New Victory Arts Break – Theater Sets and Costumes Week

Welcome to Week 12 of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

It looks like the circus has packed up and left town—until next time! Now let’s turn our attention inward and imagine new worlds of our own making. What will inspire them? What will they look like? And what will you wear?! This week, we train our theatermaking spotlight on set and costume design.

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Discover Your Vision

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 6-12

Behind every show there is a team of designers. These artists bring the world of the show to life on stage. Set designers visualize and realize the show’s set—everything from backdrops to furniture to large structural set pieces. Similarly, costume designers design or customize every piece of clothing that the actors wear on stage, including duplicates for understudies! All the designers working together with the director make up the creative team, and you’ll usually find them listed in the show program just as prominently as the performers.


Long before rehearsals begin, the creative team spends time developing the world that the performers will inhabit onstage. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the design process for Windmill Theater Co.’s Baba Yaga. Our friends at Windmill are the creative force behind such shows as Grug and the Rainbow (New Victory 2017) and Pinnochio (New Victory 2015). You may also recognize designer Shona Reppe from her puppet shows Potato Needs a Bath (New Victory 2011) and Cinderella (New Victory 2009), and Christine Johnson from Cre8ion’s Fluff (New Victory 2014). In the video, notice how many different art forms the designers discuss.

Did you notice the collage on the wall at 1:20? That’s what’s called a mood board. Every designer has an aesthetic—an artistic point of view that leads them toward their eventual designs—and many designers use mood boards to collect sources of inspiration for their designs. Take a closer look at this example from Cirque Mechanics’ 42FT – A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels (New Victory 2019), full of researched photographs of 1930s-era circus:

42FT Mood Board

Before you dive into a week of designing, create a mood board that defines your aesthetic!

Materials: Scissors, magazines, newspapers or photos, glue or tape, cardstock or poster board, markers, stickers, trinkets and keepsakes, paper

Step One: Think about your personal style and the things that make you you. Think about:

  • Your favorite colors
  • Your favorite music
  • Your favorite flavors
  • Your values—the rules you live by and the things that are important to you
  • Three words that best describe your personality
  • Anything that makes you feel the most like YOU.

Step Two: With all those facets of yourself in mind, imagine you are putting on a show about your own life and need inspiration for the design. Look through the magazines and newspapers while thinking about your style. Try flipping through and noticing what words or images you immediately gravitate towards. Cut out all the words, photographs and drawings that make you think, “Oh yeah… that is so me!”

Step Three: Arrange these clippings on your cardstock or poster board anyway you’d like—get creative! Once you’re happy with the collage layout, glue everything in place. Then step back and admire your work.

A Mood Board

BONUS: Do you have any small trinkets or keepsakes that represent who you are as an artist, like meaningful ribbons, stamps, shells or buttons? Pin or glue them to your collage to make your mood board 3D!

We’re excited to see your mood board. Share it with us on Instagram by tagging @newvictorytheater!

Interested in what this process is like for an individual designer? Check out this video from the Royal Opera House in London, featuring set and costume designer Madeleine Boyd discussing her research and design process.

21st-century Mood Board

Nowadays, designers can do much of their visual research online, and various digital tools make it easy to collect and catalogue their inspirations. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Alberto Denis as he demonstrates how to create a digital mood board.

Whether you make your mood board the old fashioned way or using an app like Collage Maker, it’s all in service of a story. As you gear up for the rest of this week’s activities, think about some of the stories you might like to tell and where or when they might take place. Can you create a mood board that captures your aesthetic vision for the story? It could be…

  • A futuristic underwater adventure
  • A nighttime journey across a desert
  • Your own spin on a favorite fairy tale

Think back on the mood board you made for your own personal style. How can you use your own personal aesthetic to make your designs for another story stand out?

If you had to create a set for your dream home, what would it look like?

