150 project was now going to cost $800+, way too much for our budget to handle. Back to the drawing board.

Now I had to find other papers and make a new layout, this time with two different sizes of paper. Even I thought this was getting to be a bit crazy!!!



Step 9: Make another discovery and start over again. But, oh no! Some colors did not work or were not available. Time to try other papers, which came in different sizes.



Step 10: Repeat ad nauseum. By now I don’t even remember what it was… paper not available, paper was the wrong size, color not available, blah blah blah. In the end, I had to make another layout for — ta da! The final layout. And now we were ready to order the paper!


Step 11: Do what you should actually do in the beginning — figure out the logistics! After spending about almost 20 hours so far, I felt very tired. I also realized that we had a couple challenges:

  1. We had to finish the entire stage design in 2.5 days because Thanksgiving Eve service was Wednesday night.
  2. I discovered one of my key volunteers was not available.
  3. The amount of time to cut and glue all these pictures, not to mention to hang them, was incalculable.

We realized that it was so much work that we scrapped the entire thing. Bang head on table and break down sobbing.

Step 12: Go a totally different direction. I thought, how about just printing the artwork on banners and hanging it?


Step 13: Go another direction. How about taking the star idea and just making a big star? It looked something like this.


Step 13: Scrap the new idea. I was not crazy about this idea. It had a New Age vibe to it. So we threw out the star idea and decided to use the star curtain in back, the sheers on either side, and Christmas lights.

In the end the final stage design was way better than any of these on this page. But — so much prayer, blood, sweat, tears and agony in this process! I was ready for a vacation!

I don’t regret making the decision to scrap the idea though. Part of what makes good design is knowing when an idea is not good to implement. I think this project was a good reflection of the life of a creative though… the creative process is one of trying directions and the end result never shows a clue of all the rabbit trails that happened before getting there!

And our final design had a star, after all!

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