Joel Lloyd

If I had to create a set for my dream home, I’d want every element of the house to be matching in some way. My default aesthetic consists of lots of gray and white, along with symmetrical elements for my interior designs; I prefer when everything is neat and tidy. – Joel Lloyd, first-year New Victory Usher


Looking for Stories: Costume

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 6 – 13

A scent, a sound, a place—so many things can send you on a journey of nostalgia. Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting (New Victory 2019), which explored the mind of a man living with early onset dementia, specifically showed how clothing can activate memory.

Clothes tell a story, and a costume designer can use clothing to show the personality and personal history of a character. In this activity, inspired by The Nature of Forgetting, have a conversation about your clothing as you prepare to design and create costumes of your own.

Step One: Pick one item of clothing you are currently wearing.

Step Two: Pick a few of these prompts. Share any memories you have associated with the chosen piece of clothing.

  • Has this piece of clothing gone on life adventures with you? What is the most exciting place you have worn it?
  • Is there a specific memory that you associate with this piece of clothing?
  • Is there a small stain or snag in the fabric? How did you get it?
  • When did you receive or purchase this article of clothing? Where were you? Why did you buy it or receive it?

Step Three: Switch! It is someone else’s turn. The next person can use the same prompts to inspire their stories.

BONUS: Is there something about how the person you are with dresses or puts themselves together that only reminds you of them? Maybe a scent, a specific color, or style? Tell them about it!

Clothes can reveal character in deep and unexpected ways. Take a look at this behind-the-scenes video from Disney’s Mary Poppins, in which various members of the cast, creative and production teams talk about Bob Crowley’s Tony-nominated costumes and all the storytelling sewn into them.

Now let’s turn this theory of costuming inside out! Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Jamie Roach as he leads his own costume parade, discovering characters within costume elements that he finds around the house.

Let us know when you lead your own costume parade—we want to cheer you on from the digital sidelines! Tag us @newvictorytheater in your photos or videos and we’ll feature your funky outfits in our Instagram story.

Stock Character Charades

How well do your costume designs really communicate the personality you’re aiming for? Practice finding imaginative ways to show character through costume in a game of charades! Stock characters, or character archetypes, are character types that come up often in stories. See what costume pieces you can find to portray these character archetypes!

Step One: Read over the list of stock characters below:

  • A hero
  • A villain
  • A prince or princess
  • A business person
  • A jokester
  • A cool person
  • A pirate
  • A wizard or witch
  • An artist
  • An athlete

Add any other stock characters you can think of.

Step Two: Head to your closet (or your costume box, if you have one) and pluck out some items that might work for some of these characters.

Step Three: Quick change time! Have someone in your family shout out stock characters at random. You have 30 seconds to quickly change into the outfit that best represents this character! When the 30 seconds is up, hit a pose that really brings that character to life!

How would you design a costume for your fellow ushers that reflected their best qualities?

Amy Castanos

The costume I would create for the ushers would include shoes with wings, because ushers can get to any place and any person within a matter of seconds; pants with multiple pockets because whatever you need, we have; a cape that says “usher” so that, if you need an usher, you can spot one quickly; and a shirt with their name on the front that says “Ask me anything!” – Amy Castanos, second-year New Victory Usher


Looking for Stories: Set Design

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

Yesterday, we explored our homes for costume inspiration. Let’s explore our homes again today, but this time with set design in mind. Of course, we don’t all have room for a full proscenium stage in our homes, but we can think minimalistically to create larger than life worlds! Take Théâtre du Phare’s Oh Boy! (New Victory 2017), a one-man show that told an expansive story of many characters, times and places, all with only a few key set pieces: mainly, a wardrobe.

Inspired by the creative and spartan set design of Oh Boy!, let’s play a game called “Three Piece Set” to help us discover all the different worlds we can create with items around the house.

Step One: Pick three items in your home that you can move around and use in your set design. Try to vary them so they’re not all specific to one room, style or material. Items that work well might be chairs (that you’re allowed to move around!), sheets, cardboard boxes, or sturdy lamps.

Step Two: Move your items into a room where you have a bit of space to play. With your family, write out titles to a bunch of different stories you know on pieces of scrap paper and put them in a bowl, charades-style.

Step Three: One at a time, have a member of your family pick a story out of the hat. Have someone else set a timer for one minute. You’ll have one minute to arrange the three items you chose to create a set for that story! Once the minute is up, strike a pose somewhere within your set that might resemble the opening scene of your play. See if your family members can guess what set you have designed!

Step Four: Keep taking turns with different family members designing their sets!

BONUS: Once you build your set, can you direct every member of your family to hit a pose somewhere that makes that story come to life?

Here’s an example from Director of Education / Public Engagement Lindsey Buller Maliekel of her family playing “Three Piece Set” (although their version might technically be called “Five Piece Set”). They went the extra mile and taped out a stage space on the floor to arrange all their set pieces in.

We’ve tried minimalism. Now let’s try miniatures! Building proper sets usually requires lots of… well, building. And space! Not so with miniatures. Grab a flashlight and follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Sam Jay Gold to learn how to create tremendous environments using tabletop objects, paper and the magic of light and shadow.

In love with miniatures but itching to incorporate larger items too? Notice how the artists of PigPen Theatre Co. used moments of miniature and shadow play as just one method of world-building in The Old Man and the Old Moon (New Victory 2014). Can you think of ways to incorporate moments of miniature shadow storytelling into a life-sized story, perhaps within one of the sets you arranged during “Three Piece Set”?

What set from a show on the New Victory stage has been your favorite?

Catherine Bodarenko

One of my favorite sets is from CARTOGRAPHY. Each set was unique and delivered many messages about the difficulties of immigration. The way the sets were maneuvered from one to the next and the particular objects used piqued my interest as an audience member. – Catherine Bodarenko, first-year New Victory Usher

CARTOGRAPHY (New Victory 2020)
from Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers
Photo: elmanstudio


Plenty of Possibilities

35 – 40 minutes, Ages 6 – 13

Your options as a designer are endless. Even with a well-trod tale, you can wrap your play up in any style you’d like! As long as your designs feel true to your artistic vision, and you can defend the reasons for your choices, you’re in good shape. Take the story of Hansel and Gretel—it has been rewritten and reinterpreted by countless artists. These previews of three different Hansel and Gretel productions showcase a variety of unique design choices.

Catherine Wheels Theatre Company’s promenade production of Hansel and Gretel (New Victory 2009):

Abbey Theater, Irish National Opera and Theatre Lovett’s 2020 production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Greta opera:

Welsh National Opera’s 2015 production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Greta opera:

  • What did you notice about these three productions?
  • What was similar among them? What was totally different?
  • Which productions felt like the Hansel and Gretel story you know?
  • Did any versions feel like a totally different story? What do you think these designers were thinking about or focused on when making these choices?

Modification for older kids: Take a look at the costume design sketches from the Acting Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (New Victory 2017) below. Need a refresher on the story of Julius Caesar? Here’s a scene-by-scene summary from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

One of the reasons Shakespeare’s plays are produced so often is because of the freedom directors and designers have to reinvent classic, well-known scripts. Notice how costume designers Jennifer Moeller and Christopher Metzger chose to dress the actors and consider how you would design your own version of Julius Caesar.

Step One: Look over select costume sketches for Act One of The Acting Company’s Julius Caesar:

Act One Costumes

Step Two: Now take a look at select costume sketches from Act Two:

Act Two Costumes

Step Three: Discuss how the two costume choices are different. What do you think were the designers’ goals in creating such a difference?

Step Four: Here is a small clip of The Acting Company’s Julius Caesar and here is a clip of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version. Notice the differences and similarities in set and costume. Would you make similar choices or different ones? What would they be and why?

To the Drawing Board!

It’s time to work on the look and feel of your production, so let’s start where every designer starts: at the drawing board! First thing’s first—you need to pick a story. It could be the story you started thinking about on Monday; it could be a play you wrote during Playmaking Week; or you could pick something entirely different, starting from a fable or favorite book. Once you’ve chosen your story, picture what it might look like designed for the New Victory stage.

Materials: Stage template, colored markers, pencils, or crayons

New Victory Stage Template

Step One:  Make a mood board for your idea.

Step Two: Print out this template of the New Victory stage and sketch out a set using elements from your mood board that inspire you. Think:

  • Where does the story take place? How might you visualize those places on stage?
  • What is the weather like in the story? Does it take place outside or inside?
  • How light or dark does the story feel?
  • Does this story take place in multiple locations or does it all happen in one spot?
  • You can use height! Are there different levels on your set? How do the actors get un down? Staircases? Magical elevators? Trap doors in the stage floor?

Now that the stage is set, let’s work on some costume ideas for your show! For inspiration, take a look at the swatches and sketches in Part 2 of this three-part series on Children’s Theatre Company’s A Year with Frog and Toad (New Victory 2002).

Materials: Costume template, colored markers, pencils, or crayons

Step One: Print this costume template (or draw your own) for each of the characters in your story.

Design a Costume Template

Step Two: Costume each character! Remember what we learned about costuming on Tuesday. Think about how the characters in your story might inspire different costume pieces. Think about:

  • Their age
  • Their personality and style
  • Their social status or their job
  • What they need to do in the show (dancers, for example, might need some flexible bottom-wear!)
  • The time period of the story (if your story takes place in the future, for example, you might need some chrome, or maybe a lot of technology!)

BONUS: Look for 3D sources of inspiration—jewelry, accessories, fabrics, existing pieces of clothing—to really start to make your costumes come to life.

The Model Student

Before creating their final pieces, designers need to present their ideas to their collaborators for feedback. Set designers often do this with models of their sets. A set model can be built “rough” (not exactly to scale) or “white card” (built to scale, but without color)—either way, it’s a miniature version of the life-size set you dream of building. Creating a model is a good way to test and solidify your ideas. This video from Howcast on dioramas offers some helpful hints for creating your own model. Give it a whirl!

How are your designs coming along? Do you have a bundle of sketches to show off, or maybe a diorama? Snap a quick photo and share your creations with us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.


Create Your Show

35 – 40 minutes, Ages 7 – 13

Designers, it’s time to make it work! You’ve spent all week approaching costume and set design from different angles. Now it’s time to put your skills to the test. All theater designers share one common goal: to tell the story clearly and purposefully. Directors might establish the overarching vision, but all the creative minds on the team work together to bring that vision to life. Today, design with story foremost in your mind and put on your show!

Dream big and don’t let obstacles stand in your way. Check out how the designers of Catherine Wheels Theater Company’s Hansel and Gretel (New Victory 2009) completely transformed the interior of the New Victory Theater:

Today, take inspiration from our 2019 Kids Week participants, who wrote, costumed, designed and performed an original play last summer—all in the span of one week! Their play, One Small Step, was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

2019 Kids Week

Step One: Pick your story! Use the show you have been working on all week, or choose a new world to explore.

Step Two: Even though you might know it very well, get to know your story even better. Read it again. Think of the characters. Think of the setting. Think of the plot. Did you notice any new details? How might you incorporate them into the design? Think:

  • What is this story about?
  • What does this story need to be told on stage?
  • What does this story feel like?
  • What colors do you see when you read or hear this story?

Write down your thoughts as you familiarize yourself with the story. Expand on your mood boards, or create new ones!

Step Three: Gather your design ideas on paper from yesterday, or create new designs using the stage and costume templates.

Kids Week

Step Four: You may have drawn costumes or set pieces that are impossible to replicate precisely at home. How can you approximate them? Gather costume materials and potential set pieces and start to arrange your space to feel like an appropriate set to tell the story in. Remember, you can always resort to moments of shadow using miniatures.

Step Five: Maybe there are set pieces that you don’t have, but you can make! Cardboard and tape go a long way. Check out some of the set pieces our Kids Week artists made to put on their play. Get inspired by their craft and think of set pieces you can build to customize your set.

Kids Week Sets

Step Six: With your family, don the costumes and tell the story in your set. Don’t be afraid to move set pieces and change costumes throughout the story—that’s very common in the theater. Rehearse and perform!

Kids Week Rehearsal

We hope you enjoyed this twelfth week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.